On numerous occasions throughout the life of this blog, I’ve urged readers to create strategic partnerships as a way to grow and sustain their enterprise. Strategic partnership can bring great advantages to the entities involved. But if poorly conceived and executed, the partnership will be an expensive and frustrating disappointment. You know which scenario you want, so let’s talk about how to get there. Freelance consultants and small business owners will likely have one of the following goals in mind when contemplating a strategic partnership:
- Expertise that is project specific or ongoing
- Labor needed for the short-term or intermittently
- Access to a certain target market
- Increasing sales in existing markets
- Sharing resources, e.g. office space or technology
Define goals that you can reasonably expect to achieve via the partnership. Your need may be as simple and short-term as finding a talented and reliable graphic artist to design a save-the-date card, invitation and program book for a nonprofit agency fundraiser that you are planning or a photographer to capture special moments at the event. If you produce many events, you will want to form ongoing strategic partnerships that will create a team of suppliers on whom you can rely. If a long-term arrangement is your goal, consider carefully the expected benefits to your organization in terms of market penetration, access to bigger projects and clients, increased revenue, or other pertinent factors. Project how long you expect it will take for your organization to realize progress towards the goal.
Well-defined partnership criteria will help you to pre-sort candidates in advance of approaching someone. You won’t know until you have a meeting, but learning about the potential candidate’s business model, client list, business goals, business practices and organizational culture are important deal-makers or deal-breakers. The more alignment between the participating organizations, the better the chance for success. Prepare and prioritize your list.
Next, think about potential partnership candidates and your relationship with those individuals or entities. Look for a firm where a complementary aspect exists with yours, as noted above in the example of an event planner in search of a photographer or graphic artist. Will organizations that offer any competing products or services be disqualified?
If it’s a long-term partnership that you will propose, prepare a partnership worksheet for each candidate, to ensure that you approach only those with whom you are likely to partner successfully. Be specific about what you want the partner to provide and the responsibilities of each entity.
As you consider partnership candidates and develop the worksheet, confirm and learn to articulate the expected benefits that would accrue to an entity that would partner with your own, attainable over the short and long-term. How long do you project it will take for the partner’s organization to realize progress towards the goals? Seeking feedback from a knowledgeable and neutral third-party might be helpful at this stage, to eliminate excessive optimism on your part.
You are now ready to enter the recruitment phase of your search. This process can be formal or informal, depending on your familiarity with the organization leader. You might run into that person at the grocery store and suggest that the two of you sit down over coffee and talk a little business. If you’re not so chummy, send an email and set up a call time or a face-to-face. If the proposed arrangement will be complex, provide your prospective partner with a copy of the partnership worksheet. The worksheet will make you look super-prepared and can only raise your stature in the eyes of the candidate.
Especially if your intended has a bigger and more prestigious organization than your own, providing the partnership worksheet should be a good tactical move. The worksheet will also help you to launch discussions of organizational priorities; clarify the perceived benefits, of the partnership; anticipate obstacles; reveal alignments or disconnects in business practices; and give insight into organizational culture.
If at the meeting the partnership seems like a good fit, propose or answer any questions that would constitute due diligence as you develop a formal partnership agreement. The two of you must agree in writing to the specifics of the partnership: its goals, expectations, services provided, resources shared, responsibilities, fee schedules, deadlines, effective date and how success will be evaluated and other factors that would impact the relationship.
Thanks for reading,