How to Grow Your Business In 2018 Using Referrals

You don’t need to be rich to build your business.

Not all businesses need millions of dollars to gain momentum. Many of the largest corporations and Fortune 50 companies grew simply by building a successful referral network.  Whether you are starting a business or expanding, there are hundreds of questions that need answering. How much money does it take to start a business? How do I attract more customers? How do I get leads?

Everyone wants more visitors, more qualified leads and more revenue. To answer your question before we proceed; no, you don’t need millions of dollars to build your business. What you need is a strong customer and partner base. So, how do get more customers and partners to like your business? Create a referral network.

Referral networking is one of the best strategies to attract customers and create future partnerships at minimal cost. If you don’t know where to start, break it down. We have networked ever since the first day of Kindergarten. What did that cost you? Nothing. Perhaps, some of those kindergarten friends grew up to be entrepreneurs and business associates just like yourself?  Diving a little deeper into discussion. Perhaps, one of those friends referred you recently to another business that may benefit yours or help you down the road. Maybe they helped bring in new revenue by being a top customer to your business and using your product and/or services. Referral networking is a powerful resource.

Evernote, the note-taking software launched a referral program that awards points to customers every time they make a referral. To date, the service now has over 100 million users, 13 million of which were referred by other users. That is the power of referrals. The cost of implementation was priceless. It boosted their business exponentially and substantially. The best part, you can do it to!

This is your year. Build your referral network and grow your business in 2018!

3 Commonly Misunderstood Forms of Financing For Your Business: Their Benefits and Considerations

Content provided by First Business.

Introduction

Getting the right type of financing is one of the most important decisions that can make or break any business. Financing methods are not created equal, and can have dramatic implications on your company’s cash flow, taxes, operations, and overall competitiveness. This is especially true for small and emerging businesses, where access to the right type of capital is essential to growth.

It is often said that the best type of capital is the one you can get from selling to customers. In other words, profits your business earns that you can reinvest into your business. Unfortunately for many small and high growth businesses, past profits are not sufficient to fuel their growth, so they often need to look for external sources of financing.

The following article describes 3 commonly misunderstood financing options for small businesses, their benefits, and when it makes sense to use them. It is meant to help start an important conversation, so please reach out to us to learn more.

 

Venture Capital & Angel Investors

We’ve all heard about the many technology startups that have raised millions of dollars and have gone on to achieve sky high valuations with each successive round of capital. Despite pervasive media coverage, historically, less than 1% of all businesses have raised capital from VCs. While many entrepreneurs often obsess about the question of how to get VC funding, perhaps a more important question is whether or not VC funding is right for the their business:

Ideal Businesses Hyper-growth companies (usually technology) with little or no collateral, unpredictable cash flow, and large capital needs. Company should be looking for a large exit (sale, IPO, etc.) within a 7 year-horizon.
Key Benefits Aside from money, the right VC or angel investors can make connections, provide management expertise, and lend credibility. Unlike debt, which must be repaid with interest, VC and angel investments are a form of equity, so there is more flexibility in terms of cash flow.
Important Considerations Aside from how challenging it is to obtain VC funding, entrepreneurs should be ready for the following:

·      Giving up equity – It’s no longer just your company, so you are now sharing on any upside with investors. With subsequent rounds of capital, your ownership of the company will be successively diluted.

·      Giving up control – VC’s get to appoint seats to your company’s board of directors. Even if they are not on the board, many investors will want to be actively involved and will expect to have a say in how the company is run.   In fact, if enough investors lose faith in you, you can get fired from your own company.

·      Constant Pressure to Accelerate Growth – Investors expect massive returns on their investment (think 10X) within a few years. As your company grows in size, maintaining this growth becomes increasingly challenging.   With every capital round, investors expect the value of their equity stake to grow, even if other partners are brought along.

·      It’s a full time job – Raising equity financing can consume all the time and effort of at least one person in your team (usually the CEO). Furthermore, once you have raised capital, you need to keep raising subsequent rounds at least until you are cash flow positive. Make sure that you are set up and ready for this.

