How to Make Smart Use of Local Partnerships

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It’s true that teamwork makes the dream work. That’s why Jon Kozesky, founder of the Cleveland, Ohio consulting firm Jon Thomas Consulting and executive director of the Brecksville, Ohio Chamber of Commerce, finds ways to connect the small businesses in his community. “Your company might be small,” he says. “But if we all band together, we can actually begin to compete with some of those bigger organizations.”

Forming strategic partnerships with fellow local entrepreneurs allows you to share and get knowledge that helps grow your business, Kozesky adds, and the right partnerships can also help you to expand your customer base. That’s why, in his Chamber of Commerce work, Kozesky consistently makes introductions between business owners and suggests creative ways small businesses in his community can work together.

One relationship that developed with Kozesky’s help is between Brecksville Florist, a 65-year-old floral shop, and Creekside Restaurant and Bar, a restaurant that sits right next door. “The florist regularly donates flowers for the restaurant’s tabletops, and includes information and a discount code on each arrangement for restaurants customers to view,” Kozesky says. “And vice versa, the people coming into the florist shop receive menus for the restaurant next door with a discount code as well.” Simple but effective.

More often than not, a partnership can help bring out the best of your small business and help to encourage growth. Here are a few more ways to take advantage of strategic local partnerships:

Optimize your customers’ experience

The best partnerships improve overall customer experience, says Katharine Lau, CEO and co-founder of the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based self-storage company, Stuf. After launching her business in 2020, Lau considered partnering with a moving company, since she knew that self-storage and moving go hand-in-hand. So, she considered it fortuitous when Ashley Graber, co-owner of the New York City moving company Cool Hand Movers, reached out about partnering in the summer of 2021. After getting to know each other (and eventually becoming close friends) the two began referring customers to one another through a handshake deal. It’s a casual partnership–neither gets a cut from recommending the other–but a deal that’s benefits both. “We really want to make sure that our customers have a good experience end to end,” Lau says. “And it’s possible to do that without having to build a both a storage company and a moving company at the same time.”

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Because the two are used to working together, they’ve perfected the moving and storage process–which can often be complicated, Lau adds. “Moving is so stressful–you can only imagine how much more stressful it is if you can’t get access to your storage location, or if the movers don’t show up on time,” she says. “We manage that coordination and actually talk to each other.”  

Be prepared to experiment

When Kate De Palma launched her San Jose, California-based candle company, Scented Designs in 2016, she imagined she’d primarily sell her products directly to consumers. Until, that is, a local boudoir photographer contacted her in 2020 asking if she’d be open to collaborating on a candle, which the photographer would use as client gifts. “We designed a custom label with his information on it, and at first, he just needed a couple–then that turned into dozens,” De Palma says. The photographer introduced her to a wedding makeup artist who had a similar request, and then she met a publicist who introduced her to a wider array of clients. To date, De Palma has created custom candle orders for an animal rescue apparel company, yoga studios, spas, realtors, and more small businesses in her area.

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About half of De Palma’s partnerships come from businesses reaching out directly to her, though as business has picked up, she’s learned to advocate for the benefit of her own business, too. “When I’m working with other local businesses, I always want it to feel like a cross-collaboration, so we keep ‘Poured by Scented Designs’ on the label,” she says. “It’s made all the difference in the world.”

Create complementary offerings

When the pandemic briefly shut down food trucks in Philadelphia in 2020, V’Esther Goode, owner of Boomer’s Kitchen and Catering and a Verizon Small Business Digital Ready partner, pivoted her business to focus on catering. So when she received a DM on Instagram from a local craft beer maker, Attic Brewing Company, asking if she’d be interested in doing pop-ups with her food truck, she was excited. “It was a great way for me to get back out there and reach a new audience,” she says. 

While Goode usually serves American-style food like chicken fingers, burgers, and Philly-inspired cheese steak egg rolls from her truck, she decided to try something different when she planned to pop up at the brewery on May 5, Cinco De Mayo. “We did tacos, and there was literally a line of customers wrapped around the block,” she says. “The brewery looked at their numbers for that day and said, ‘Why don’t we do taco Tuesdays once a month?'”

The brewery doesn’t charge Goode to park her truck, but with their monthly coordination with tacos and drink specials, both businesses pull in a higher-than-average profit each time Goode pops up. “I’m not a taco truck, but I am, once a month–and that’s one of my best-selling days,” she says.