Leadership

Building a local business network

Learn how to seek out and develop valuable alliances with other like-minded business owners in your community.

Published: February 21, 2013
Updated: February 22, 2017

For business owners looking to reach new customers or gain more exposure in a community, the solution could be right around the corner. Creating alliances with local businesses can help broaden your customer base and open up new avenues to market your products or services.

The first step is finding the right business to work with. Target your search with these tips:

Consider related products and services. The key to a successful alliance is finding a business whose products complement your own. For example, the owner of a coffee shop could join with a nearby bakery owner to display coupons in each other's stores. Real-estate agents could develop relationships with home remodelers and recommend each other's businesses.

Get off the beaten track. Consider conducting market research outside your immediate area. Based on your findings, think about forming a relationship with a business in a different shopping district in your community. This strategy will help you reach new clients who never would have realized your business was only a few streets away.

Join more than one network. Your local network can include more than just other businesses. Consider reaching out to local associations or non-profits in the community. "The Leigh Gallery is always receptive to teaming up with other like-minded businesses to gain more visibility and expand recognition of our fine art section," says Jean Leigh, owner of The Leigh Gallery in Chicago. Leigh belongs to three local merchant groups, including the Central Lakeview Merchants Association, Northalsted Business Alliance, and Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce. During the holidays, the gallery teams up with the local Chambers to utilize their extensive marketing opportunities. "By joining up with other Chambers of Commerce, we get so much more exposure from their member base."

Talk to your customers. Develop good relationships with your existing clients, and you may uncover a potential joint venture. For instance, if you own a beauty salon and one of your clients is a photographer, you could offer up your styling services in exchange for the next photo shoot he or she works on. The better you know your customers, the more opportunities you'll uncover.

Do your research. Use resources such as Yelp reviews, Angie's List, Better Business Bureau ratings, and local newspaper stories to research companies and ensure the business enhances your reputation. Is the business active in the community? Are you comfortable with their social media presence?

Once you've reached out to a potential ally, make sure you spell out clearly what each person will contribute. Remember that only win-win relationships are truly sustainable, so there should be a clear benefit to be gained by both sides.  Be upfront about where each business will display marketing materials and how you'll recommend each other's services. You never know what will work best until you test it, so always be on the lookout for new opportunities. You will quickly see how alliances can become a new exciting way to gain recognition, expand your customer base, and ultimately grow your business within a community. 

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