 

Factoring

One of the least understood, seldom mentioned, and under utilized ways to finance your business is factoring. In simple terms, factoring involves selling your company’s receivables to a factoring company in exchange for upfront cash, which you can use to pay your bills, make payroll, or reinvest in your business. The factoring company then takes care of collecting payment from your customers, freeing you to focus on running your business. Unlike debt, your company’s credit-worthiness is less important than the credit-worthiness of your customers, so factoring can be a good option for businesses that sell to well-established, stable businesses but might have long payment terms. The table below can be used to understand if factoring might be right for your business:

Ideal Businesses Businesses that sell to well-established, credit-worthy organizations, but need to reduce collection time such as:

·      Businesses selling to governments & Fortune 500 companies

·      Healthy, high-growth businesses

·      New businesses without extensive credit history

·      Distressed businesses looking to improve cash flow

Key Benefits ·      With factoring, you get to outsource your collections, often making it less expensive for small businesses to collect payment from powerful, bureaucratic, and slow customers

·      Factoring is a realistic option for businesses with little credit history or even a checkered credit history

·      Speed – businesses can get their cash in as little as 24 hours, depending on circumstances

·      When part of a larger financial institution, such as First Business Bank, factoring can lead to an established relationship and open the door to other forms of financing that might have been previously unobtainable, such as Asset Based Lending.

Important Considerations ·      Look for a long-term factoring partner – To get the best rates and service, look for partners that can work with you over an extended period of time, as opposed to “one-off” deals.

·      Reputation and regulation matter – Not all factoring companies are created equal, nor do all of them adhere to the same standards. Look for a factoring partner that is backed by a reputable financial institution, such as First Business, as it is likely to be better regulated than a stand-alone factoring company.

·      Keep the house in order – Even with factoring, you still need to secure basic documentation from your customers, such as purchase orders and signed statements of work.

·      Engage with your factoring partner early and often – Your factoring partner can help you avoid customers that are not credit-worthy and alert you to red flags that can make or break your business.

 

SBA Loans

The Small Business Administration (SBA) is a US government agency that provides support to entrepreneurs and small businesses. One of the most important tools in the SBA’s arsenal is the 7(a) program, in which the federal government guarantees a large portion (typically up to 75%) of the loan. This guarantee helps lenders extend loans to businesses that otherwise may not fit into the bank’s lending policy guidelines (collateral, limited business credit history, longer amortization needed).

Ideal Businesses Businesses with healthy, predictable cash flows and a proven management team are good candidates for an SBA loan, even if they have limited collateral assets.   Furthermore, SBA loans can be used for a variety of general business purposes, such as:

·      Establishing a new business

·      Acquiring an existing business

·      Long-term working capital for operational expenses, accounts payable, or even purchasing inventory

·      Short-term capital needs for seasonal financing, construction financing, and exporting

·      Purchasing equipment, machinery, furniture, supplies, and real estate

·      Refinancing existing business debt.

The maximum loan amount is $5MM, and the borrower must qualify as a ‘small business’ per the SBA’s guidelines. Because the emphasis is on cash flow, lenders like to see a 2 years history of financials, but projections can be used in the case of startup loans.

Key Benefits ·      Loan can have a collateral shortfall.

·      SBA loans have flexible equity requirements. Conventional loans, in contrast, may require 20% down.

·      Longer loan amortization (sometimes as long as 25 years for real estate) with no balloon payments.

·      As with any loan, you don’t give up ownership in your business.

·      As with most business loans, loan interest can be expensed, reducing your potential tax liability.

Important Considerations ·      Owners must be actively involved in running the business.

·      For real estate deals, business must occupy +51% of square footage.

·      May require personal guarantee and personal real estate assets.

·      As with any loan, you must make regular loan payments and adhere to the stipulations in the loan covenant.

·      Not all SBA lenders are equal – pick a lender that is an expert in the SBA’s policies and can help you navigate through the process, so you can get the most favorable loan for your business.

 

Conclusion

You owe it to yourself and your business to understand the benefits and implications of various sources of financing. The right financing vehicle can be a catalyst and an enabler to your company’s growth, just as the wrong one can hold you back. In order to determine the best financing options for your business, you should clearly understand your business model, strategy, and stage of development, but also your business goals and desired trajectory for the next 5-7 years. You should also seek out reputable partners who can provide you with a wide range options, resources, and objective advice to help you get the most favorable terms for your business.

