Category Archives for "Relational Marketing"

Business people with jigsaw pieces

Joint Ventures

Higher levels of trust become possible as collaborators ascend the awareness ladder.  Businesses sharing customers require more trust than when they raise awareness together of a shared problem.  In the final post in this sequence about collaboration, I explore joint ventures. 

Last time, I looked at close collaboration such as shared staff or premises.  That type of sharing could result in a merger.  Joint ventures are by definition where two businesses work together but keep their identities.

What are Joint Ventures?

For joint ventures, two or more businesses share in some enterprise.  For simplicity I’ll assume two businesses.  The enterprise gets much more complicated where more businesses are involved.  Chances are, where a large number of businesses are involved, some are not in the joint venture  but invited to provide a service.

For a joint venture, participating businesses have a stake in the venture and share risks.  The split does not have to be equal so long as both businesses have a significant stake.

This implies both invest time and money in the venture.  They share profit according to some agreed formula.  Normally it’s proportional to investment but there are circumstances where one takes a greater portion, eg if one lends its reputation to the venture.

Customer Initiated Ventures

Sometimes a business enters into conversation with a prospect about a high-end undertaking and realises that although it can deliver a significant proportion of the customer’s requirements, it needs assistance from another business.

This assistance could be and often is delivered through subcontracting.  What would be the advantage of a joint venture? 

Consider a joint venture where the work to be contracted out is significant, to the extent both businesses are responsible for delivery of the contract.  Subcontracting works because if there is failure, it’s fairly easy to recover.  Where shared work is substantial, it may be better for both businesses to shoulder responsibility for completion.    Close collaboration might be essential for success and so the initiating business needs someone they trust with a stake in the contract.

The prospect may be aware one business working alone cannot deliver the work.  They will contract with a credible joint venture.  They may be happy for businesses to choose their own venture partners, probably wise where trust is crucial to the success of the venture.

Shared Projects

Alternatively, the joint venture might come from planning a new enterprise between two businesses.  Their biggest problem is where the businesses have very different understandings of the venture.  They start out apparently close and then discover they are poles apart.

So, it’s important to discuss the venture in depth.  Are both talking about the same thing?  This need not take up much extra time because even with complete agreement, you need to assess the viability of the venture.  Testing the idea allows ample time to test the partnership.

Where you share premises and/or staff, joint ventures may seem a natural development.  However, just because you support and inspire one another, it does not follow joint ventures are easy.  If you work together in other ways, you understand how the other works.  It may seem joint ventures are a natural development but choosing projects for collaboration should be done with care.  Are we likely to pull together or pull apart?  If one project won’t work, maybe another will. 

This completes the sequence about collaboration between similar businesses.

Three people in office meeting

Collaboration over Shared Costs

Another area for collaboration is shared costs.  This requires a high level of trust and so maybe Rung 4 on the Awareness Ladder.  Shared costs imply collaboration over clients such as I described in my post about advice and subcontracting.


Take professional advice if you contemplate close collaboration with another business over a significant period of time. 

It’s important to put whatever you agree into writing and all parties should take independent legal advice.  As far as possible, you want your arrangement to be lawful, so in the event of disagreement, it’s possible to resolve it through legal opinion.  If it’s not possible for every aspect of your collaboration, it’s important you enter the agreement wth a clear understanding of the legal implications.

Look at it this way.  Say one party walks away after a few years for perfectly understandable issues.  All parties understand why and are sympathetic with their reasons.  No-one can predict what life will throw at us.

Consider too, what happens should one party die.  What would be owed to their estate?  If they provided from the arrangement for their family, it seems hardly fair if their family loses out, even if they never contribute directly to the business. 

Unravelling legal implications of one party defaulting on an agreement, even where there is sympathy and understanding, is best done in advance.  There could be major implications for all parties in the event of death.

The implications could be more serious for an acrimonious split or fraud. 

It’s your responsibility to take judicious steps and what follows assumes you do.

