If the three best principles of successful real estate investing are location, location and location, the three most important elements of growing an e-commerce company are partner, partner and partner.

No matter how well you are drawing an audience to your own site(s), there are opportunities to expand your reach, perhaps dramatically. 

For a “small giant” (Author Bo Burlingham’s term for smaller-sized companies that perform in big ways and choose to stay small to achieve the best results), a partner with huge reach and market cap looks so big that it is hard to imagine that they will “rent” their reach to you.

But the target partner has the other side of the problem— how to monetize their access to eyeballs. So some are surprisingly interested in both standard and creative ways to partner.

First, gather your eyeballs. One of the best ways to initiate partnerships is to gain media visibility. It is much easier to talk to someone 1,000 times your size if the conversation begins with them calling you. Begin to establish yourself in your industry media and marketplaces, as well as among your end users.

Another strategy: Experiment with every standard marketing package you can and evaluate carefully which ones are paying for themselves. The greater your presence in a channel that is working for you, the more others will try to recruit you.

What’s worked for my company. RosettaBooks had been a leading independent e-book publisher making modest progress at best when Kindle called and asked to partner. The key decision was saying “yes” fast and figuring out how to implement the partnership as it unfolded.

Rosetta is now in the process of partnering with sites with access to tens of millions of readers. If we didn’t have a credible foundation, the potential partner wouldn’t talk to us. But if we didn’t reach out with a plan that can advance the broader purposes of the target partners, there would be no partnerships.

E-commerce companies have an extraordinary opportunity to demonstrate the old adage that a lower percentage of something is more appealing than a higher percentage of nothing. Today, there is an environment of endless sharing arrangements whose structure and reach are forever evolving.

The one constant is that traditional companies must basically commit cash and lots of it to expand their businesses through marketing and probably must settle for smaller and smaller margins as they expand. E-commerce companies can partner their marketing without cash and can largely maintain margins while driving growth.

Get started. Are you working on a partnership today?  What about tomorrow? 

  • Look within. What is your “eyeball asset”? What is the unique audience paying attention to you and your product and services, the group that will benefit by the combined resources of your company and a larger partner?
  • Look around. Who are your target partners? What kind of giant needs this niche service you can provide, or might be interested in gaining the focus of your “eyeball asset”?
  • Plan your program, put it in place, and get the message out.

The giants will begin to come to you.