To learn more about factoring, SBA loans, or other products from First Business, contact us via Collaborate.Biz or visit https://firstbusiness.com.

About the Authors:

Gail Heldke has over 30 years experience in banking and financial services with over 20 years in commercial lending and factoring. Her primary responsibilities have included business origination for factoring, asset-based and purchase order programs; credit analysis and portfolio management. Ms. Heldke is actively involved in the Turnaround Management Association, The Commercial Finance Association, Midwest Business Brokers & Intermediaries, IWIRC and the International Factors Association.

Ryan Black has over ten years of banking experience ranging from retail banking to commercial underwriting and now currently focuses on providing lending solutions for commercial customers using the SBA and USDA lending programs. He has conducted financial seminars at the Hmong Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce and has volunteered at Junior Achievement of Wisconsin. Ryan is a sports enthusiast and spends most of his free time chasing his two young children.

Jorge Varela, Jr. has over 15 years’ experience in financial services with over twelve years in the factoring and asset-based lending industry. This includes 2 ½ years with Gibraltar Financial and four years with Working Capital Solutions, Inc.  As the primary business contact for First Business Factors, his focus is to consistently provide excellent customer service to clients while remaining primarily focused on protecting the Bank’s assets.

Naydine Lopez has 14 years of banking experience, primarily focused in SBA Lending and Servicing. She brings a strong knowledge of government guaranteed lending and a passion for people and relationship building. Born and raised in Chicago, where she still resides, she is an avid salsa dancer and a diehard Cubs fan. Her young children are amazing, funny and sharp, keeping her on her dancing toes.

5 Tips To Give Effective Referrals

Referrals can be an effective way to strengthen your network and, in some cases, earn substantial income. But how do you give effective referrals? Follow the 5 tips below to take your referrals to the next level:

  1. Know the Buyer’s Needs – A good connector understands the needs of the potential customer, and can tie them to specific capabilities that the vendor can provide. At the very least, good connectors should be able to answer the following:
    • What are their buyer’s priorities, and what projects are they currently working on?
    • What is their budget and timing of these projects?
    • What do they look for in a vendor, and ideally, what problems keep them up at night?
  2. Know the Seller’s Unique Value Proposition – But knowing the potential buyers is only half of the equation. You should also be able to answer the following questions about the company that you are introducing:
    • What sets them apart from their competitors?
    • What are their strengths and their weaknesses?
    • What are some case studies from similar customers you can share?
  3. Craft a meaningful introduction – Because you’ve taken the time to learn about both the buyer and the seller, you should make a strong case of why this particular seller is a good fit for the buyer. Email introductions can work as an initial contact, but you should immediately follow-up with a conference call or in-person meeting as a way to establish rapport. Keep introductions warm, but professional, and always frame the connection in terms of how it benefits the buyer. Also, have a clear objective for every interaction and make sure next steps are well documented.
  4. Offer the buyer something of value on behalf of the seller – This could be a relevant white paper, a useful spreadsheet, or invitations to events/webinars on topics of interest. Although offering something of value is not usually required, it can improve your chances of a successful referral by establishing credibility, helping shape the buyer’s mindset, and appealing to the buyer’s desire to reciprocate.
  5. Follow-Up and Close the Loop – Periodically, check on the status of any next steps, and make sure you get feedback from both the buyer and the seller throughout the process. This not only helps you improve the quality of future referrals, but also shows your commitment to the relationship. It also serves as a reminder to both the buyer and the seller of the potential opportunity that your are bringing them.

Giving successful referrals is one of the most important things you can do to grow your network, and can also result in significant income.   Like most things in life, experience and practice will make you better at giving referrals, but follow these 5 tips and see your referral success rate reach new heights.

Ramon L. Rodriguez is the Founder/CEO of Collaborate.Biz, an innovative technology company that helps businesses find strategic partners to get more referrals, collaborate on projects, and grow together. Through its exclusive Trusted Referrals Marketplace, well-connected professionals can make money by connecting top-quality businesses with new customers. Click here to learn more.