Support through Shared Costs

Let’s focus on the advantages.  Shared premises and/or staff open up possibilities of support between the businesses involved.  Assuming there’s common ground, day to day contact means everyone works more efficiently, generates new ideas through conversations and presents a united front when things go wrong.

Furthermore, shared facilities increase capacity.  With shared premises, there may be space for one-to-one meetings with clients or workshop spaces.  It may be possible to build a library or house other shared resources. 

Shared staff means all parties increase capacity.  On their own, they might not be able to support basic administration.  Together they can afford support that frees them to do more.

Another possibility may be shared branding.  Probably not for the parties, who remain independent but perhaps for the premises. 


Shared premises are a possibility.  Even if you all do the same type of thing, if everyone works from the same place, then prospects know where to look.  This is the principle where professional firms such as solicitors work from the same place, even though they are self-employed.

Following from that, shared equipment may be possible.  It depends what you do but most offices need a photocopier and a network server. 

Staff is another possibility.  Someone who acts as a PA to all the staff may be possible.  They would cut down the time spent doing admin and free up the businesses to focus on their work.

It’s possible over time, you move closer together and become a single organisation.  This is not always the best outcome, you need to see what happens.  There are several ways to do it.  Whatever happens you must be clear about areas of accountability.  Who is responsible for what?

An interesting dimension is where one person takes an entrepreneurial approach.  If others favour a vocational approach, then the entrepreneur might grow the business, providing the space in which the others operate.  It’s likely the entrepreneur takes an active interest in the business activity but enjoys the management of premises, staff and growing the business.

Every step we take in business involves risk but it’s worth considering possibilities for growing collaboration.

The final possibility I’ll consider in this sequence is joint ventures.  They need not imply collaboration over premises and staff but in some ways make the biggest demands on trust.

Kittens subcontract gardening tasks

Advice and Subcontracting

This sequence explores collaboration between similar businesses.  I use the Awareness Ladder throughout these posts.  The higher up the ladder you go, the more trust you need for collaboration.  This post is about advice and subcontracting, they are quite different but similar in one respect.  With both, businesses help out another with their clients.


Advice is a private arrangement between two businesses.  There’s no need for the client to be informed.  If the client’s aware, it’s your marketing decision.  Take care because you could give the impression the business receiving advice is not up to their job and the client might be better off with the business offering advice!

No-one is good at everything and so it is wise to seek advice.  It’s good sense for a prospect to choose you because you’re the best at 80% of what they need.  The reminder may be deliverable but benefit from a more expert eye. 

Further, there may be advantages when you discuss a client’s problems with a colleague.  For a complex package, an independent eye might be invaluable.  However, there may be issues of confidentiality and so take care to square this between all three parties.

Such an arrangement could be mutual, where you meet as equals and share information about your clients and support each other. Such an arrangement is between peers.  For this reason, payment should not be an issue.  You meet for as long as both find it beneficial.

Mentoring and Coaching

Where you pay for support, this implies mentoring or coaching. 

People may disagree about terminology. If there’s a difference between mentoring and coaching, it is mentoring implies a more experienced practitioner helps someone grow into their role.  With coaching, the business-owner makes their own decisions, helped to think them through by an experienced coach, not necessarily experienced in the subject area.

Coaching is often received by more experienced practitioners.  They find coaching helps, even though they are experienced.  Whether clients understand this depends on how it’s presented.  Essentially it is a private arrangement.  Mention it to clients where their issues are sensitive and they might not want them discussed in their absence.


Subcontracting implies the client plays an active role.  The client pays one person and that person pays a third party to deliver part of the contract.  This is not the same as a joint venture, where the business-owners have a mutual stake in the contract.

Cox and Box

Here the subcontractor meets privately with the client for one or more sessions.  There is no need for the contractor to be present because they know the ground to be covered in their absence. 

Say the contract is for help with a marketing strategy.  The client needs help with personal style.  If the contractor knows little about this, they have little to contribute at a meeting and what they do know might undermine the subcontractor.  The contractor receives feedback from both client and subcontractor, if they need it.

