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A guide to creating a Strategic Partner Network for consultants, specialists and advisors to SMEs
By Brenda Thomson
The information and case studies in this guide have been developed over a period of 2 years, working with a core group of outstanding B2B specialists collaborating to build a unique and powerful Strategic Partner Network, adding exponential value to network members and their clients.
If you are a business consultant, specialist or advisor and your principle source of new business is referrals, either from delighted clients or from referral partners, and you’re looking for ways to:
- generate more referrals and grow your business,
- create a supportive, collaborative network of like minded businesses
- add more value to your clients
then this guide is for you.
The process outlined in this guide works for consultants, specialists and advisors to SMEs providing advice and services across all of the key aspects of running a successful SME: branding, marketing, sales, customer relationships, finance, technology, HR, people and culture, risk management (legal and insurance), systems and operations, whether you are a generalist or a highly niched specialist.
- What is a Strategic Partner Network?
- The three key benefits of creating a Strategic Partner Network specifically for advisors, consultants and specialists to SMEs
- A three step process to build your Strategic Partner Network
- Four powerful case studies leveraging the power a Strategic Partner Network which can be used effectively by specialists, consultants and advisors to SMEs.
Time to read: 15 – 20 minutes
Savvy B2B consultants and advisors typically have two things in place to ensure a steady stream of quality referrals:
- They have a sound process in place to generate both testimonials and referrals from their clients
- They have an effective referral partner strategy.
However many consultants and advisors are not taking full advantage of a third, even more powerful opportunity to grow their business and add value to their clients – strategic partnerships, and more specifically creating a Strategic Partner Network.
Put really simply strategic partnerships are two or more businesses working together to achieve a mutually beneficial WIN WIN strategic outcome. They come in many different forms from referral groups to joint ventures, channel partnerships and affiliate relationships.
A Strategic Partner Network is a collective of businesses working together specifically to create a positive outcome for the end client. It takes the emphasis off the businesses in the partnership and places it, where it rightly belongs, on the end client… creating a WIN WIN WIN.
Creating a comprehensive Strategic Partner Network takes strategic partnerships to a whole new level, providing a unique opportunity for consultants and advisors to SMEs to build stronger, more lasting relationships with their clients, creating a real and meaningful difference to their clients’ businesses and lives whilst simultaneously supporting one another to build more profitable and sustainable businesses.
The three key benefits of creating a Strategic Partner Network for advisors and consultants to SMEs
1. Add value to your clients - learn more
When SMEs have a problem in their business finding the right solution can be an overwhelming exercise. Who do they go to for help? Are they getting the best solution at the right price? Are they even fixing the right problem?
If they have a mentor, business associate or colleague who has faced and successfully solved a similar problem, then they will most likely seek a referral, otherwise they are at the mercy of Google search.
If you’ve ever been in that position… and what SME hasn’t, these are some of the challenges you can face:
1. Salespeople who tell you THEY have the ideal solution to your problem, no matter what.
2. Large corporations where you find yourself with a different person at every meeting and always having to re-explain your business and your problem, and dealing with staff members who are only there to earn a paycheck and go home.
3. Getting shunted from one supplier to the next, always spending more money and never getting the outcome you were looking for.
4. Paying exorbitant prices for inadequate or at best average results.
5. Finding that solution B can’t work with solution A and having to rip it all out and start again.
6. Worried that the solution you’re being sold may not be the best option for your business but not knowing what you don’t know!
7. Working with small suppliers with the best of intentions who do their best to help and end up being a “Jack of all Trades”, or overextending themselves and no longer providing you with the depth of expertise or the quality of service you really need.
Creating a comprehensive strategic partner network can help to overcome these problems for your clients. These are the benefits that Synergy48 Group members have told us working together as a Strategic Partner Network has enabled them to provide for their clients.
- The ability to connect their clients with other B2B specialists with complete confidence in the quality and the appropriateness of the services they will receive.