How To Run A Strong Referral Incentives Program

Referrals are critical to grow your business. Let’s face it – warm introductions are usually much more effective than cold calls, perhaps as much 10 times more effective. In layman’s terms, it means that for every deal you close through warm referrals, you would need to make at least 10 cold calls. Imagine how much money and time you could save if you had a steady stream of high quality referrals at your disposal. Imagine how much faster you could grow if you received just one more high quality referral each month.

In order to get more referrals, you should be ready to invest in them. That is why a referral incentives program can be an important weapon in your arsenal. However, not all referral incentive programs are created equal, and as such, not all referral programs are as successful as they can be.

We believe that to run a strong referral incentive program, you should consider the following:

  • Offer truly attractive incentives – If you want to attract the best connectors, you need to make it worth their while. In many cases, this could mean a commission on the value of the sale (anywhere between 5-20%), but it all depends on the size of the project, the level of effort required, and how payments are scheduled. If the initial sale value is relative low, but the potential lifetime value is high, perhaps a fixed finder’s fee may be more appropriate. Just make sure you align the incentives you offer with your business’s needs.
  • Clearly document roles and responsibilities – Make sure that your referral partners understand your expectations, and ideally, make them sign on it, so that it is legally binding. Aside from introductions, are you expecting monthly progress reports? Do you expect referral partners to facilitate the first meeting? Do you need them to protect confidential information? These should all be spelled out through a formal referral agreement.
  • Educate and enable your referral partners – In order to help them sell your product, you need to arm your referral partners with the training and tools they need. While you shouldn’t expect them to be the foremost experts in your product, they need to understand your value proposition, what sets your company apart, and how to identify high potential prospects. They should also have access to marketing materials that they can use to help spread the word and generate demand for your services. In the B2B space, this often involves training, white papers, articles, or other items of value to prospective customers.
  • Follow-up rigorously and consistently – Make sure you touch bases with your referral partners on a regular basis. We recommend at least a monthly cadence when starting out, but it largely depends on your business. You should also seek and provide feedback when a referral is made and after every major interaction with customers.
  • Last but not least – Earn their trust – No matter how generous your incentives are, savvy connectors will not open their networks and recommend your product unless they can stand by your quality, reputation, and professionalism. Take the time to build credibility right from the start, and make sure you follow through on your promises. When referral partners try to reach you, get back to them promptly, ideally within 24 hours. And it should go without saying – when the deal closes, honor the agreement. Always do the right thing.

When done right, referral incentives can help you build a highly valuable sales pipeline and scale your business. But building and maintaining a successful referral program requires integrity, discipline, and collaboration – qualities that are also essential to running a long-lasting business.

Ramon L. Rodriguez is the Founder/CEO of Collaborate.Biz, an innovative technology company that helps businesses find and connect with strategic partners to get more referrals, collaborate on projects, and grow together. Through its exclusive Trusted Referrals Marketplace, high-quality businesses are matched with well-connected professionals who can get them more referrals. Click here to learn more.

Combining a Jobs and Brand Lens to Optimize Your Product Lineup

A collaboration between Design Resource Center and Collaborate.Biz

Jobs Theory can be a powerful tool to organize and focus new product innovation, but it can also help inform a brand’s interactions with consumers in order to achieve business goals.  One of the most important challenges brands face is helping consumers navigate their product lineups on shelf, which grow in complexity over the years as brands constantly launch new SKUs.  When a brand’s lineup becomes too difficult to navigate, it also becomes an impediment to reaching the brand’s full potential by confusing shoppers, turning off new users, and even preventing brands from trading up its loyal consumers.  The following article suggests an approach to organize your brand’s product lineup so that it makes sense to your consumers and is true to your brand’s aspirations.

First, Assess The Business Impact of Your Current Line-Up

Perhaps one of the most important first steps when optimizing your brand’s lineup is to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the lineup in its current form, and how it impacts your business.  For example, are you inadvertently steering consumers away from higher margin products?  Are first-time buyers not repeating because they picked the wrong SKU for their needs?  How often does this happen, and how much money are you leaving on the table each time this happens?  A frank assessment of your lineup’s strengths and weaknesses is essential to ensure that a) you don’t break more than what you fix, and b) you focus your efforts on fixing problems with the greatest impact.

