Your strategic alliances, or "creative joint ventures," can stretch far beyond the typical homebuilders, tree care companies and irrigation professionals in your market. Partnering with other local businesses—from carpet cleaners and car detailers to gas stations and grocery stores—can help expose your business to new customers, without forcing you to spend a ton of money on marketing.
Simply put, a creative joint venture is a collaboration between two or more entities. Each entity brings something to the table, and each expects to benefit from the collaboration. Creative joint ventures are also referred to as business-to-business agreements, team-approach marketing, product partnerships, service partnerships, or even plain old networking. Whatever one might call them, creative joint ventures are often quite effective at allowing companies to build both customer base and sales.
"Here's what I really want landscape contractors to understand," says Tony Bass of Super Lawn Technologies. "Some of the biggest and most successful companies across America have used joint ventures to expand their markets—to reach out to different types of people they would've never otherwise been able to effectively reach."
A great example is how the motion picture industry often cross-promotes with popular fast food restaurant chains when new movies are released. Each entity is after the same target audience. By working together and sharing the marketing cost, each can more effectively reach a greater mass of potential customers.
Identifying your opportunities
The easiest and foremost thing you should do is generate a list of all of your vendors. Aside from yourself and your employees, these are the people who benefit the most when you grow your business. They should want to partner with you.
Make sure your vendor list is complete. It's not just the suppliers you buy equipment, parts and materials from. It's everyone you buy goods and services from—from your office supply retailer to your insurance agent to the local gas station where you fuel up your trucks and equipment.
Once you've assembled your complete vendor list, identify those that make the most sense in terms of a potential creative joint venture. When does a given vendor make sense?
- Your products can be branded alongside one another because they are complementary to one another. For instance, a lawn care service and carpet cleaning service make sense. On the other hand, a cigarette retailer and health club probably don't.
- Your products target the same type of customer.
Once you identify a few realistic vendors, Bass says you have to ask yourself a few more questions about each:
- Are they a respected member of the community?
- Are you confident in their quality of work?
- Are you confident that their level of customer service is on par with yours?
- Would you have something to gain by partnering with them? For example, a relatively new company with little in the way of an established customer base might not be the best choice.
Reaching out to potential partners
When you feel good about a potential joint venture partner, Bass advises you to reach out to them and say something like this:
"We enjoy doing business with you guys; you're a top-notch organization. I'm sure you'd like to continue to grow your business, and we certainly would like to continue growing ours. We'd like to consider a joint venture relationship where I'd endorse your company to our landscape customers, in exchange for you endorsing our landscape services to an equal number of your clients."
Create a new revenue source, and lots of goodwill
More established contractors might also want to use a creative joint venture to generate newfound cash flow—especially during the slower months of the year.
"If you have a good customer list built up, why not offer to endorse another business and market their products or services to your customers?" Bass asks. "You can set up the agreement so that you receive a percentage of their sales to your customer base. Not only are you creating a new revenue stream, but you're creating a tremendous amount of goodwill with your clients because you're helping them get a good deal on a product or service they likely need."
Bass reminds that it's important to open your mind to the countless possibilities that exist for forming creative joint ventures. He offers the following example from his landscape contracting days:
"One of the best marketing ideas I ever had was partnering with a locally owned grocery store that also happened to have gas pumps out in the parking lot. That's where I bought a lot of the fuel for my landscaping operation. I told the owner of that grocery store that I'd like to endorse their meat department—by promoting an offer specially designed for my clients. At the time, my company was sending out a monthly newsletter to around 1,200 people. That's where we'd feature that special promotion. The grocery store owner loved it—and gained several new customers. More importantly to me and my business, my clients appreciated the fact that I was looking out for them. It was another low-cost way for me to set myself apart and help foster customer loyalty."