Partnerships are a great way to accelerate your startup growth. When done correctly, partnerships can help you gain access to new markets, expand your customer base, and build brand awareness. But how do you go about finding the right partners for your business? And once you’ve found them, what’s the best way to forge a successful partnership?
Brand partnerships are often misunderstood and there’s a lot of bad advice around like “don’t do partnerships until you’re established because you’ll ruin your brand”. Firstly, you’re a startup, what brand?
As a startup your primary goal with early stage marketing is to build awareness, generate traffic and get people to sign up – either to your waitlist or to your early stage product. Once you have them onboard you start to build your brand by what you do with them next.
Based on that primary role, partnerships are almost the perfect vehicle. Partner with a premium brand and you can bask in their brand halo, lifting your own. Getting a backlink from an established partner can really lift your domain authority. Getting featured in a partner’s newsletter can get your brand in front of 1000s or 10s of thousands, or even 100s of thousands of eyeballs.
Some people think partnerships are scary and think there needs to be an army of lawyers involved. I always encourage people new to partnerships and brand collaborations to start small, test the waters and learn before you scale up to big commitments like multi-partner events, ie. date a little before you get married.
So, where do you find the right partners?
Firstly – you need to understand your own business well. Who is your target market? What industry are you in? What benefits do you bring to the partnership?
These are things you should know already anyway, but if you don’t, jot them down. Once you’re clear on these you’re ready to start searching for partners.
There are two main ways to search for partners:
1. You can search for other brands that are like you. If you’re a MarTech company, you could search for other MarTech companies, or if you’re an action sports or an active lifestyles company you could search for similar.
2. Search for other brands that are targeting the same target audience. Let’s say you’re a new surfwear brand and you are targeting men aged between 25 and 45, who lead active lifestyles and love the ocean. You would then look for other brands that target the same, or some overlap of it, it doesn’t need to be a perfect match. A non-profit focussed on ocean cleanup might be a great partner even if they’re not focussed on age demographics.
Once you get some experience you can go for some edgier partnerships that don’t fit that pattern. Like the Allbirds x Shake Shack partnership – not a logical partnership but it got so much publicity and generated so much excitement it clearly returned benefits to both partners in spades.
Once you know who you’re targeting it’s time to hop on Google, or LinkedIn and start searching and sending cold emails or you could use a purpose built tool, like intribe.
How do you forge a successful partnership?
Well, firstly, understanding that the Pareto principle (the 80/20 rule) very much applies. Know that not every brand you engage with will be the ideal partner. Just like every Tinder date isn’t the love of your life.
This is why I say ‘date a little first’. Try out some small collaborations first and see how you work together. You could introduce each other to your email list or do a shoutout on social media.
Once you’ve decided that you’ve found another company that you partner well with, it’s time to ramp things up. The first rule of partnerships is to be easy to work with. The easier it is for your partner to promote you, the better they will do.
How to be easy to partner with?
The easiest way is to have material prepared and be prepared to share those with your partner. You can do this simply by putting together a G-drive or dropbox folder for partnerships.
The types of materials you can put in there are:
- Brand guidelines
- 25, 50 & 100 word descriptions of your product or service
- Photos, images, videos
- Examples of prior partnership campaigns
Driving for success
Once you’ve found a partner you’d like to work with and have some content prepared it’s best to get specific about who does what and expectations. This doesn’t always need to be a long drawn out document, for small to mid-sized campaigns it might be an email with bullet points and initials against who is committing to what.
For bigger campaigns you might want to use a project management tool – Trello is a nice simple one to start with or you can go bigger.
Once you’ve run the campaign I always love to reconnect with the partner for a post mortem and ask: what did we do well? What do we need to learn from? What will we do differently next time?
In summary, partnerships can have a very high ROI and can allow you to do campaigns that you wouldn’t be able to do on your own – but, like many things in life, you get out what you put in.