Seasoned Advice looks at the world of business building + branding. Storytelling and lessons learned with the attitude of a big sister and the unconditional love of a cosmic mom.
Seasoned Advice: Entrepreneurial Strategy
[How to] double down on your network with partnerships, pods, and bonded pairs.
I’ve got a huge brand crush on my local auto garage.
I love to read their love notes in every service touch. The service reminder decal on my windshield tells me when I need to come back, but adds “You rock!” Everyone from the front desk guy to the mechanic to the office manager frames our relationship in terms of Service. “It’s not urgent, but you really need to replace your tires in two more Services,” they say, after fixing a wholly different problem. Oil change in one service, tire rotation in two, brakes that will last another 5000 miles. Now I can plan for the care and maintenance of my car
Between carpools and clients, that bad boy is something in which I spend an inordinate amount of time.
So when the Big Box Tire folks send me a coupon in the mail, I toss it. No I would NOT like to save $50, thankyouverymuch. Even though it may cost a smidge more for Nealy’s to put on the same tires, it’s worth it for the peace of mind that comes with knowing they’ve got my back for the long haul. It’s a different kind of investment.
Solid brand promises delivered consistently inspire my loyalty. A personal phone call following up on Service gets me setting the next appointment. A well-timed email has me writing them into our household budget.
They just make it so easy to love them.
I’m seeing them everywhere. People making their lives easier and their businesses run smoother by doubling down on relationships.
“I just love her. She so gets me,” a colleague recently shared with me. She was gushing about graphic designer Stacy Kleber Jensen, the magical design unicorn who created the brand look for her marketing firm, Cakewalk Strategies. She added, “I am never using anyone else.”
(I know just what she means. I am just as loyal to my own magical design unicorn at Studio CCNiii.)
If you take a cursory look at our partnership job by job, one (and only one) designer may not seem a perfect fit for every single project or initiative, and it might make sense for me to pair individual projects with individual magical design/coding/developer/illustrator/SEO unicorns. In other words, shop the project. But the value of a single, long-standing relationship is in the dependable expectations and the freedom of expression.
Calvin knows what to expect from me, and I know what to expect from him. We’ve developed a sixth sense for where we can push the envelope on creative outcomes and where we can cut back. (And boy, is that fun!)
The grand prize of our long history is a verbal shorthand that gets right to the point.
When saying “I need you to CCN3 the shit out of this thing,” is just as effective as a detailed design brief, you’ve hit the sweet spot in you symbiotic relationship. #squadgoals
Just recently I really felt the merit of my ride-or-die relationship with Calvin when I realized I had no branded STUFF for my sponsorship table at DC Podfest. (Mon dieu, the cobbler’s children have no freaking shoes!) Right away he rushed to my rescue with a retractable banner, badass notepads, and killer rack cards.
Without this ride-or-die bond, I would have had to 1) pay out the nose or 2) been shit out of luck.
Our quid pro quo means an exclusive and steady stream of work for him and kickass deliverables for me and my clients.
While it’s tempting to shop around for better pricing or a fresh face, seasoned and savvy business owners pick their people….. and stick with them.
When it comes to your people, it’s not lay-z, un-evolved, or stuck-think to put all your eggs in one basket. It’s actually the secret to short on-boarding and long-term game plans.
It’s how to inspire loyalty in your brand and in your people. It’s a brand promise to your A-list network.
You’re my main man on this thing….. and I sure hope it’s mutual.
My girl Jennifer Crawford at Social Media Rescue is also in love with the power of bonded relationships.
“Form a pod!” she advises enthusiastically, when talking about brand strategy. “Find a few neighbors if you’re retail, or cousins in industry if you’re not, and come together co-op style to get commodity pricing and service on something you all need.”
Take out a time share with your business buds on some much needed professional services. A rising tide lifts all boats, etc.
Or… a group of brick-n-mortar neighbors get full-time marketing support distributed across all of their businesses. A real estate agent, a home inspector, a well warranty provider, a mortgage outfit, and a title company band together to get more people in dream homes at the beach.
Or… a digital marketer who can expand and contract her business model in response to the market by keeping a graphic designer, a copywriter, an SEO genius, and a web developer close at hand and well cared for.
I see her idea of “pods” popping up everywhere in the business landscape.
Recently I visited a client onsite at one of their projects. They are a to the trade-only carpet and rug purveyor, and they are just about as “old school” as you can get.
I watched a skilled craftsmen painstakingly wrap two intricate staircases in drop dead gorgeous carpet with eagle eye precision. To my surprise the Interior Designer was someone I used to know two careers ago. (Folks who have known me since my Buck’s days will appreciate this shout out to Alefantis & Associates!)
I asked her to show me the rest of the house and talk about the times when HER client (the homeowner) had opted to use MY client for their project.
“Carpet Impressions, Carpet Impressions,” she said, pointing out each room as we walked by, indicating each leg of the project where she had gone to the showroom, cherry-picked samples, and customized rugs to fit and finish each unique look.
We passed through the dining room and she stopped, nodding her chin in the direction of three adjacent rooms. These were the places where her client had shopped for The Rug, not The Purveyor, going with a popular chain brand instead. The homeowner had exercised the deciding vote, and the designer had lost some control of the outcome.
Everyone in ‘The Pod’ loses opportunities when the client goes off the reservation, even though it’s their right to do so.
Back with the sales team, my main man Mike is telling me about his valued partnerships and unique consultative selling approach working with his commercial clients (apartment buildings, law firms, public spaces). “I’ve been in the business 30 years and I know when someone is going to be really successful in this industry,” he explains. “People who are constantly shopping don’t last. They get lost in that process. It’s better to deal with people you trust if you are in it for the long haul.”
Relationships are the key to Mike’s own personal and professional success. By working with only a handful of trusted sources, Carpet Impressions gets the benefit of great pricing and superior products. And the carpet mills? They love it, too. After all, Mike makes their job easier by creating sales from vetted customers and pretty much guaranteeing all the preliminary work will be delivered on-time, detail-driven, and virtually error-free. It’s a win-win for everybody when the right product for the right application is installed the right way. BOOM!
We all want brand loyalty. We all want to be noticed.
We write blog posts, host events, and agree to giveaways. We go on blind coffee dates to expand our referral network and pray that it was worthwhile.
We spin our wheels at 4am to think about all the different ways we can inspire brand loyalty. Even if we figure out how to get noticed on oversaturated media outlets, it doesn’t end there. How do we stay relevant? How do we evolve to be consistently top of mind?
Brand loyalty is a two-way street – you’ve got to give something to get something.
Before we can realistically expect our best clients, crew, and colleagues to be loyal to us, we have to find our people and be loyal to them first. We have to lead from the back, practice what we preach, pick up what we’re putting down.
We can’t ask our clients not to shop our services looking for a better deal, and then turn around and shop our own stuff around. (Hypocrisy is not a great brand builder.)
Well, we can, technically, but what would we be giving up? The chance to work with one and only one specialist who just gets you. They know your limitations… and your life goals. They speak your language. They easily anticipate your needs, and the needs of your clients. They’ve got your back, and you’ve got theirs (read: a steady supply of solid work over the long haul).
And that right there is worth all the $50 OFF coupons in my recycling bin.
Who are your ride-or-dies? What benefits have you noticed in a your value partnerships, pods or bonded pairs? Tell me your trials and triumphs doubling down on your network in the comments below or on social @rebeccagunter_
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