When I first started my own consulting business, in 2001, I was a sole owner/worker and thought I was on top of the world! I was really ready to have people knocking on my door, ready to use my incredible services. As any first time business owner will tell you, this is not an uncommon phenomenon, but it is most likely not reality.
That passion to be my own “boss” and to have my own business is still there. The difference is that now I understand how to build my specific “field of dreams”. In the movie, “Field of Dreams”, the famous line is, “If you build it they will come.” Many entrepreneurs fall into the trap of merely putting their business together (building it) and expecting customers to flock to them.
Most entrepreneurs come from a corporate environment, where if they need specific assistance on a project, they pick up the phone and call that department or division and get the help they need. When they start their own business, the reality is they are the total business. They are expected to do all the various functions that make a business viable – logistics, scheduling, customer service, sales, marketing, hiring, writing, calling, — you name it and it has your name on it!
I remember that wake up call when I had been in business for 6 months and did not have a customer. I didn’t know how to market my services, how to explain my concept, or how to close the deal or how to price anything. I did know how to meet people and talk to people – so I involved my self with ASBA (Arizona Small Business Association) and NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners).
I discovered that the way to build my dream was to surround myself with men and especially women, smarter than I am in areas that I did not have expertise. I discovered that by forming alliances and partnerships with other businesses, I had the ability to develop customer service techniques, sales and marketing processes, writing newsletters and presentations, and how to tell others what I do. I may have been able to reach these areas of expertise on my own, but it would have taken a lot longer and would not have been as much fun.
So, what type of partnerships am I talking about? There are (in my mind) two types of partnerships:
- Formal with written agreements and clauses
- Informal with a handshake and an agreement to work on a specific area
Formal agreements usually come with a fee, and that is okay if that is what you need. I have used formal, paid partnerships and they have proven to be very helpful in my business growth.
The informal partnerships may or may not be paid, but are usually of a short duration and may reoccur throughout the course of your business.
Let me give you an example of these partnerships:
When I first started my business, I realized I needed a website. At a networking function I met Joey Ambrose and I hired him to put together my first website. It was a paid partnership with specific guidelines in place. I was excited and Joey was excited too as he was just starting his dream building. That partnership has developed over the past 7 years to a strong friendship, where we both trust and respect one another. So, when I dreamed about my own Internet HR program, the first person I spoke to was Joey, who helped my through the process and has been a strong supporter.
An informal partnership is developed over time and relationship building. My example of this type of partnership included my friendship with Ellen Kirton, who started out as my business coach and so believed in my dream that she asked to be able to share that dream. She brings knowledge to the business that I do not have but that is needed. We started with a formal agreement, moved to an informal arrangement and she is now an integral part of EffortlessHR.
You develop these partnerships/alliances through your involvement with organizations. I have been able to build a strong base through NAWBO and I consider my circle of influence to have grown over the past 7 years. Women, especially, need to develop the networking and building of relationships in their businesses. This is most easily accomplished through the participation in women business organizations where you can look for similar values among the women. Men have long ago established the “good old boy” network and women are now learning the value of these relationships. Our relationships are based more on nurturing and relationships but are long lasting and very, very effective.
So, my advice is to dream your dream, but surround yourself with smart women who have the experience you need to make the dream a reality. As you surround yourself with them, they are also surrounding their businesses with their supporters. Don’t be afraid to tap into these wonderful resources – we are really all in this together!