On a single day late last year, I heard three different stories of new business partnerships: Ulta planned to open stores within Target stores, Walmart was working with GM to do deliveries with autonomous cars, and Dominos decided to do the same thing in partnership with Ford.
Granted, these are all well-known, established businesses. But there is no reason why you can’t partner with other small companies or even with larger ones. Here are some ideas that might help you survive the shutdown and its aftermath — and grow bigger into the future.
#1. First, Re-think Your Perceptions about Competition
I just read an article about restaurants that found support from other local community restaurants, which would normally be their competitors. During troubling times, former rivals often recognize their strength in numbers. They share similar challenges, they recognize that each loss weakens all of them, and they start to find ways to help each other to survive.
In other words, they suddenly become aware of the fact that they are a community, and with the right attitude, even adversaries can strengthen each other.
#2. Join or Build a Network
Now that you’ve altered your thinking about competitors it’s time to get together and start brainstorming ways that you can keep each other afloat. You might consider conducting promotions by offering coupons to other local businesses when customers buy from you. Or, if delivery is a requirement, perhaps you can save money by combining shipments from other business with your own. Just think of activities or issues that concern you, and other businesses in your network can often find solutions that help everyone.
#3. Share the Wealth
Be prepared to give as well as get. It might be as simple as sharing your office equipment, or shelf space in your store, as Target is doing for Ulta. Plus, if your team of talented employees it at risk of layoffs, perhaps they can provide their skills to neighboring businesses, potentially adding a few more dollars to their income in the process.
Speaking of adding dollars, there is no need for sharing to automatically equate to donating. If a business cannot reciprocate in some way, it is not inappropriate to charge a small fee when they use your resources. It does not have to be a monetary exchange, of course. If a restaurant stores extra flour on shelf space in your facility, free meals for your team would be appropriate compensation (and enjoyable, to boot). Just remember that there can be tax consequences for barters, which we will not discuss here.
#4. Form Political Partnerships
There is one thing that the pandemic made clear: local, state, and federal governments can issue orders that make or break small businesses. Where big businesses have more wiggle room to get through these rough times, you have to work hard to be heard by decision-makers in your local government as well as those at the federal level.
If you haven’t already done so, start calling, writing, or faxing to all politicians who have the power to help. Your voice will be magnified if you engage other small businesses to add their messages to yours. Your goal is to make your name recognizable and present a clear picture of issues that your representatives may not recognize – and specific suggestions — to appropriate politicians. Whether you are seeking financial assistance or easing of the lockdown, you want them to see your business as a friend in need. In other words, be respectful in your communications.
In the event that your new political friendships do not seem to be yielding necessary changes, you can also escalate your message by talking to the media. Some business owners have achieved a level of fame by creating powerful videos that make their situations crystal clear. It’s not uncommon for the videos to quickly appear on local (and often nationwide) news reports.
#5. Promote Each Other
Some businesses are naturally compatible, and they can easily promote each other — like when a bakery is next door to the No Sleep 4 You coffee shop. Additionally, the popularity of working from home creates new opportunities, such as the following:
- A home-office furniture store can easily promote any number of businesses on its website, including office supply stores, office equipment companies, and even virtual assistant services.
- HVAC businesses can obtain testimonials from home-based businesses that have been saved from business interruption due to their whole-house generators. Among other things, the testimonials put the small business name in front of more prospective customers.
- Small businesses that now use anything from small refrigerators to dog beds can promote the vendors that helped to turn their home’s breakfast nook into a real office.
Whether business promotion is done through loyalty cards, on social media, or your website, it’s not hard to take each other along for the ride.
Competition May Never be the Same
Hopefully, the day will soon come when your business can go it alone. The real question will be whether you want to suspend the relationships that you have formed. Chances are that you’ll now see your competitors in a different light.
Maybe you have different strengths that can help you all become more valuable when you work together. Perhaps you no longer want to participate in cut-throat rivalry with people whom you now like and respect.
No doubt, you will still have to compete from time to time; but that experience is likely to be less stressful. At the very least, you’ll look for creative ways to attract customers to your doors — and you’ll sleep better every night when you haven’t lived out each day in a competitive war zone.