So how do you assess the impact of your current lineup?  First, mine existing data sources that could help point to your situation.  If you have syndicated data, that is a usually good place to start.  Panel data in particular can help uncover issues with trial, loyalty, and repeat purchase for which your lineup can play a role.  But you probably do not want to stop there.  In order to identify the root cause of your problems, and truly confirm any issues related to your lineup, primary research, where you specifically talk with users and non-users, is often essential.  Shop-alongs and simulated shelf exercises, where you ask deep probing questions to your target consumers, can help shed light on important lineup issues that may be holding you back.

Mine the category and consumer to understand the jobs to be done

Jobs-to-be-done defines the tasks or outcomes a consumer is looking to fulfill in their lives, relative to the specific context in which that job occurs.  This approach considers the motivations that drive your consumer to this category, the outcome he or she desires, and captures any workarounds or barriers to fulfilling that job.  It extends the “Who” and “What” understanding of your target to include “Why”, and enables product assortments that better reflect how consumers actually engage with a category rather than the benefits or features that already define the space.   When brands organize solely on “Who” and/or “What”, the resulting architecture may be clear and even shoppable, but it quickly becomes rigid.  It can result in product groupings based on superficial demographics (Health Seeker) or on similar features (Organic).  Future innovations are more difficult to place because benefits can compound and the race to generate new news creates multiple layers of communication.  While your consumer may be a health seeker (who), who likes organic products (what), they are hiring organic products to help them achieve their best self (why).  In this scenario, the motivational “Why” is bigger than just the original products considered, enabling for future brand stretch, or capturing more consumers under a similar “promise.”

Always Deliver Your Core Brand Promise

Any good brand lineup optimization must be rooted in what your brand stands for, its primary “points of difference.”  All products in your brand lineup, regardless of price point, form, or category, must deliver on this core promise or they don’t belong in your brand lineup.  For example, P&G’s brand Gain must deliver on a core promise of “scent of clean,” regardless of whether it is selling detergent, fabric softener, dish soap, or floor surface cleaners.  Some variants may be more premium than others, but even the basic, entry-level SKUs deliver on this core promise.  Therefore, your core brand promise provides an important filter when identifying potential new jobs for your brand.

Understand the Category Landscape

Of course, brands do not exist in a vacuum, so when you work to optimize your lineup, you need to be aware of the category trends and competitive forces that have an impact in shaping your brand’s lineup.  Often times, brands launch new SKUs directly in response to a competitor’s actions or to fulfill a retailer’s request.  Over time, if these SKUs aren’t consistently evaluated and pruned, they can force your lineup’s complexity to balloon, affecting both how your brand comes across on shelf and your company’s bottom line.  At the same time, when rationalizing your portfolio, it’s important to model the proposed changes under the current category context.  How will changing the brand’s lineup affect competitors?  How are they likely to react? How does it impact the retailer’s business?  Is there an opportunity to jointly create value for the retailer and the brand from optimizing the lineup?  The best lineup optimization efforts proactively consider all these factors upfront.

Articulating the right price/value proposition for each of your offerings

Among the many insights that job theory provides, two of the most important are the gains a consumer expects to get from completing the job, as well as the problems or pain points that they are looking to solve.  Quantifying the impact of these pains and gains is extremely useful in understanding the value of these jobs to your consumers, and can serve as a key input to price your various offerings.  It also helps your consumers understand why each offering exists and which offering is best suited for a particular occasion.  What is the cost (in time, effort, or money) when a product doesn’t fully deliver on the consumer’s “job to be done?”  Are there more premium products outside the immediate category that we can use to reframe our value proposition?  On the flip side, if you are launching a lower-priced version of your product to attract new consumers, it’s important you “demotivate” your current users from trading down by clearly articulating the trade-offs, and how each product is best suited for a different set of jobs.  Your lower-priced product should lack important features or benefits that are important to deliver the higher value jobs that are better addressed by your more premium products.