Everyone Together

Here the subcontractor needs input from the contractor as a well as the client.  For example, a marketing contract might include time with a website designer.  The contractor may have valuable insights, to help the client prepare and present their brief. Supporting a client as they present their brief to a subcontractor is a valuable skill often overlooked by matketing coaches.

Getting all three parties together is productive.  The client benefits from listening to conversation incuding two professionals.  There is need for trust between the contractor and subcontractor and clarity about the purpose of meetings and roles of each participant.

Trust is essential for both advice and subcontracting.  Next time I’ll cover ways in which independent businesses collaborate further, short of becoming a single business.


Support Through Endorsements

Last time, I wrote about use of referrals with collaborating businesses.  Endorsements may seem similar but they are not.  They apply between levels 3 and 4 on the Awareness Ladder, where the business owner demonstrates credibility.

Why Use Endorsements?

Referrals are private and endorsements public.  A referral is between two businesses and a prospect.  It is tailored to the needs of the prospect.  As such it sits comfortably at rung 3 of the Awareness Ladder, where the prospect chooses your business.

Endorsements help where the prospect moves to rung 4.  They like what they see but ask how credible is this operation?  An endorsement from a similar business may help establish your business credentials.

Endorsements may help lower down the Awareness Ladder.  For example, an endorsement on your home page might encourage visitors to explore further.  However, they are most powerful where a prospect decides they like the look of your business and seeks reassurance they’ve made the right choice.

Do you trumpet endorsements on your home page, so every visitor sees them or hide them away until the prospect seeks reassurance they have made the right choice?

Pros and Cons

Endorsements transfer credibility from the endorsing business to the endorsed.  This implies the endorsing business is better positioned in terms of reputation.  Is it possible for two businesses of approximately equal reputation to endorse each other?  It’s possible but they need to agree how each uses the endorsement. 

Consider the degree of trust involved.  Do you trust the business you endorse as much as your own?  You do not want to endorse something that generates a poor reputation. 

The endorsing business might endorse businesses complementary to their own offers.  They may readily concede the endorsed business is better at some product or service. 

Endorsements are essentially irreversible.  You could ask the endorsed business to remove mentions of your endorsement from their literature.  However, old leaflets and blog posts may still carry the endorsement.  This is why trust is important.  Endorsements are hard to remove once established and not because the endorsed organisation is being awkward.

There are benefits for both endorsing and endorsed organisations.  The fact one organisation is in a position to endorse others speaks volumes for its reputation.  Indeed, the endorsed organisation is unlikely to display an endorsement from an organisation it believes to be inferior. 

This is where endorsements can backfire.  What happens if the prospect decides the endorsing organisation is more credible? 


Working closely with another business could be seen as endorsement. This may not be a problem where collaboration is private but where it is visible, it can be interpreted as endorsement. Bear that in mind as you consider formal approaches.

You could argue testimonials are a species of endorsement.  Testimonials are from customers, whilst endorsements are from other businesses in the same or a relevant field.  If you provide a service for an established organisation and they offer a testimonial, ask whether you can use it as an endorsement.  Discuss how it might be displayed appropriately.

Normally, where one business endorses another, it allows them to use its logo or branding for certain purposes.  The endorsed organisation should not be permitted to use it in any way they see fit.  Endorsements are usually labelled as such and occupy a certain space on the endorsed business’s website or literature.  You certainly don’t want to look as if you are a part of the endorsing organisation.  Always check that the endorsing organisation is happy with the use you make of its logo.

You can add a link to the endorsing organisation into the logo.  This may draw some prospects to the endorsing organisation.  But if the offer from the endorsed organisation is sufficiently different, this should not be a problem.  Try it and see whether it makes a difference.   If it doesn’t, probably best to leave it be.

There are other things organisations do together and one of those is to help out with one another’s customers.  The topic for next time.

