In my experience, the best way to grow a business is through strategic alliances. Let me give you a few examples:

  • If you make toys for kids you should get Toys R Us to carry your products.
  • If you’re a wedding photographer, every wedding planner in your town should know who you are and be familiar with your work.

The thing is, successful people are really busy. So, how can you get their attention?
Step 1: Aim High
Don’t be intimidated by high-profile people. They ARE people, just like you. And the truth is that most folks assume that CEOs and Presidents of companies are so out of reach that nobody even tries. And because nobody tries, your chances of getting the attention you want are pretty good.
Step 2: Learn About Them
When people talk about social media, they usually talk about how to use it to market something. But, my favorite use for social media is research. You can learn a lot about people if you follow them on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Yelp, Google Plus, Quora, YouTube, Flickr and FourSquare. You can learn what books and newspapers they’re reading, where they’re going next weekend, where they just had lunch and with whom, etc.
Step 3: Help Them
These are some of the ways you can help people:

  • Retweet their blog posts or share them on Facebook.
  • Link to one of their articles from a blog post or your newsletter.
  • If they post they’re going to Aruba next month, send them a list of the top restaurants in Aruba.
  • Find things in common. Let’s say she likes coffee and so do you. When they post “the Sumatra Blend they’re serving at Starbucks is a little too strong”, comment back recommending a blend that they might like.
  • Answer the questions they post on their blogs, Quora and Facebook if you know the answers.
  • If you have an idea to improve their website or product, share it with them.
  • Use the skills that make you unique. If you’re a photographer, offer to make them a portrait for free. If you’re a lawyer and you know they want to sell their business, help them with the paperwork at no cost.

I don’t always feel I need to help someone before approaching them with a business opportunity. If you decide to provide help first, make sure it’s genuine and you don’t expect anything in exchange. Doing things so others owe you doesn’t work. They might feel obligated to help you, but they’ll find a way to get away as soon as they can.
Step 4: Email Them
Write a short email and get to the point. Rookies write four-paragraph emails because they want to be more persuasive. Busy people don’t have the time for this. This is an example of an email I sent last week:
Subject: I have an idea
Hi Mike,
Great blog post today. It was time for someone to speak up about the privacy issues with Facebook.
I have a business idea I think you’re going to like. Are you available for a phone call on Thursday at 4pm PST?
Notice how I go straight to the point and how specific my request is.
Step 5: Call Them or Meet with Them
I love the Internet, but business happens offline. Meet with people if you can or talk to them on the phone if you can’t meet them. Use email only to set up the appointment.
This is the approach that works for me. What works for you?