"Taking your networking to the next level.” That’s how Kathy Kowrach describes the concept of “strategic partnerships,” and she says, it’s something every small business owner must learn in order to grow.
Kowrach will facilitate a discussion on “Partnerships You Haven’t Thought of Yet” at the Mercer County chapter of NJAWBO (New Jersey Association of Women Business Owners) on Thursday, June 7, at 6 p.m. at Salt Creek Grille in Forrestal Village. Cost: $45. Reservations may be made online at www.njawbomercer.org.
The discussion, says Kowrach, will include time for those in attendance to talk together and brainstorm on how they can develop their own strategic partnerships with people at the meeting, what types of businesses they would like to partner with, and how they can help other business owners.
Kowrach is the owner of A Simpler Life Concierge service, a business, she explains, that would not be successful if she had not developed relationships with a wide variety of other business owners.
She describes herself as “a born and bred Jersey girl” who graduated from Kean University with a bachelor’s degree in English “back when it was called Newark State College.” She spent most of her professional career in various customer service roles, primarily in the financial industry.
She worked for a number of years with Merrill Lynch/BlackRock where she was “the liaison between the financial department and the IT department. I had to explain to each group what the other meant when it was speaking — that means I learned to speak both Geek and Trader,” she says.
A victim of downsizing during the 2008 nationwide financial meltdown, Kowrach decided to start a business offering personal concierge services to overworked and time-deprived people in central New Jersey.
Kowrach first attended a concierge course and mentoring program in North Carolina. She graduated from the Triangle Concierge Master’s Academy under the tutelage of Katharine Giovanni before opening her business back in New Jersey. She is also commissioned as a notary public — one more service she can offer her clients.
While many people would think that opening a “luxury” service business such as a concierge service in the middle of an economic recession was counter-intuitive, Kowrach says it made perfect sense.
“For many people the recession meant spending even more hours working than they were before and having even less time for their personal life. I help people regain lost hours of their life. That’s not a luxury, it’s holding onto your sanity,” she explains.
Our image of the concierge is formed by visits to hotels where the concierge works to get guests tickets to the theater, dinner reservations, or recommend tourist attractions.
While a personal concierge can, and often does, do these things for clients, she more often can be found handling more of the practical tasks needed to make everyday life a little easier.
Most often she is hired to do tasks such as grocery shopping or picking up the dry cleaning, but Kowrach has also had her share of unusual requests, everything from delivering giant muffins to clients for a bakery business when the owner needed to make an emergency trip to care for a sick mother, to pet sitting for cats, dogs, and even a frog.
Referral Network Expands Business. Kowrach’s clients have also asked her to help with planning out-of-town vacations and business trips, and that’s one area where having a network of referral partners is essential, she says.
“I have a relationship with a concierge in Los Angeles. If I have a client who is vacationing there, my Los Angeles contact is going to have a much better idea of sightseeing and restaurant choices than I am,” she says.
Living within a stone’s throw of the Pennsylvania/New Jersey border is another reason that a network of resources on both sides of the state line is essential.
“My insurance only allows me to work in New Jersey. But I have many clients who work in one state and live in the other. They need services in both states. Having another concierge I can partner with in Pennsylvania allows both of us not only to gain more business, but to serve our clients better,” she explains.
Partnering With Other Professions. It is important, not just for a concierge, but for any small business owner to find people in related businesses with whom they can refer and partner.
In Kowrach’s case, she needs to have referral relationships with a wide variety of business owners. Restaurant owners, theater managers, dry cleaners, printers, gift basket businesses, and florists are just a few of the businesses she routinely uses to help meet her clients’ needs.
What’s Your Neighbor’s Business? The best way to develop more referral partnerships is to learn more about the people you already know. “What do your neighbors do?” Kowrach asks. “Talk to them and find out what their business is. You may be surprised that you can make a great business connection that way.”
Most business owners belong to a variety of networking organizations, from the Chamber of Commerce to a weekly networking group to professional organizations. But how much do you really know about the other people in that group?
Of course, you hear their “30 second elevator speeches,” at each meeting, but Kowrach calls these, “just the movie trailer, the teaser about their business. Listen to the teasers, then sit down with the person and find out more about what they do. You may be surprised at how many people you can partner with that you already know.”
Use Social Networking. The great thing about social networking is that it expands your potential referral relationships beyond the people that you meet at a local networking group.
Kowrach “met” her California concierge contact by networking on LinkedIn. But using social networking to develop relationships means that you must do more than just list your services, she says.
Developing social networking relationships takes just as much work as developing relationships in person.
You need to post online to find the right people, then chat via the internet, telephone, or E-mail before you are ready to do business with them.
If you don’t get to know your potential referral partners, the services they offer, and most important, their attitude toward customer service, very well, it can backfire on your own business.
Developing referral relationships means learning enough about the other person and their business that you trust that they will do just as a great service for your customers as you do.