From time to time I find myself mingling at an entrepreneurs’ conference or conversing at a get-together with local business owners, or chatting with people I don’t know at a party. It’s these occasions that often elicit more exciting business ideas and partnership opportunities than simply sitting down by myself to think “What kind of business should I start?”
The reason is because (even though you may try to avoid it) it’s easy to think in terms of what you know and what you do. For example, if you do home renovations, you might think about expanding your business but not be able to break out beyond home renovations. Then, at a party, you meet an electrician and plumber looking to do the same thing and the possibility suddenly presents itself to all three of you simultaneously: why not flip homes?
It’s that “aha” moment that is so exciting: when business people are standing there, chatting casually, then there’s a lull in the conversation as they think about what would happen if their businesses were combined in some way. I see this happen all the time.
So, if you are looking to grow your business, here are some thoughts to consider next time you’re out socializing at a party, a wedding reception, a neighborhood barbecue, or any other time that there are people you don’t know.
- Ask people what they do for a living and then take a genuine interest in the details. If they say they manage a local store, ask them what kind of store, where they get their products, who their customers are, etc. Taking an interest in someone is not only polite; it’s a great way to keep a conversation going. If you read books about communication, you’ll learn that taking an interest in the other person stimulates conversation and helps build friendships.
- When the conversation invariably turns to what you do, respond in kind, giving details about what you do. As you talk, think about the similarities your businesses share, such as a similar customer demographic or a similar industry served.
- If appropriate, talk about your hopes and dreams for your company and ask the person what they’d like to see their business accomplish or achieve in the future.
- If the conversation moves on to other things, be sure to ask the person for their card, and give them yours as well; let them know that you think it would be fun to do business together one day. Leave it at that: you’ve planted the seed in their mind and perhaps in the future one of you will realize an opportunity that the other person can help you fulfill.
Remember that not all partnerships are equal opportunity partnerships where each party gets exactly one half of the business. There are limited liability partnerships (known legally as LLCs) where one person might only provide the financial backing while the other partner does the day-to-day work. There are short-term partnerships where you each sell the other’s products on some kind of contingency to your own customers. Sometimes there are marketing partnerships where (if appropriate) you share advertising costs, sending out one flyer with each business, ad on one side of the flyer. And sometimes there are partnerships with no customer interaction at all, where you might go in together and buy your wares in larger quantities to get volume discounts that you wouldn’t each get on your own.
There are partnership opportunities all around and it’s often easiest to discover them when you are in conversation with other business owners. Always be ready, at a moment’s notice, to talk about what you do and what you want to do in business and get ready for those “aha” moments where new business-building opportunities present themselves.