Strategic partnerships for startups: why are partnerships important from day 1?

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Gemma Lavers
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9 minute read

As a startup, you’ve probably had a lot to navigate already. However, there is more to navigate if you want to move your business forward in the right direction. At this point you might be thinking ‘what else?’ Well, strategic partnerships, that’s what else.  

In today’s rapidly changing environment, the most successful way to see growth in your business is to not take the ‘do it alone’ approach. The bottom line is, two brains are better than one. As a startup, you should be taking advantage of the knowledge you can get from partners, as well as the credibility and customer trust you can get from partnering with a more established brand.   

Why are strategic partnerships important for startups?

Let’s dive straight in the deep end, shall we? It’s crucial to not overlook the importance of strategic partnerships in your startup marketing strategy. 

To put it simply, strategic partnerships benefit everyone, from businesses, to employees to customers. For startups, partnerships can help you to expand your reach, broaden your addressable market and kickstart your reputation. Leveraging from the audience of a partner is essentially a short-cut to the market. Use this to your advantage!

For employees, a partnership will often mean they get the chance to learn something new and expand their expertise. In startups, small teams often mean that employees wear many ‘hats’ and accelerate quickly into positions of responsibility. Partnering with a more established and experienced brand that has solid processes in place is a great learning opportunity for your employees and for your brand as a whole. 

Not forgetting customers. The best partnerships are centred around making customers’ lives easier. So, your collaboration with another brand should do just that. It could either be a product partnership that brings a new product or service to the table, or a distribution marketing partnership that makes your product available to a new audience that will benefit from it.

Strategic partnerships are also a clever way of getting your foot in the door and begin networking with other businesses. Once you’ve established a partnership with a brand, you can take this connection into the future. If you ever need to work with them again, they’re more likely to as you’ve partnered with them once before. 

A great example of establishing a successful relationship with a partner comes from sustainable laundry service Oxwash and their partnership with Reckitt, a producer of health and hygiene products. Oxwash helped Reckitt from the beginning by delivering value through their technology and methods that achieve the goal of net zero emissions. Oxwash was also one of the first UK laundry services to provide Covid-19 disinfection products and methods. 

The partnership was so successful that Reckitt got Vanish involved as a partner too, and soon Oxwash were assisting the Vanish team with the testing of new products. More recently, Oxwash and Vanish have teamed up again to tackle the issue of clothing waste. 

Startup strategic partnerships

What are the benefits of strategic partnerships as a startup?

Beside the fact that strategic partnerships are a great way of getting your brand's name out there, there are numerous other benefits to securing strategic partnerships as a startup. Here are some of the key benefits to get your business off to a flying start. 

  • Expand your reach: What if we were to tell you there is any easy way of increasing your customer base? Strategic partnerships mean you can leverage your partner’s pre-existing customer base and expand your reach to customers who might have never found you otherwise. According to BPI network, 57% of businesses are already using partnerships to gain new customers, so why aren’t you?
  • Gain knowledge: Strategic partnerships are a great way to learn new things. You might be able to learn from larger, established businesses who have found ways to solve the same problems you now face. By working together you can pool your knowledge and both partners will benefit from an enhanced expertise.
  • Pool resources: As a startup, you’re probably working with limited resources. A partnership with the right brand could allow you to boost the resources at your disposal, and can even result in you achieving more! This doesn’t just mean the budget and man-power, but you could also pool your technology in a product partnership. So, each of you can focus on honing only one aspect of a larger product. After all, technology is powering our future.  
  • Build your brand reputation: When you partner with another brand, this other brand can give you the stamp of quality and trust you need, and vice versa. So by partnering with a brand who has a good reputation already, you’re working together to vouch for each other's credibility, trust and reputation, as well as leveraging off things like access to media coverage, personnel and other resources. Look at Samsung and startup business Niio in our October roundup. After their successful partnership, Niio managed to secure $15 million in Series A funding. 

How do I secure a strategic partnership as a startup?

Now onto the killer question, how on earth do you secure a strategic partnership as a startup and find the right fit for my business? Well, you’re in the right place for an answer. It can be tricky to know where to start, so here are four great tips in securing that perfect strategic partnership for your startup. 

1. Focus on what you can bring to the table

As a startup, you may think you have no hope of partnering with a big and well-established brand. Actually, this isn’t true. You may well be able to bring just as much to the table as they can to you.

This is especially true in the technology sector. Often, giants like Google or Microsoft team up on product partnerships with small tech companies or startups that can help fill a gap for them. Of course, these giants have the reputation, resources and experience. But generally, large companies have a lot of processes and protocols in place that prevent them from being able to move as fast as smaller, more agile companies. 

In a fast-moving marketplace, whether that be technology or another industry, the need to act quickly to launch new products and improvements is urgent. The tech giants need to react with haste to stay ahead of the competition, but they may be finding that their protocols are holding them back. 

So, by collaborating with a smaller startup, the technology ‘big guys’ are able to give themselves a competitive advantage. The moral here is to focus on how you can help a partner. Ultimately, that is what will swing their decision. 

2. Look for partnerships on multiple platforms

Sometimes it does make sense to partner with someone in your specialised field. However this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t broaden your horizons and look for strategic partnerships with brands in other sectors. Don’t be afraid to completely think outside the box when looking for strategic partnerships.

