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How do you think the Minnesota State Fair became the largest State Fair (by average daily attendance) in the United States? To celebrate the opening week of the fair, we’re serving up some hot State Fair business strategy –on a stick. So before you run off to enjoy a deep fried pickle or a Sweet Martha’s Cookie, let’s dive in to the business strategy behind “The Great Minnesota Get Together.”


When it comes to building local strategic partnerships, The Minnesota State Fair is king. Think about it. Everything they do from the food vendors to transportation is built around developing alliances with local business and state agencies both large and small.  Everyone benefits from the relationship one way or another.


That is exactly what every small business should look for, a chance to share resources, customers, and revenue with other businesses. Without all these close partnerships, there is no way that we (over $250 million of our economic impact) would all go rushing to the fair each year. Most other states don’t come close to our success and I would argue that is directly related to how close their ties are to outside groups and businesses. It goes to show that no one can build success alone, not even the State Fair.


The trouble is, many businesses I’ve spoken with are skeptical of developing deep relationships with strategic partners or they aren’t willing to put in the effort necessary to make the relationships valuable. It’s true; it takes a lot of work to bear fruit from your partners. But, if you’re looking to take your business to a whole new level, forming a strategic partnership is the way to do it.


Here are some bite-sized tips to help you get started:


Mutually Beneficial – note that this phrase is not synonymous with ‘equal.’  The benefits of the partnership won’t necessarily be equal for both parties, but they will need to create a value that wouldn’t otherwise be there. Make sure the value your partnership creates for both sides is worth the effort exchanged, whether tangibly or intangibly.


Be Creative – most of us think that each party must send referrals to the other for a partnership to thrive. While this seems logical, many of the businesses that would create the best alliances may not be able to refer to you at the same level you can refer to them. Don’t be afraid to find alternative ways to share the wealth, such as referral payments (they are your sales force so pay them, if you can), discounts or free services to their customers, free advertising for them in your newsletters, etc.


Accountability – keep each other honest and monitor how the relationship is working out with frequent follow-ups.  It’s important that both sides continue to do their part. Don’t hold on to a relationship that has become one-sided. Do continue to challenge and push each other to make the partnership stronger.


Reassess and Revise – as with all relationships, you must continue to nurture them to ensure they are flourishing.  If you need to make changes, don’t be afraid to go back and ask for more or give more to keep things growing steadily.


If you make a commitment to building strong strategic partnerships, your business will grow by leaps and bounds.  It won’t be easy, but it will surely be rewarding, just like a full day at the Minnesota State Fair. 


Now go enjoy your food on a stick!