Problem Analysis Solution

Build Collaboration Through Referrals

At rung 3 on the awareness ladder, your prospect becomes aware of your particular offer.  They are close to sitting down and discussing your offer in depth.  How do you move from rung 2 to rung 3? Oddly referrals are a collaborative tool you can use.

Mostly we depend on our own devices.  We have a sales funnel, nurture people in it and encourage more people to join in.  We do this through business networking, following up contacts and online techniques, mainly social media.

One effective route is referrals.  By referrals we mostly mean referrals from customers or prospects in our sales funnel.  But another powerful source is close competitors.  Why on earth would they refer prospects to us and when should we refer ours to them?

Referrals Build Trust

Early sales conversations are an ideal opportunity to turn your prospect’s attention to someone else.  This is not deflecting potential troublemakers to someone else (they should be dropped).  It is seeking what’s best for the prospect.

Where close competitors collaborate, they learn about each other’s strengths and weaknesses, where they’ve an affinity for particular client needs.  A prospect who approaches you has made an initial judgement that you can help them. 

If you understand their needs you can point them in the right direction.  After all, you know your business better than they do.

Such a referral, well made, pleases both the prospect and your collaborator.  It builds trust with both and encourages either to make referrals to you.

Referrals Deliver Best Service

It’s not solely about trust.  It’s ensuring prospects receive the best possible service.  No-one is better positioned to do this than a group of close collaborators with detailed knowledge of each other’s work.  Matching the prospect to the best provider raises the reputation of not only two businesses but also the trade as a whole.

This is important because the prospect is unlikely to ask for a referral.  They say yes or no to you (and may or may not mean it) but they won’t ask for a referral for fear of causing offence.

For example, some of my prospects are really seeking a copywriter.  I know several excellent local copywriters.  Once I explain my coaching offer, I ask them whether this is what they seek or suggest they might prefer a copywriter.  This is an excellent way to discern whether they are interested in my offer.  Instead they can accept my offer of a referral.  If they say they are interested in my offer, they are more likely to move to a sale. 

Shared Customers

Sometimes collaboration with someone else might be a good solution.  This would not a joint venture, simply a one-off collaboration over one customer.

This is not something to suggest lightly because it may mean you and your collaborator must design something completely new for one customer.  Perhaps if it works out, you have the basis for a more permanent relationship but this may be exceptional. 

There are various ways to arrange this.  Sub-contract to a collaborator, ask them to act as a mentor to you for aspects of the contract where they have expertise or seek full shared responsibility.

With a new initiative, it may be best to discuss arrangements with the collaborator before you make an offer and the prospect may want to meet the collaborator before they make a final decision.  These delays may mean the prospect moves on while they are waiting, which is likely to be frustrating to all concerned.  For this reason, is it worth agreeing basic plans before suggesting such an arrangement to a prospect.

Such arrangements amount to endorsement of your competitors.  Endorsements are in themselves another area of collaboration and we’ll look at that next week.

brochures on table

Positioning Your Offer

So far my focus has been on collaboration over raising awareness of the problem you and your immediate competitors address.  This post covers the next step on the Awareness Ladder, raising awareness that solutions to the problem exist. Positioning is crucial for collaboration to work out.

People live with a problem for years, if they believe there’s no solution to it.  There’s no point raising awareness of your particular offer if your market don’t believe the problem can be solved.  There’s a clear advantage working together with close competitors to demonstrate the problem can be solved.

The big issue at this stage is whoever makes this breakthrough is at a big advantage, by placing their offer before an audience they’ve convinced of the possibility of finding a solution.

However, one powerful argument for collaboration is the number of possible solutions on the market.  If there is only you, it is much harder to make a persuasive argument than if there are half a dozen or so relevant offers on the market.


This is where positioning helps.  If you position your businesses, you segment the market.  Where a prospect has sufficient information, they choose which offer is best for them.