Bringing it all together with the right language

A strong lineup helps consumers navigate the various products within a category or brand portfolio.  A well-crafted design architecture brings to life the promise of the brand, and leverages the most appropriate visual cues to connect emotionally while driving ease of navigation.

When designing product groupings within a portfolio, look at each grouping to ensure the distinctive benefits and jobs of this grouping are clearly conveyed.  Also step back and consider the lineup as a whole, to ensure that your core brand promise, and brand equities are remaining cohesive and consistent.  A visual strategy should be developed to inform core brand equities and assets and how they work to unify the product lineup, while also defining where and how to vary the system to best capture the promise of each product grouping.

For example, at shelf, Campbell’s has a very specific set of assets that define their brand as a whole.  And when that core brand promise extends into one-handed consumption, the design of the label is very consistent with that of their iconic can.  Campbell’s instead relies on the new form of the container to do the work of communicating convenience whereas the consistent graphic design reassures the consumer that the classic Campbell’s experience is what is inside.  By contrast, Campbell’s Chunky line, signals a differentiated benefit, and therefore a more intentional derivation of the core design is appropriate, to better reflect the job – A richer, more filling experience.  

In summary, jobs theory, combined with a thorough understanding of your brand and its category landscape, can guide your brand lineup choices and help you achieve important business objectives.  Just like an inefficient lineup can result in lost business, a bold but data-driven lineup optimization effort can unlock growth opportunities for your brand and help it achieve its full potential.

Ramon Rodriguez is the Founder/CEO of Collaborate.Biz, a Chicago-based, innovative company that helps businesses unlock revenue through strategic, brand-compatible partnerships.  He is a classically trained marketer with 10+ years of brand management experience at top consumer goods companies, such as Procter & Gamble, Abbott, and Conagra.  Ramon has helped grow businesses ranging from  less than $300K to over $2Bn in annual sales, leading long-term innovation, brand development, and P&L management on numerous brands, categories and markets.  Ramon holds an MBA from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, as well as Bachelor and Master’s degrees from MIT.

Chris Ertel is the Director of Strategy at DRC, a branding and design firm in Chicago, IL.  For over twelve years, Chris works with startups and Fortune 500 companies alike to unlock brand potential that is rooted in consumer insights and activated through cohesive strategies and executions. Chris has served some of the most respected brands for Procter & Gamble, Kraft/Heinz, General Mills, 3M, and Tyson.

Cut the Cold Calls: 5 Ways You Get Warmer Leads

Hustle the right way.

Raise your hand if you enjoy making cold calls! I don’t know about you, but I have yet to meet a person who actually enjoys calling strangers out of the blue to sell them products that they may or may not want. Sure … it must feel like a rush when someone actually takes your call and makes a purchase, but more often than not, cold calls feel like an exercise in accepting rejection. Receiving cold calls is no fun either – more often than not, they feel like a waste of time for both parties. No wonder cold calls have a paltry 1-3% success rate.

Instead of relying so heavily on cold calls, consider cultivating warmer leads – people who are already familiar with your product or service and have a greater disposition to buy from you. Below are some ways to achieve this:

  1. Create a Referral Incentive Program for your Business – Prospects are more likely to buy your products when your products are recommended by people who they trust. That is why it is so important to cultivate and reward trusted referral partners for your business. These referral sources could be your customers, but also your strategic partners and collaborators. A good referral program not only incentivizes successful referrals, but also delineates the roles, responsibilities and expectations for all parties. It also provides your referral partners with the knowledge and tools they need to help them help you. But what if you don’t currently have a large network of referrals partners? You can find referral partners and promote your company’s referral incentive program through services like Collaborate.Biz, a matchmaking platform for businesses that are looking for strategic partners and referral sources. Click here to learn more!
  2. Become a Thought Leader in Your Field – I believe that education can be a powerful selling tool and it is under-utilized by most businesses. When you educate prospective customers, you not only gain credibility in their eyes, but you also get to shape how they think. In the long run, an educated customer is the best type of customer. These types of customers understand why they need your product and why they should pay more for what you offer. And if the information is compelling enough, they will share your educational materials with others, helping you promote your brand. So what are some tactics you can use to promote yourself as a thought leader? How about inviting current and prospective customers to a live training or webinar? Why not write a few blog articles on topics that interest your target customers and generate demand for your services? As with most things, you can start small and build from your momentum.
  3. Develop a Strong Online Presence – In this day and age, this is a basic expectation for your business. It not only means having a website, but also paying attention to your SEO and your Social Media. You should be easily found, and ideally reviewed by your customers. There is a plethora of options to get started on this.
  4. Give Back to Your Community – Find out what organizations are important to your customers and make sure that you support them. Community organizations give you yet another way to engage with potential customers and to show that you share their values. It will also make them more likely to think about you when they need your services.
  5. Collaborate with Complementary Businesses – Aside from your customers, your collaboration partners can be one of the most important sources of referrals and repeat business. They can also pull you into projects that fit your capabilities, helping you establish profitable new customer relationships that would otherwise take years to develop. That is why you should make it a priority to build new collaboration partnerships in a systematic way. Services like Collaborate.Biz help you find the right collaboration partners to help you grow your business.  Click here to join for Free!

Although some cold calls are inevitable, you can proactively take steps to build your sales pipeline through warmer leads. What are some other ways in which you can build your sales pipeline without cold calling? Tell us what has worked for you.

Ramon Rodriguez is the Founder/CEO of Collaborate.Biz, a B2B matchmaking platform that helps businesses unlock revenue through strategic partnerships.  It’s “Match.com meets LinkedIn,” but instead of helping people date, it helps businesses collaborate.  Join for FREE at https://www.collaborate.biz

How To Build A Business Profile That Attracts The Right Partners

Photo by Štefan Štefančík on Unsplash

I was recently asked by one of our users: “What can businesses do to make sure they connect with the right partners?” My answer: “Make sure that you are clear about your business strategy.”  When businesses are clear about their goals, the customers they serve, and what they stand for, they are more likely to find partners who can help them grow. This may seem overly simplistic, but in practice, getting strategic clarity requires businesses to look deeply within themselves and to make tough choices.

In Collaborate.Biz, the first step to find and attract the right partners is to complete a strong Business Profile for your company. When you take the time to build a complete Business Profile, you help prospective partners more easily understand what you need from them, but also, what you can offer them. Strong Business Profiles can also help reveal hidden opportunities for collaboration, helping you find partners even in different industries or geographies.

So how do you write a strong business profile in Collaborate.Biz? It might help to look at a couple of Collaborate.Biz members, to see how they do it.

To access the Business Profile page:

  • Sign On to Collaborate.Biz with your username (usually your email) and your password
  • Select your business from the ‘My Businesses’ page
  • From the main menu at the top, click My Biz -> Profile – This will open your Business Profile page

 

Once you access the Business Profile page, then it’s time to update it with the most complete and up-to-date information for your business. You will find a number of sections, each containing specific information about your business. Click on the links below to learn more about each section of your Business Profile:

Once you have completed your business profile, it’s important that you keep the information up-to-date.

Now, it’s time to start looking for partners to help you grow your business!

Next: Home Tab: WHAT your business is all about

Home Tab: WHAT Your Business Is All About

The Home tab is where you explain what your business does and what makes it unique. The Home tab also helps other members understand what your business stands for – a sense of the meaning behind your brand.

To update the information on your Home tab, click the ‘+Edit Business Profile’ link, at the bottom of the page, as shown below.

Although not all fields are required by the app, the strongest Business Profiles provide as much information about your business as possible. At a minimum, we strongly recommended updating the following fields:

Field Comments Example
Description Basic overview of your business. This is a required field. “… I help people get results through better communication, across all relationships … I help people become more resourceful through better communication…”
Products & Services This is where you list, in some detail, what your business sells. Collaborate.Biz uses this field to match you with businesses that offer complementary products and services. Coaching, Training, Consulting, Assessments, Team Collaboration, Conflict Management, and Tension Management. If you don’t polish the diamonds, you look like a lump of coal.
My business excels at This drop down field gives other members a sense of what your brand stands for – the one thing that sets you apart. We know it’s hard to make a choice, so just go with your best judgment. Customer Service

Next: Ideal Partner Profile : Where referrals and collaborations come from

Ideal Partner Profile : Where Referrals And Collaborations Come From

It’s no secret that Collaborate.Biz takes inspiration from dating websites to help you network. Much like in a dating website, where users can specify the physical and personality traits of their desired partners, we use the information in the Ideal Partner Profile to match you with potential partners.