Searching for partners doesn’t always have to be done the traditional way. Your first port-of-call might be a partnership search engine, but there are other ways of finding strategic partnerships too. Take social media for example. Instagram in particular is a great place to find new brands and to discover any trending businesses too. 

For example, you could come across a brand who is doing really well on Instagram, who also could work really well as a partner for your startup. By dropping them a DM, you could suggest, or even set up a collaboration. Other ways of finding potential partners is to search for a hashtag that is relevant to your industry. 

Another example is joining online forums and groups to find like-minded businesses to collaborate with. Online Geniuses is a Slack community for marketers, created for the sole purpose to find people with a common interest and joint identity. Treat these groups as a source of advice and use them if you have a problem. The chances are, someone has been in the exact same position as you before. 

If you are interested in using influencer marketing to promote your product or service, then it could be a good idea to get involved with an influencer marketing platform. These platforms are an easy way to search for influencers, because trying to find influencers organically can take some time. A downside to these platforms is that the service does tend to come at a cost. In fact, Social Baker starts at around £150 a month for a subscription. 

So, by looking for partnerships on multiple platforms, you can find some great, and even exclusive partners you may have not found if you only look in one place. 

Successful startup partnerships

3. Find opportunities in corporate responsibility and charity partners

Your first partnership may not necessarily be about making money. It could just be about getting your brand out there and helping the community. Take Uber’s collaboration with the National Association of the Deaf as an example. Uber helped in ensuring that public transportation was accessible to deaf individuals by providing their drivers and riders with basic sign language phrases. 

Regardless as to whether you’re struggling to find a strategic partnership or not, there are always opportunities to be found in corporate social responsibility and charity partnerships. Local charity organisations who hold regular events could be a really good place to start. Getting involved with these could reflect positively on your brand and help expand your reach to a completely new audience. 

Even if this strategic partnership doesn’t push your brand forward in the way you would’ve liked, you, your employees, and customer base all know you’ve done something to benefit the community or environment.  

4. Use Breezy’s partnership search engine

Bear with us here while we give ourselves a cheeky plug. Breezy’s partnership search engine is purely there to help you out. We’re your best friend when searching and securing the perfect strategic partnership. 

You don’t know where to start? Start right here! As the world's most tailored partner search engine, signing up to Breezy is the easiest way of discovering hundreds of relevant partner suggestions for your business. 

As a startup, finding the right partnership can take up a lot of time, money and resources. In fact, the average affiliate or partnership manager spends 35% of their time sourcing new partners! Breezy’s partnership search engine is there to speed up the discovery process, so you can spend more time on making the partnerships successful, rather than finding them. 

Breezy has also added a handy tool which means you can filter your partners by size, geography, number of competitors and number of keywords. Think of us as your biggest supporters. We want you and your business to succeed as much as the next man! 

5. Networking is key

Your potential partner may only be a few people away from you. Did you know that according to the Six Degrees of Separation, everyone in the world is connected by six people or fewer. We haven’t just put this statistic in here randomly. This is actually something which you could use to your advantage when trying to secure a strategic partnership.

One of the most effective ways of securing strategic partnerships is by the traditional method of word of mouth. Developing a network of partners that you are strategically aligned with can take some time, but it can also be a key tactic in initiating high-quality partnerships.  

We even asked experienced affiliate marketing consultant Elliot Myers for his insight on how to make the most of events to become a better partnership manager. He told us: 

“The people who are at an event are usually more important than the speakers. Take the time to form meaningful connections – each one is a kind of partnership that can be built upon in the future.

When I meet someone, I always make an effort to understand their business model, how they work and what’s important to them in a partnership. By showing that I care, I’ve managed to build up a strong network of people who keep me up-to-date indirectly with what’s going on in the industry, and who keep me in mind when the right opportunities arrive.”   

Once you’ve started to network with businesses inside your field, or even outside of your field, you may find people speaking positively of your brand. Networking can even lead to referrals, where previous partners refer you to another brand to collaborate with. The world really is your oyster! 

Strategic partnerships for startups

When do partnerships not make sense for startups?

There are a couple of instances where strategic partnerships don’t make sense for startups. One of the instances is if you’ve taken on too many partnerships already. A lot of businesses make the mistake of committing to several strategic partnerships at once because they want to grow their partner programme quickly. 

However, as a startup, the best thing you can do is to prioritise quality over quantity. Be selective in your partnerships, this way you’ll be more likely to fully commit to them. This is when you’ll start to see results. So although Microsoft formed over 9,000 partnerships in one year, this doesn’t necessarily mean your startup should follow in their footsteps as you most likely won’t have the time and resources to build such a large partner programme immediately.

Also, strategic partnerships don’t make sense if you don’t know what you, or your business wants to achieve with them. There is no timeline for when is the best time to start embracing strategic partnerships. Saying that, if you don’t have clear goals in mind when you even begin to explore a strategic partnership, it doesn’t make sense to get involved with another business until you’ve decided on your objectives.  

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It’s sometimes not easy being a startup in the world of huge corporations like Amazon, Apple and Tesla. However, it can be made a whole lot easier by partnering with brands to give you that helping hand forward. Plus, you can benefit them too as you have something they don’t have - the freedom to be fast-moving and agile. These are both qualities that will make your startup attractive to potential partners. 

If you have decided on your goals, and want to start embracing the opportunities strategic partnerships could give your startup, you can sign up with Breezy to kickstart the journey of finding your perfect partner.

Gemma Lavers

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