Where you all tackle the same problem, work out what makes your offer different from all the others.  Differences include:

  1. Specifics about your approach to the problem.  Show you have a plan that solves the problem.  Make the plan as distinct from your competitors as possible.
  2. Decisions you make about the market you serve.  Take care with this because you may inadvertently restrict your market.  Also be aware there may be legal constraints, for example about race.  Common decisions might be to primarily serve a specific geographical location or to focus mainly on the needs of one sex.  This decision is about where you choose to focus your marketing, anyone who does not fit your chosen market may be a secondary market.
  3. Your worldview may influence some prospects.  If they know something about your political or religious affiliation, they may choose you over a competitor with similar positioning to yours.  This is the most tenuous of the three approaches to positioning.  It is something that might come over in conversation and not so much in your formal marketing campaign.

Make Distinctions Explicit

Once you decide on positioning, work together to clarify your differences.  Here are a couple of approaches to consider.

For each person list the reasons why someone should choose you.  You might start with “Consider this if you are …” and then a second list “Don’t consider this if you are …”.  If everyone does this, compare the results and tweak to make sure everyone is distinct from all the others, this helps prospects decide who to approach.

However, this may be a lot for prospects to take in, especially if there are a large number of collaborators.  One solution is to build a key.  A key has a tree-like structure.  You ask a question with two possible answers that take the prospect down the tree.  Each question narrows down the number of possible options until only one business is left.

You can do this flat on the page.  If you answer Yes, goto question A or if you answer No, goto question B.  A more compelling approach is to use a quiz.  Thrive themes have a quiz plug-in for example (affiliate link).  Here jumping between questions is done for you.

Joint Brochures

These methods may help a visitor make a decision but some prefer to read details of various offers and make their own decision.  Try a joint brochure that brings everyone’s business into one place and so enables the prospect to decide who to choose.

A brochure could be a website or in print.  If every collaborator has their own website page, you can direct visitors to the home page or to a specific page.  Print brochures may be a powerful statement if they are well-produced.  They could be expensive but if presented to those who are genuinely interested may be cost-effective.  And of course, costs can be shared.

But even with all this help, it’s possible the prospect will make the wrong choice.  As you discuss their needs, you may find the prospect may be better off with one of your collaborators.  What then?


Use Events to Raise Market Awareness Together

Two weeks ago I wrote about collaborating to raise awareness of your market and last week, opportunities to research your market with competitors.  This post looks at events, practical things to try with competitors, to raise awareness of the problem you solve.

Meetings and Conferences

To enrol people to an event, is an effective way to find and educate a market.  Advertise it as a training event or opportunity to find out more about the problem and potential solutions.  If you collaborate, you have a ready pool of potential trainers and speakers.

The main problem is financial and time costs.  The biggest cost is promoting the event and ensuring people sign up and turn out for it.  This is particularly difficult where your market isn’t aware of the problem.

Collaboration saves on costs, the reason many events fail.  It’s also an opportunity to pool ideas and extend networks.

If your event aims to raise awareness, it’s not a good idea to sell direct at the event.  It’s an opportunity to begin relationships that in time lead to sales.  Agree to share a database of contacts or ask people who are interested to sign up with you direct. 


Whilst training events bring people together while generating income, they are not always the best option.  Aim for regular contact to get to know your market.  Networking events allow regular attenders to build relationships over time. 

Collaboration means you share leadership activities.  You share the work to keep track of members, keep them informed and find speakers and activities. 

It’s interesting most network meetings are generic.   Is it worth trying themed networks?  Could you network around marketing, building capacity, finance, financial management, sales or social media?  Build a network of competitors while other businesses pass through as they seek help with your speciality. 

Social Media

Social media is better for raising awareness than it is for sales.  When you plough your own furrow, you move people from support for your thing on social media to your email list.  So, why do few businesses collaborate on social media?

For example, a Facebook Group about some problem might draw attention, especially if supported by several businesses.  They each contribute from their unique perspective and encourage members of the group to contact them, join their lists or attend their meetings. 

Conventional Media

If you share a conference, network or social media point of contact, then promoting it through conventional media is possible.  An article, radio or TV item that promotes the joint work may be effective. 

