Small Business Smarts: 7 Steps for Developing Strategic Partnerships

by Jill Earthy

2 min read

Partnerships enhance possibilities. They provide access to opportunities that may not otherwise exist and have the power to accelerate your success. For small business owners, strategic partnerships offer a simple and effective way to leverage your skills and resources. Follow these seven steps to form an effective strategic partnership:

1. Define what you need.

Be clear on your goals. Are you looking to reach a new market? Do you need help promoting a new product or service? Do you need a service that someone else does better?

2. Identify potential partners.

Finding the right partner(s) is key. Scan the business horizon to see who is offering a complementary product or service. Identify the experts that offer what you need.

3. Understand what you bring to the table (and don’t undervalue it).

Think about what you can offer and the value you are bringing to the partnership. What do you have in your goody bag of expertise and resources? Can you help the partner expand into your region? Can you share a tradeshow booth and costs at an industry event? Create a list of what you are willing to offer, as well as what is not negotiable. Don’t underestimate your value.

4. Reach out.

Now that you know what you need and who to reach out to, do it. I have found that making a phone call, leaving a friendly voice message and following up with an email is very effective. Phone calls are not as common as they used to be, yet this approach helps develop a stronger rapport.

5. Document your agreement.

This can be formal or informal but it needs to be done. An email clarification outlining who has committed to what and relevant timelines is important to both parties’ success. At this point, questions can be raised and additional clarification provided. Depending on the type of partnership, it may be necessary to have more formal or legal documentation in place. However, I have found that starting with an email or a simple Memorandum of Understanding outlining in point form what each side has committed to is extremely helpful.

6. Pack a parachute.

After a bit of back and forth (i.e. dating), you will likely have a sense as to whether or not this is a good fit. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. It may even be necessary for you each to share references depending on the nature of the arrangement.  I have had many amazing partnerships in various forms, but I have also had some negative experiences. Looking back, it was usually during this phase that I started to see the warning signs that things could go awry. I suggest starting with a small defined trial project as a way to get to know each other. Always have a parachute! From the start, outline ways that both parties can exit the partnership cleanly.

7. Follow up. Stay true to the agreement.

Any successful relationship needs follow-through. Set up systems to measure success. Stick to your commitment to build trust and a strong foundation for an enduring partnership.

Partnerships are powerful and truly enhance business possibilities. As Alice Macdougall says, “In business you get what you want by giving other people what they want.”

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