- The ability to work collaboratively with other specialists, providing their clients with fully integrated services and solutions, reducing overlap and wastage, increasing efficiency, saving them time and money and ensuring better outcomes for their business. Ensuring they get the RIGHT solution for the RIGHT problem.
- The ability to discuss issues and challenges which may be affecting their clients in a confidential environment, enabling them to provide them with higher quality advice from a range of perspectives.
- The ability to keep their clients informed about any key information from outside their area of expertise which may affect their business through industry updates and alerts from their Synergy48 Group peers.
Creating a Strategic Partner Network in your business enables you to provide these benefits for your clients.
2. Grow your business beyond 1- 1 referrals – learn more
When we think of referral partners we tend to think in terms of one to one introductions. Your referrer identifies someone with a problem you can solve and they make the introduction.
Strategic partnerships help us expand that thinking, opening up possibilities to unlimited ways two or more businesses can work together to help one another. Examples can include shared marketing opportunities, reducing costs and expanding reach, and opportunities to build your brand as a recognised expert in your field.
Creating a Strategic Partner Network focused specifically on your ideal clients expands these opportunities exponentially and is limited only by the objectives and the imaginations of the members of the Network.
Options can include one off strategies as well as ongoing systems and processes.
Case Study 1: The Marketing Expo
An SEO consultant, web-designer, marketing consultant, graphic designer and copy writer got together to have a stand at a small business expo. Rather than attempting to promote all of their separate brands on the stand, they created one unified brand specifically for the expo: including business cards, posters, brochures and a website for the event.
As a result of this strategy they were able to target larger businesses during the expo. This led to an ongoing stream of referrals to larger clients. Within 12 months they were generating more than 20% of their business through the shared brand and as a result went on to form a new company.
Case Study 2: The Synergy48 Group Knowledge Sharing Dinners
The Melbourne East Synergy48 Group run a monthly invitation only dinner for their clients. Each dinner consists of a panel discussion followed by small group Q & A sessions. Every attendee goes away with a customised action plan for their business based on the topic on the evening.
Although this strategy has only been running for five months at the time of writing this guide ,the strategy has resulted in outstanding feedback from guests, as well as new clients for both panel members and members attending as guests.
You’ll find four more case studies that any advisor or consultant to SMEs can apply in their business later in this guide.
3. Gain knowledge and support to grow your business – learn more
The benefits of a Mastermind Group are well documented. Napoleon Hill devoted an entire chapter to Mastermind Groups in his business classic “Think and Grow Rich”
It’s why so many proactive SMEs make the effort to pull together their own Mastermind Groups, typically made up of a collection of their peers whom they trust and respect.
The benefits to growing small businesses of having a Board of Advisors are also well known. The Australian Institute of Company Directors suggests:
• The ability to draw on the skills and knowledge of directors/advisors who have practical experience in growing a business
• Enhance the company’s reputation and credibility in the marketplace
• Increase consumer and investor confidence
• Attract superior employees by demonstrating a commitment to company growth
• Create a potential source of members for the ‘main’ board as the company grows
• Test the quality of “outsider” contributions to the business (for family companies)
However the benefits of both mastermind groups and boards of advice are directly linked to the calibre, depth of experience and breadth of knowledge of the people in the room.
When you create a strategic partner network to provide a comprehensive network of advisors for your clients you are also pooling the collective knowledge, experience and resources of a comprehensive Mastermind Group or Board of Advisors for each other, providing significant added value to every member.
Some members of Synergy48 Group have reported that this has exceeded all of the other benefits they have gained from being part of the collective.
A three step process for creating a Strategic Partner Network
1. Identify the professions/industries needed to make up your network - learn more
There are three elements to identifying the professions/industries you need in your Strategic Partner Network.
Some businesses will be able to identify professions in all three elements and others in only one or two. Don’t worry if there is overlap across the three elements. The objective is to come up with one comprehensive list which ensures that you are able to collectively make a real difference in your ideal clients’ business.
