Why Local Partnerships Are Key to Small Business Success

by Sydney Stone

Back in the 1980s, there was a very popular Faberge shampoo commercial in which the model stated she loved the shampoo so much that she “told two friends about it” and “they told two friends” and “they told two friends”, etc. The ad featured square images of the model that multiplied by two each time she uttered the phrase until the screen was covered with hundreds of images meant to represent the popularity of the product.

As cheesy as this seems nowadays – and the commercial was quite cheesy…just Google it! – the point of the ad was certainly spot on. The absolute best form of advertising is a word of mouth referral from a trusted source. This is why it is so important for small businesses to create what I like call a “referral ecosystem” by developing synergetic relationships with other local businesses in their communities.

Let’s say you own a pet grooming business. It would be a wise decision to get to know a local veterinarian. You can refer your clients to this particular vet and in return, the vet would refer his or her clients to you. You could arrange to have business cards or special coupons left on the counter or notice board in a vet’s office and vice versa. If the veterinarian has a website, perhaps you could purchase ad space, or offer ad space on your website in return.

Another benefit of developing mutually beneficial partnerships is that you can combine marketing efforts and share expenses when it comes to promoting your business. For example, the pet groomer and veterinarian could host a free “pet carnival”, where locals could come and get their furry friends a “5 minute makeover” while the vet could offer free or low cost spaying and neutering. Not only is this a great way to gain new clients for both businesses, it’s an even better way to build rapport and trust within the community.

Here are a few other examples of complementary small business/local vendor relationships:

beauty salon:  beauty supply stores, boutiques, dermatologists, nursing homes

yoga studio:  health food store, day spas, chiropractors 

winery/brewery: local restaurants, cheese shops, bakeries & sweet shops

gym/martial arts studio: sportswear shops, sporting goods stores

florists: local wedding vendors, funeral homes, hotels

auto repair shop: auto supply stores, gas stations, towing services

In addition to other small businesses, you should also develop partnerships with local media. Reach out to television stations, radio stations and print publications in your area. Become the “go-to” expert in your field and make yourself available at a moment’s notice to be interviewed or quoted. Sponsor events or consider buying ad space. Get to know local reporters and what areas they cover and then develop relationships with them.

Consider hosting or sponsoring charity events in your community that benefit groups such as firefighters, police officers, schools or hospitals. While you may not be reaching your specific target audience with one of these broader events, you are still getting your name out there and branding your small business as one that cares about the locals. Again, this is all part of your referral ecosystem.

Just remember, having a successful small business is the direct result of having successful relationships. Look around you for those types of businesses that are complementary to your own and start creating meaningful partnerships. Just get one of these local partners to tell two friends about your business, and watch your customer base start to multiply. Because they’ll tell two friends…and they’ll tell two friends…and they’ll tell two friends…