How to Build Partnerships: 13 Tips From Startups

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What is one way a startup can effectively build a partnership with a bigger brand?

To help you build partnerships with bigger brands, we asked entrepreneurs and business leaders this question for their insights. From collaborating on social media CSR initiatives to performing pro bono services, there are several ways you can nurture effective partnerships for your startup.

Here are 13 startup tips to build partnerships: 

  • Show Fierce Determination
  • Get on a Video Call
  • Determine the Value-Add for Both Sides
  • Collaborate on Social Media CSR Initiatives
  • Fill a Void
  • Identify How You Can Solve Their Problems
  • Perform Pro Bono Services
  • Align Your Goals and Vision
  • Know What You Bring to the Table
  • Approach the Right Points of Contact
  • Gauge Your Audience Interest
  • Help to Realize Their Vision
  • Know What You Want Out of the Partnership

Show Fierce Determination

Be persistent. You may not get a response the first time around, but don’t let that stop you. Bigger brands receive an abundance of requests on a regular basis. As a result, it may take time for you to breakthrough, but don’t let that dissuade you. 

Keep contacting them. Continue to reach out to them and let them know how your company is doing, update them about recent news coverage and always make sure you are on their radar. If you keep that up, eventually you will receive a response.

Bill Glaser, Outstanding Foods

Get on a Video Call

Where I find success in building partnerships with bigger brands is through a video call. Sending emails, LinkedIn messages, and filling out contact forms leads to back and forth written communication that can stretch out over multiple weeks. 

Being able to have the partners’ undivided attention for just fifteen minutes allows you to pitch your partnership, answer any questions, and give directions on next steps. Face-to-face interaction (even virtually) helps build rapport and trust which is essential to an ongoing partnership.

Adrian James, Markitors

Determine the Value-Add for Both Sides

A partnership between a startup and a bigger brand needs to be rooted in a value-add for both sides. That means each side needs to specifically understand the concept, why it matters, and their expected ROI. 

For example, a small snack brand can launch a collaboration with a large shoe company, but what is the value-add for each? Being really clear about that up-front will more likely result in a successful, potentially long-term, lucrative partnership.

Ryan Brown, Kenra Professional

Collaborate on Social Media CSR Initiatives

Laying the foundations for a partnership can be as easy as approaching the brand to partner with you in one of your online corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts. Many people are becoming conscious about their shopping now more than ever because of the pandemic, current social issues, and climate crisis. 

Because of this, they’re looking to shop at and connect with sustainable and socially-responsible retailers and brands. And they’re willing to go on social media and support their cause.

By approaching a more recognizable brand to co-sponsor an online fundraiser or participate in a social media challenge to build awareness for a cause, you’ll establish a relationship with that brand and gain exposure to a larger audience. But more importantly, you’ll both be doing something good for society.

Summer Romasco, Ad Hoc Labs

Fill a Void

One effective way to build a partnership with a bigger brand is to study the ways in which you can benefit them. You already know your needs and desires, however, generally, a larger brand has already gone through those growing pains. 

Research a company looking for every way that partnering with you can benefit them, and you will be more likely to generate their interests. Start by looking at the limitations of larger companies, such as inflexibility, a longer decision-making process, or hesitancy to run test products. See where your company can fill those gaps. 

If there are new markets that they wish to enter, see if there are avenues to partner with them to do it on their behalf. By tailoring your strengths to their limitations, you can generate interest in forming a partnership that will meet your needs as well.

Woody Sears, Hearhere

Identify How You Can Solve Their Problems

As a startup, you can effectively build a partnership with bigger brands by identifying how your products can solve their problems. It creates an opportunity for mutual benefits. 

When you have a good understanding of a brand’s strengths and weaknesses, it allows you to find and offer solutions that produce favorable results. It compels these brands to forge a partnership with you, an opportunity for growth and development for your business.

Nunzio Ross, Majesty Coffee

Perform Pro Bono Services

One way a startup can effectively build a partnership with a bigger brand is to bring value to this brand. One way that you can bring value to a bigger brand is by offering pro bono services and products to this bigger brand if they agree to partner with you. 

This gives the larger brand the value that they are looking for in this partnership and if your services can help this larger brand, then it is a win-win situation for all involved. Consider offering your services pro bono and try to partner with bigger brands to help your startup grow.

John Wu, Gryphon Connect

Align Your Goals and Vision

When building a successful partnership with a larger brand, it’s important that the goals and values of both companies are aligned. Both brands should complement one another and add value to customers. 

Being a small startup is not a disadvantage if you can show the bigger brand your passion, drive, and resolve. A meaningful partnership will stand to benefit everyone.

Hayley Albright, Xena Workwear

Know What You Bring to the Table

Your partnership should be one of give and take. Before you set up a meeting with a larger brand, know what you have to offer them. Your startup was most likely born because you found a solution to a problem. 

Make sure your solution helps the other company as well. A good way to do this is to brainstorm with your team ahead of time to come up with a strategy that effectively makes your case.

Jean Gregoire, Lovebox

Approach the Right Points of Contact

Big brands have several decision-makers working in tandem with each other. While a startup’s proposal being shot down without even validating reasons is commonplace, what’s scarier is not even being able to reach out to the top brass.

So, the first step towards building an effective partnership is to approach the right personnel through the proper channels — ensuring your startup’s proposal does not get lost in the noise.

A good professional network that provides you insights into the brand’s inner workings is always a perk. Use your leverage in the industry to find a way in. Another way to do this yourself is to build a quick rapport with brand executives via professional digital platforms such as LinkedIn.

Hold the proposal until you are sure you have found the optimum points of contact. No matter how great your proposal, it won’t hold much value in the wrong hands.

Krista Haws, Dripped Coffee

Gauge Your Audience’s Interest

Startups can leverage their current audience to determine if a partnership can be successful with a particular brand. Aside from the business vision and values, an audience overlap is crucial in partnering with bigger brands. 

Gauging your audience’s response and interest in a company can help you decide on the succeeding steps to make the potential partnership work. This allows your brand to reach new markets and niches.

Arthur Iinuma, ISBX

Help to Realize Their Vision

Bigger brands value partnerships that help them realize their visions. It is good to build causes which they are prioritizing as well. They also want to generate a significant impact and reach a broader audience, and doing business with start-ups and small businesses is one way to do so.

Kathryn McDavid, Editor’s Pick

Know What You Want Out of the Partnership

It is important to know what exactly you are looking for out of the partnership before pursuing it. Understand your strengths and what you can provide a larger brand. 

By understanding your strengths you can more easily pitch to a larger brand and have better clarity on why a partnership with your company will be beneficial.

Rich Rudzinski, Oversight

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