Small business owners are often focused on adding customers, providing better service, and improving their products — all in an effort to grow. But sometimes, growth is less about expanding internally and more about forming connections with big business partners.

Richards offers a dozen tips for small business owners hoping to land a meeting with potential partners. (Willie B.Thomas)

However, many small businesses hesitate, wondering why an established company with seemingly unlimited resources and a large customer base would want to work with them. What they overlook is that big growth requires big sacrifices, and large companies have often become less connected to their consumers, causing them to lose sight of that initial innovative spark.

In some cases, forming a partnership can bring the small business feel back to an organization, and it provides small firms with the traction, credibility, and revenue they are seeking. The first step, of course, is landing that initial meeting with a large company, and it can be the biggest barrier to your future plans.

Here are some tips to help get your small company’s foot in the door.

Land the meeting

Securing a meeting with senior execs requires its own strategy and advanced planning. Here are a few tips:

• Do your homework: Determine which key executive or decision maker you would like to meet with at a target company. Research to gain insights about challenges the company is facing, which will provide valuable clues about what to reference in your approach.

• Reach out: Contact that individual with a short, impressive introduction about yourself that’s contextually relevant to the recipient.

If you can, reference a recent article you published that is relevant to the company, and then explain as succinctly as possible why you’re reaching out. Be sure to frame this around the value you can add to her company. Be clear, but demonstrate creativity and innovative thinking that will make her want to meet with you.

• Tap your network: If you don’t feel comfortable reaching out directly, network among friends and colleagues in your industry and see if one of them can make an intro for you. Referrals are powerful tools.

Rock the meeting

That win is easily replicated, no matter how small the company. These simple steps will help you position yourself to do well in the big meeting.

• Be prepared: Big-time executives don’t have time for fumbled presentations. Small business owners must have their act together — both with technology and their business models. Don’t even think about requesting a meeting until you’re ready to pitch.

• Solid record: For credibility’s sake, you have to prove you have a strong management team and a solid track record. Executives won’t talk to you without those in place.

• Confidence: The management team has to be confident in its product and company. All members of the team should also know the ins and outs of the big company: how it does business, what deal terms are typical, etc.

• Mutual benefit: No one is handing out a “leg up” to a new company. The smaller team must show the benefit for the potential partner.

• Connection: The most successful meetings happen because of connections. Ideally, the person reaching out for the meeting should be a friend, acquaintance, or well-respected professional in the industry.

After the meeting

Nothing is official until there is a term sheet. Don’t make the mistake of walking out of a meeting overly satisfied. There are still a few things to do to actually close the deal.

• Follow up: Highlight the actions, responsibilities, commitments, next steps, and timelines that were discussed in the meeting. Following up is arguably the most important step.

• Confirm: If any type of formal business deal was reached, it is vital to confirm the details. You want to make sure both parties understand the terms of the agreement.

• Be proactive: Ideally, there’s a point person on both sides making sure the deal moves along. It’s their job to make sure the deal is closed within the stated timeframe.

• Shut up: The most common reason deals fall through is that one party blabs about the potential deal before it is official. If you strike a formal agreement, it is essential that both parties agree on when and how to release details to the media and third parties.

There are plenty of companies that have used this type of partnership to their advantage. One example lies with Zynga and Facebook. Zynga is the most popular developer of games for social media, thanks to hits like FarmVille, Mafia Wars, and Café World. It made the firm valuable to Facebook, and as a result of the acquisition, Zynga now has 600 employees and more than 65 million people playing its games every day.

Making connections with bigger companies should be a no-brainer for start-ups. These partnerships generally result in more credibility and revenue — to name just a few benefits.

Meetings aren’t always easy to land, but when a small firm knows its business and can prove its worth, it will impress. In those deals, everyone wins.

Kelli Richards is the CEO of The All Access Group, a consultant group for technology companies, established artists and celebrities, film studios, record labels, and consumer brand companies.

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