But what do we mean partners, and how are they different from customers? In the Collaborate.Biz parlance, a partner is another business that can become either a source of referrals for your business, or a business you can collaborate with on projects or initiatives. Although your customers can be an important source of referrals, we generally think of partners as other non-competing businesses who either share similar customers as you or offer complementary services. They are the types of businesses that you want to “team up with” to achieve your goals.

To update the information on your Ideal Partner Profile, click the ‘+Edit Partner Profile’ link, at the bottom of the page, as shown below.

Below is some guidance on how to fill your Ideal Partner Profile.

Field Comments Example
Description Provide a brief description of the types of businesses that could be good sources of referral for your business or with whom your business can collaborate. Coaches, Project Managers, and Business Analysts who do business with corporate or government clients.
Industries Your partners can be in your same industry, but many times, partners can also be found in adjacent or related industries. This field allows multiple selections. Consulting – Financial Services – Government – Human Resources – Manufacturing – Technology – Other
Geographic Preferences If your business has no geographic constraints, then check ‘Seeking Partners Nationally’ (default) and you can ignore all other geography related fields.   Otherwise, specify the general location where your partners should be located (city, state, zip code, and maximum distance). ‘Seeking Partners Nationally’
Certifications Check these optional fields if you are looking for partners who can help you meet diversity goals.   When these fields are marked, potential partners with these certifications will be ranked higher in your dashboard feed, but this will not prevent you from meeting other potential partners who do not have these certifications. Minority Owned Business, Woman Owned Business

Next: Ideal Customer Profile: WHO your business sells to

Ideal Customer Profile: WHO Your Business Sells To

When you have a good understanding of your customers, and can clearly communicate who these customers are, you make it easier for your partners to give you qualified referrals. That is why at Collaborate.Biz, we ask you a series of questions that help you paint a vivid picture of your customers, their needs, and why they are a good fit for your business.

The more precise you can be about the types of customers you seek, the better we can match you to referral partners who can reach them. There is no limit to how many customer profiles you can create.

To add customer profile, click the ‘+Create Customer Profile’ link, at the bottom of the page, as shown below.

Below is some guidance on how to fill your Ideal Customer Profile.

Field Comments Example
Customer Profile Name: This is a required field. Pick a name that helps other members remember who you to sell to. Mid-Size Companies
How would you describe your target customers to a friend? Provide a brief description of the types of businesses or consumers that stand to benefit greatly from your goods or services. You could include demographic / firmographic information if you know it, or simply describe, in layman’s terms, who these customers are and how to recognize them, Senior management and leadership at mid-size companies (~100 MM in sales), with at least 25 professional employees.
What goals are yours customers trying to achieve? When you can explain what your customers are trying to achieve, you make it easier for potential partners to identify good referrals that would benefit from your services. They want to see tangible results around:

– cross-functional communication

– from stagnation to momentum

– effective presentations

– better collaboration

What problem(s) are your customers trying to solve? Problems are pain points that your customers experience and that your business can help relieve. When partners can sell your business to customers in pain, it makes referrals more likely to succeed. Lack of employee retention, lack of engagement (especially on day to day tasks).
Why do your customers choose your business? This is your chance to explain why you are a good fit for your customers, which partners can use to sell you to their contacts. – Always start with a discovery conversation, where issues bubble up

– Consequence and values

– Ability to build trust rapidly

– Vast experience in corporate, non-corporate, and non-profit

What are your customers expectations in terms of service? Do your customers expect white glove service? Do they expect a fast response time? Do they require a lot of education? Sometimes, how you interact with customers makes all the difference. – Adaptable should never mean vague. We offer a clear process on over deliver on expectations.

– Approachable, accessible, and adaptable.

Next: Collaboration Ideas: HOW your business can collaborate and grow