How to build powerful strategic partners that will make your business thrive

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A rock hit my car and left a crack a bit smaller than a dime in my windshield.

A few weeks later I went to a carwash down the street—the one where they wash, vacuum and wax your car by hand.

After deciding which package I wanted, a guy came up to my window and mentioned the small crack in my windshield and offered to patch it for $20 while they cleaned my car.

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I thought about it for a sec and said yes since that would save me a trip to a glass repair specialist.

While waiting, I started to think about how smart it was for this guy to partner with the carwash to offer this service.

  • It’s a perfect location with plenty of possible customers.
  • The timing is excellent for me as the customer—since I’m already waiting for my car to get washed—and that makes it super easy to say yes to.
  • He doesn’t have to spend any money on advertising because the customers are right there in front of him.

These types of strategic partnerships can be huge for your business.

Have you thought about partnerships for your freelance business?

For freelancing, these partnerships might look a little different than the carwash example, but the benefits to you are similar. If you can find a partner in the position to send you work it cuts down on the time it takes to find prospects, convince them you are the right freelancer to work with, and get them to sign off on a new project.

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The supply chain

One easy way to find partners is to think of the process your typical client goes through when buying services like yours.

Ask yourself, “Where/who do they go to before me?”

So for example, if you are a web designer,  you would partner with a graphic designer because they normally come earlier in the buying chain.

A client knows they need a new logo, so they hire a graphic designer. Once that’s done, the next thing on their list is a new website. If you form a partnership with that graphic designer then you’ll get the referral.

First though, you’ve got to understand where you are in that chain.

If you are graphic designer looking for new clients, who do you partner with? Well, a naming specialist might be someone you try to contact.

If you specialize in flower arrangements for weddings, you’ll probably want to partner with an event planner.

What you want to do is look one step prior in the process before the buyer reaches you.

Another approach is connecting with those in the same field who may hire you as needed. If you are a graphic designer, that could mean working with an agency to take on their overflow work when they are over capacity.

Built in trust

If you work directly with the buyer you are going to benefit from the built-in trust you get from whoever refers you.

Remember, it’s not easy to find good people to work with. There is so much risk in finding new people that a client is much more inclined to work with you via referral rather than if you were pitching them yourself.

That’s why it’s much easier to win the work when it comes to you referred from a partner.

If the client has had a good experience with your partner, the easiest thing for them to do is to also hire you. It saves them the time it takes to look for someone on their own and reduces their risk because somebody has vouched for you already.

Context matters

It’s a matter of context.

Think if the guy at the carwash approached me in the grocery store parking lot asking me if I wanted my windshield fixed. I’m not sure I’d be inclined to say yes to him.

It seems like a much sketchier proposition in that context, but in the context of waiting in line at the carwash, he seems much more legit. Clearly, the carwash has vouched for him.

Same product, same service. All that’s changed is the context.

The benefits of partnerships

One of the many benefits to you—along with the built-in trust that comes from a referral—is that you get to piggyback on the work someone else has already done.

They’ve done the hard work of finding, qualifying and nurturing a relationship with the audience you are looking to serve and then you swoop in without spending any time, energy or money.

The carwash, for example, has spent money on advertising, has a huge crew of employees on payroll and has poured a ton of effort into creating a reputation that keeps the cars rolling in.

You might think this seems like an unfair deal for the business who has put in all this work, but in many cases, a partnership will allow them to do even more and get more out of that investment they’ve made.

In my business, for example, partnering with a web developer allows me to offer my clients something I could never do on my own, so it benefits the developer but it’s also a huge benefit to me and my clients as well.

Be strategic

Most freelancers probably already find work via referral (friends, relatives, former employers, etc.), but I bet most haven’t taken the time to actively seek out these kinds of alliances.

Imagine having five or ten of these partnerships in place so that you know exactly where your next client is going to come from.

Admittedly, it’s a nice surprise when someone sends work your way out of the blue, but that’s not something you can depend on.

Instead, be proactive about making these alliances and remember, what looks like a problem to you could actually be the solution to someone else’s problem. Your excess capacity is waiting to be filled by someone looking to off-load that work.

Let me know in the comments who you are targeting as a potential partner. 

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About Ian Vadas

Ian Vadas is a designer and the author of Work With Clients You Love. Get the eBook to learn how to select clients that pay well, treat you with respect and allow you to do your best work.

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