No, I am not referring to formal partnerships from a legal perspective, but to connections that are made informally or from a marketing perspective. Such alliances, though not bound under a contract, feed your organization in a variety of ways. Let’s explore six unofficial business partners and their respective benefits as a starting point. You may be surprised how many more come to mind.

1.    Local and National Associations. These associations provide a space where you and your team can mingle with similar organizations and thought-leading professionals. These connections can provide insight into virtually every area of your operation. You can see and discuss examples of everything from top management strategies to best practices in HR. I have personally found that exploring and sharing important business metrics is one of the best benefits of this type of partnership. After just a few meetings with local or national associations, you'll have a broader network to tap into when you need professional advice. You can pick up the phone and call a like-minded executive to debate just about any topic. In addition, this group is often a fertile ground for partners with a similar focus on your core market.

2.    Professional Partners. Your law firm, banker, insurance agent, real estate broker and CPA firm are the next most obvious group with which to build strong relationships. Tapping into these types of relationships, my father built multiple successful businesses without the benefit of a formal education. He often stated that much of his good fortune was due to the sound advice of this group of partners, who often became personal friends in the process. A strong network of such advisers creates a larger framework for business, with solid leads into remote pockets of knowledge and business opportunities.

3.    Businesses With Similar Target Markets. Connecting with businesses that also serve your core market of potential customers legitimizes your organization and can help build your reputation as a trusted and beneficial provider of goods or services. As you work alongside businesses with similar markets, more businesses will also want to work with you. In all of my businesses over the years, this particular group of unofficial partners has provided as much as 50 percent of the leads, which later became solid orders. We often used a simple lead sharing and/or finder fee arrangement to achieve wonderful results!

4.    Customers. Sometimes, customers can become more than just customers. Loyal customers who refer leads quickly become unofficial partners. Additionally, their leads typically translate into outstanding future customers. A key secret here is that such referrals are often the easiest for your sales team or service teams to engage with and convert into new customers. Take advantage of customer-referred leads at every opportunity.

5.    Unconverted Prospects. Believe it or not, potential customers who, for one reason or another, did not officially sign on, but who engaged to the extent they understand your value proposition to the fullest can be a valuable partnership down the road. Over the years, I've seen some of our best lead referrals from this group. And the best benefit? They often become customers themselves in the future!

6.    Former Customers. Much like the failed prospects, former customers can also become lead-generating partners. This group can take many different forms, from an individual who is now working elsewhere to a business that ceased using your product or service for a valid reason. How often are you asked to name a former customer by a current prospect? That question can put you in a tight spot, but serves as a great reason to nurture this group. I used to provide special recognition to individuals who were returning customers at a new business. Often this group was my favorite segment of unofficial partners!

Being the CEO of Slingshot SEO, I would be remiss if I didn't mention each of the above groups are a wonderful source of strong links back to your website in order to enhance you organic page rankings. When you combine the leads, knowledge and fresh ideas unofficial partners bring, it will be well worth the extra focus and effort to reach out and make these vital connections.