Conventional media is time limited.  This is less true of online media.  So, you need something people can respond to straight away, somewhere they can go to find out more.  The big advantage is you are likely to reach people who don’t access social media.  Work out how to draw them into your network once they make contact.

Which leads us to the next topic.  Once you raise awareness of the problem, how do you help people understand there are solutions? 

Cartoon woman at desk with piles of books

Research Your Market and its Needs Together

Research is underexplored for collaboration.  There are several reasons.  Research is likely to be costly in time and money.  Collaboration means sharing such costs.  Persuading competitors to invest may be difficult. But there is a lot to do together at minimal or no cost.

Another reason is belief in keeping your research from your competitors.  But confidentiality may not be so important for research into your market and its needs.  Knowledge of your market’s needs allows you to develop your own response to them.

What to Research

Here are two areas for research.  There are other opportunities for research collaboration but these two seem fundamental and I see little reason not to share these costs.

First, research into your market.  Who are they?  Where can we find them?  Their habits and worldviews.  Many business owners are vague about their market and so good quality information is really valuable.  The more you know about your market, the more likely you are to find a niche that positions your business away from your competitors.

The second area is needs analysis.  What is a need?  Define what is ideal for your market.  What do they want?  Then compare the ideal with reality, as your market experiences it.  What do they need to move from reality towards the ideal?  The market defines the ideal, while you offer what they need.  What assistance do they need?

Comparing Notes

It is possible the research you need is already in the public domain.  It may need interpretation and gaps may need filling but why spend time actively researching when you can meet your needs through desk work?

Get together with competitors and compare notes.  What do you need to know and what do you already know?  Go beyond assertions based on belief.  Does anyone have evidence?  As you talk, take note of the main areas where you need research or to verify information. 

Then give everyone a topic and ask them to research it online.  Meet later to share results.  Then decide whether you need further research.

Surveys and Questionnaires

This is perhaps the easiest research to do together.  Use an application such as Survey Monkey.  It helps if someone among you knows about survey design.  Also consider the time to devote to analysing responses.  Tick box answers are fairly easy to collate.  Answers in prose take much longer!

Ask your lists to answer the survey.  Each business mails their own list.  You may have social media options too.  This is an effective way to get reasonably reliable results, if you all put the survey in front of relevant people.

Analysis of results takes far longer than you think.   If someone volunteers, consider paying.  The results may be immensely valuable to all concerned but getting them into a usable format is a chore.

Research Projects

Finally, ask someone to do research for you.  The drawback here is costs.  However, if you have pooled knowledge and know what you need, investing in professional research may not be so daunting.  I don’t expect most small businesses follow this route but with collaboration and shared costs it may be realistic for a few businesses who wouldn’t otherwise consider it.

If you collaborate over deepening understanding of your market, then there may be scope for further collaboration for marketing.  Next time I’ll look at how to pool resources for marketing to prospects who are not aware of their problem.

Eyes shielded

Raising Awareness: Creating a Market

This is the third post in my sequence about collaboration. Last time I suggested that collaboration between competitors can be rewarding. This post, about raising awareness, is based on the first rung of the Awareness Ladder.  Remember, the lower the rung on the ladder, the harder it is to move to the next rung.

If your market has no idea it has the problem, your task is to persuade them they do in fact have it.

Your Differences Don’t Matter

If your prospects don’t know they have the problem your business solves, it doesn’t matter what your solution is.  Your prospects don’t care about your solution or your competitors’ solutions because they don’t recognise the problem as theirs.

This makes raising awareness together mutually beneficial.  Any business offering solutions to a problem most people don’t believe they have, faces an uphill struggle.  Why should anyone believe you?

Furthermore, if you do persuade someone they have the problem, what’s to stop them looking around for a solution elsewhere and finding a competitor? 

Collaboration therefore means you can work together to find creative approaches to explaining the problem without fearing you’re going to lose out to your competitors.

An Example

I used to be obese.  To look at me now, you would find it hard to believe! 

I didn’t think I had a problem.  My image of an obese person was someone of gargantuan proportions.  I was clinically obese, which means I met the clinical definition of obesity. 

