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First date, then marry (not the other way around)

Yesterday, an enthusastic client came to me, all bubbly about a new service offer she’s putting together with another participant in my coaching program.

She was telling me about how they are going to link their websites together, put together a pamphlet to describe their new service, and asking me my opinion about their new name…

Then I asked her: “Do you have a client yet?”

That stopped her cold.

I learned the hard way this year about how to do (and how not to do) a strategic alliance. Back in November 2007, I was wondering how to promote my new coaching program “From Passion to Profit”, a 12-week intensive to help solos move from being poor to being profitable. And I was also very enthusiastic about finding clients but somewhat overwhelmed faced with that task.

At the time, I had met a forward thinking entrepreneur who was promoting a new web-based network marketing system, and who was looking for content. Being experienced at content creation, we quickly decided to combine forces where I would provide workshops and content for their system, and I would promote their system through my network. I believed that they had a farther geographical reach with my list than I had with mine, so it would give me a bigger platform to promote my program too. A win-win!

After launching the alliance to great fanfare we quickly realized that it was just not working out. Few people showed up to our joint events, I was getting more clients through other means, and the focus of their marketing efforts was also shifting to what was more profitable for them. On their side, as on mine, our hearts were just not in it. Luckily we both realized it and we quietly abandoned the joint project.

What I learned from that experience is to make sure we are first generating the interest and the sales, then look at how a public joint alliance can improve the relationship.

I recently met a coach/therapist that helps people get past their fears through a powerful and fast process. One of my clients was stuck, where we were going in a loop over the same fears over and over again. Out of curiosity, I placed a hold on my work with this client and referred her to the coach/therapist. She quickly was able to unblock my client, who returned happily to me and we continue forward.

After that happy result, I’ve referred other types of clients, allowing me to see how the coach/therapist works. I now consider her my “secret weapon” in helping my clients move quickly forward. There are not too many referrals from her to me, but that’s okay, because her main client base is different than mine.

I consider this alliance highly profitable for me, because my clients get quick and lasting results when they work with her, then come back ready to move forward with me. We don’t need to announce our relationship, it just works.

So strategic alliances are strange things, just like dating and marriage. I recommend trying things out in an informal referral relationship at first. Let the clients decide how they see the partnership. Get clients, make money. Then see if formalizing the alliance will truly improve client attraction and retention. But you’ve absolutely got to have clients first!

Lessons learned:

1. First test the alliance by actively referring clients between yourselves, each providing his/her own service. This helps to understand the “touch points” between you and your alliance partner, and how the combined service really works from the client point of view.

2. When the volume of clients being passed between you is sufficiently profitable, then that’s the time to consider joint marketing. On the other hand, like me, you may find that keeping each other’s independence is more valuable.

3. Consider joint marketing like a marriage, for better or worse you are blending (or blurring) your positioning and reputation with that of the other person.

4. At all times, consider the profitability of the alliance. If it is not profitable, don’t do it. It may be that what you really want is an accountability buddy or a mastermind group colleague. Don’t seek a strategic alliance just to soothe your loneliness!

5. Alliances are great. I highly recommend finding a compatible alliance partner. Just make sure that whatever you do builds your profit as well as stoking your passion! (…for your business project and vision, that is!)

When you find a fellow solopreneur that you like to work with, go first for the profitability, then go for the splash!

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