1. Who are the businesses in your supply chain?
Typically businesses invest in services to solve a problem… however sometimes there are multiple service providers involved in providing the optimum solution.
For example: A business investing in a website may also need SEO, copy writing, video creation, photography and so on.
Larger businesses typically have the resources to provide all of these “in house” but for many smaller businesses that is not an option. Furthermore, those that do choose to go down the “in house” route often end up diluting their expertise, becoming a jack of all trades and a master of none.
Strategic partnerships can enable you to keep your customer close while providing all of the services needed by the client and providing them with high levels of expertise and service across every aspect of the solution.
2 . Problem Spotters
There are two parts to this element:
- Who are the professions that can easily identify the problems that you solve?
- What are the professions that you typically see problems for?
Sometimes these will be the same as the businesses in your supply chain, however it opens up opportunities to think more broadly
An accountant can easily see when her client needs a bookkeeper, or when they need business finance or are eligible for an R & D grant (or at least one would hope so) However, if they are looking, and they care about the success of their client’s business, they can also see from the numbers when their client may be having challenges with sales and marketing or with operational efficiency or with staff turnover.
A marketing strategist commented to me recently “wouldn’t it be brilliant if I got to work with the clients’ accountant so I could help ensure a manageable marketing budget and better monitor ROI.”
3. Businesses who bring expertise in key areas of running a successful SME which have not been covered in 1 and 2.
Up till now the focus has been on you, the problems you solve and the problems you see. Now’s the time to think more holistically and ensure that you have covered all of the aspects of running a successful SME business relevant to your ideal clients.
Typically this will include businesses with expertise across branding, marketing, sales, customer relationships, finance, leadership and culture, HR, risk management (legal, insurance etc) systems and operations.
2. Find the right people to fill the spots - learn more
If you don’t already have a strong network of ideal strategic partners to fill the spots in your network then here’s how we’ve done it in Synergy48
It starts and ends, with FOUR basic principles
- Aligned values
- Appropriate standards of quality
- Shared target market
- Aligned goals
No relationship can succeed in the long term without a common foundation of shared values. That’s why every S48 member shares a commitment to our brand values of professional excellence, truth, collaboration and business for good.
You need to carefully consider and set out the values you want to uphold in your Strategic Partner Network.
Appropriate standards of quality
In a Strategic Partner Network the reputation of every member is dependent on the professional excellence, service and integrity of every other member.
We’ve probably all experienced that unpleasant occasion when a referral doesn’t work out for the client. You need to ensure you have a strong process in place to manage and maintain the standards of professional excellence you want to be known for.
At Synergy48 every member is required to meet our strict quality control measure before being accepted for membership, and to maintain best practice client feedback processes on an ongoing basis.
As you’ve already seen there are a number of reasons why someone may choose to be part of a Strategic Partner Network.
- Adding value to their clients
- Growing their own business
- Improving their business practices
- Being part of a supportive, collaborative community
While each of these may be more or less important to individual businesses, if any one of these goals is not of ANY perceived value to a potential Strategic Partner Network member then you may find that they are not a fit.
And not everyone will be a fit forever. While you are looking for long term relationships with members of your Strategic Partner Network the reality of life and business is that members will come and go.
Finally a word on businesses in the same industry or profession
While you might not go hunting for multiple strategic partners in the same industry or profession it is possible, and sometimes even preferable to expand your network to encompass different niches and different approaches. Not every client is the same, they are in different industry verticals, have different budgets, different priorities and different personalities. The basic principle must be – ensuring that the outcome is in the best interest of the client!
3. Create an effective process to maximise the benefits - learn more
We’ve probably all been part of, or are at least familiar with, formal business referral networks where the process to ensure a return for members is based around an expectation of referrals. The problem with this approach is that it puts the emphasis on the results for the business being referred to rather than the results for the client.
We’ve also, almost certainly, been party to informal referral agreement. You see an opportunity to refer business to one another, exchange cards, have a coffee, agree to keep in touch… and then NOTHING.