Did it matter?  Yes it did.  I told myself it was encroaching old age that led to my lack of energy.  I had high blood pressure and developed Type II Diabetes.  It was that diagnosis that led to me accepting I had a problem and seeking a solution. The fact that I did not acknowledge the problem cost me my health.

I lost about one third of my body weight, once I understood I had a problem and took it seriously. 

If you had a solution to the problem of obesity, how would you persuade obese people they have the problem? They won’t buy if they don’t see the benefit.

Similar difficulties face people who sell financial advice, prepare wills, life insurance, trusts, etc.  Many people need these businesses to solve a problem they are not aware of.  The problem is real, the problem is lack of awareness.

Raising Awareness for Mutual Benefit

Whenever I promote my business and especially the problem it solves, I benefit other people in similar businesses to mine.  Similarly when they raise awareness of similar issues, I may benefit from their marketing.

Ah, yes you may be thinking.  If you promote your own solution at the same time as you raise awareness of the problem, then surely you have an advantage?  Perhaps that is true but remember, the next step on the Awareness Ladder is to increase awareness that the problem can be solved.  And then people don’t always buy solely on the quality of the solution.

I shall address these steps in future posts but there are other possibilities for collaboration at this bottom rung of the Awareness Ladder and I’ll cover these first and so next time I explore “Research”.

End on view on runners in race

Collaboration Between Competitors

Last time, I wrote about collaboration between businesses that are very different.  Such collaboration seems safe but the benefits are likely minimal.  It’s always worth exploring collaboration with businesses that deliver something a long way from your offer; it’s always possible you’ll stumble on something viable.  But your competitors, those with offers uncomfortably close to yours, may offer greater opportunities for collaboration.


One big untruth about business is, businesses have competitors.  This belief leads to competition and divides businesses that otherwise benefit from collaboration.

If two businesses have similar aims, there are more opportunities for collaboration.  Successful businesses collaborate.  There are stories of cutthroat competition but mostly successful business owners see opportunities for collaboration with close competitors. 

I’ll explore this in more detail in future posts in this sequence.  But at this stage, understand there are opportunities at every stage in your sales funnel, from raising awareness of the problem you both address through to joint ventures.  


Positioning is key to understanding collaboration between similar businesses.  Say you’re a business coach.  You have common interest with other coaches in increasing awareness of the advantages of business coaching generally.  Indeed, if you cannot find any competition, what evidence do you have that you have a market?  Opportunities for collaboration correlate with market size.

Look at it this way.  If you want to increase public confidence in business coaching generally, then you need to make sure you match prospects with the best coach to meet their needs.  A poor match might discredit the coach and also the principle of business coaching.  The better you know your competitors, the more likely you’ll guide prospects to the best match for them.

The challenge is to find ways to help prospects decide between you and your competitors. Everyone benefits if they make good decisions.

How to Position Your Business

  • Geography.  You offer exactly the same services as someone based in another city.  It may be convenient to serve people who live locally. If you network locally, you’re likely to find local prospects.  You won’t reject customers from outside your area but they’re not your target market.  As your business grows, you may find your reach goes further but you may equally find people seek you because you are local.
  • The problem you solve.  You may be an all-round business coach but chances are you specialise in solving some specific problem.  This may be the easiest criterion for collaborators to understand.  Prospects seek you for your reputation in some specialist area, even though you are a good all-round business coach.
  • How you solve the problem, using some technique or approach, separates you from competitors.   Customers express a preference for the approach you use.  
  • Demographics are mostly your choice.  Quite a few coaches market to women only.  They’re not necessarily saying they never work with men.  There may be legal constraints to how you market to specific groups, so seek advice if you are unsure.
  • Your worldview may be relevant.  You need not target customers who share your worldview, the fact that people know about it may cause them to self-select.   

Of these, the problem you solve is most likely common ground.  Competitors understand the problem in different ways or use different solutions.  I explore this in detail next week.

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