An effective Strategic Partner Network needs structures and processes in place to ensure that it’s objectives are met.
Here are some of the things you need to consider:
- Decide on a meeting time, frequency and format.
- Develop a formal agenda.
- Address logistics – where you will meet etc.
- Develop some guidelines
- How many members will you allow?
- How will new members be added to the group?
- Will you have non-disclosure agreements?
- What fees will be charged, if any?
- Who will do the logistical work? (Room bookings, agendas, time keeping etc)
- Will you have attendance guidelines?
- How will you manage and maintain quality control?
Of course if you decide to start or join a Synergy48 Group we’ve done all this hard work for you.
Four ways to work together for specialists, consultants and advisors to SMEs
The biggest challenge we found in Synergy48 Group as we got started was expanding members’ thinking past basic referrals to encompass easy to implement, ongoing processes which make it easy for members to work together.
The four processes described below are things we’ve come up with which work on an ongoing basis.
In each of the case studies described we’ve also identified the industries and professions for which they are most suited. Pick the one that works best for you and identify the other members of your Strategic Partner Network that you can implement it with.
Of course individual members of the network collaborate together on a range of additional “once off” and ongoing strategies.
1. The Embedded Proposal - learn more
THE CASE STUDY
In this case study a web-designer includes SEO provided by a specialist SEO agency in every web development proposal.
The web-designer WINS because they know that they are providing their clients not just with a great website but with a website that will attract traffic. This also improves their conversion rate as they are providing high perceived additional value through their relationship with the SEO agency
The SEO Agency WINS because they receive a new client every time the web-designer wins a proposal.
The clients WIN because they are receiving a professionally optimised website as part of the proposal.
WHO DOES THIS WORK FOR?
This works well for any service which can be made better by adding an additional element. Generally the kinds of things which the client is going to have to go and get anyway sooner or later if they are really going to get the results they are looking for.
Think supply chain.. if your business is part of a supply chain then this strategy will work for you.
2. The "Built-In" Service - learn more
THE CASE STUDY
This business coach was becoming frustrated working with clients who often didn’t have up to date books or accounts. It’s hard to measure bottom line improvements when the numbers aren’t up to date and available.
As a result they started including a bookkeeping service as part of their consultancy service.
The business consultant WINS because they now have up to date and accurate numbers to work with.
The bookkeeper WINS because they receive a new client every time the business consultant takes on a new client who doesn’t already have a competent bookkeeper.
The client WINS because they get a competent bookkeeper included in the services of their business consultant.
WHO DOES THIS WORK FOR?
This works for businesses who provide ongoing services that could benefit from having additional services built in.
Accountants can build bookkeeping services into their service offering.
A web-developer or a digital marketing strategist might provide access to a virtual assistant on an ongoing basis to ensure that web-site content is kept up to date.
3. The Host Beneficiary Gift - learn more
This virtual assistant uses a $100 gift voucher which she gives to members of her Strategic Partner Network to pass on to their clients or potential clients who complain about being overworked and drowning in day to day admin.
The gift voucher can only be redeemed in a meeting with the VA who takes the time to identify the best way for the client to utilise the $100.
WHO DOES THIS WORK FOR?
This strategy is for people who provide regular ongoing services. It works well for anyone who can provide a complete once only add value service as a taster that will (i) leave the client feeling that they have received a gift of genuine value NOTfeeling sold to!!! (ii) leave them wanting more of the same that they will be willing to pay for.
Examples: bookkeepers, virtual assistants, social media specialists, printers, copy-writers.
4. The Health Check - learn more
THE CASE STUDY
In this case study a commercial lawyer provides all of the accountants and business consultants that he works with the ability to give their new clients a legal health check as a part of their on-boarding. The lawyer spends time with the client, goes through a questionnaire and provides a written report with recommendations.
The accountants and business consultants WIN as they have provided a very valuable add on for their clients. It also helps them to make sure that their new client is not in any legal risk.
The lawyer WINS as he often gets new business as a result of the recommendations in the report.
The clients WIN as they have received a free comprehensive risk assessment of their businesses legal situation..
WHO DOES THIS WORK FOR?
This scenario works best for a pairing of generalists (e.g. business consultants) with specialists or specialists with other specialists. Taken to the ultimate extreme your clients can end up with a comprehensive set of assessments from a range of specialists that can genuinely help them take their business to the next level.
Here is a list of just some of the professions this will work for: accountants, business coaches and consultants, lawyers, HR consultants, Industrial relations specialists, OH & S specialists, marketing strategists, web designers, graphic designers, SEO and digital marketing specialists…
The objective of this strategy is to provide a comprehensive review and report which will provide genuine value to the client. What kind of review and report you provide will depend on your area of expertise.
At Synergy48 Group we have developed a comprehensive self-help Business Assessment Tool which provides clients with an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses in their business over 48 different benchmarks. This tool provides real value to clients while also providing an opportunity for cross referrals across the entire Strategic Partner Network.
As you can see from the case studies above creating a strong Strategic Partner Network may be a better option for your business than expanding the services you provide in house.
- Avoid becoming a jack of all trades master of none. Build your brand reputation as an industry specialist.
- Providing a comprehensive range of services to your clients ensuring that you are a key part of the process from start to finish with expanding and potentially diluting the services your business provides.
- Save money – be able to scale up and scale down on demand.
HINT: You MUST choose the right partners and work consistently at maintaining the relationships.
Are you ready to build your Strategic Partner Network?
At this stage you probably fall into one of four groups
- You don’t see any value in building a Strategic Partner Network for your business
- You already have an effective Strategic Partner Network, you’re working well together and you don’t need to do anything
- You have an extensive network of Strategic Partners – all you need to do is ramp up how you work together
- You can see the value in creating a Strategic Partner Network for your business and your clients, however you don’t yet have a comprehensive network of suitable associates.
If you’re in group 3 or 4 then I hope you’ve found this article helpful and that you’re excited about the opportunities that creating a Strategic Partner Network will provide for you and your clients.
If you’d like to leverage off our experience and fast track the process AND if you share our core values then you might want to consider joining or starting a Synergy48 Group of your own. We’ll work closely with you, giving you the training, processes and support so you can build a powerful Strategic Partner Network for your business.
Our Mission: to bring together teams of outstanding B2B businesses working collaboratively to help members and their clients build more profitable and sustainable businesses and make a difference in the world.
All members of the Synergy48 Business Specialist Network share 4 essential characteristics:
- You are an experienced and respected expert in your industry or profession.
- Your ideal clients are small to medium businesses and your services add real value to this market.
- You share our commitment to four core values:
- professional excellence
- business for good
- You own your own business.
Book a quick chat to see if there could be an opportunity for your business. There’s no obligation and absolutely no pressure. We only want to work with people for whom we are the right fit and who are passionate about adding value to their clients.
CEO and Founder, Synergy48 Group
Brenda has an honours degree in organizational psychology and a Graduate Certificate in training and development and she is an experienced trainer, facilitator and counsellor. She is a firm believer in mutual collaboration combined with a practical, hands on tools, strategies and systems as the most effective way to achieve real results in business.
Brenda has over 20 years of experience training in communication, team work, time management, productivity, organisation and strategic planning in large organisations. She is also the developer of the Business Benchmarking Toolkit used by Synergy48 Group members and clients to identify areas for improvement in their business processes.
Brenda is a sought after mentor, speaker and trainer in the areas of strategic partnerships and networking with a difference. She is passionate about actively giving back to the community. In addition to donating her speaking fees and a proportion of every Synergy48 Group membership to provide microfinance to help women in Malawi to start their own businesses, Brenda has climbed the Himalayas to raise money for Kids Help Line and helped lay a pipeline to supply water to a remote village in Tanzania.