I spent most of my professional career in the non-profit sector. Most of my jobs included quite a bit of partnership development. All of the skills and knowledge I acquired during my time working in non-profits have proven to be quite useful as I build and grow my business. As I talk with other business owners, I hear many exclaim that they will never partner, or, due to being burned in the past, they will never partner again. Further discussion revealed that their lack of success in partnering was a result of unrealistic expectations and/or no written stipulations outlining the goals, partner expectations, and outcomes for the partnership.
Please note that when I use the word “partnership” in this article, I am not referring to the IRS category of a business that is set up as a partnership. I am referring to collaborative efforts by one or more businesses. These collaborations can be long-term (years) or short-term (months).
Here are 7 tips for starting and maintaining a successful partnership:
- Passion: Is the potential partner business or individual passionate and committed to their business? You can’t expect someone to be passionate about a joint venture if they are not committed to their own business. Sometimes, potential partners want to ride on your coat tails versus bringing their own resources to the table. This is not to say that a potential partner’s resource pool needs to be as large as your own. This means he/she needs to be as vested as you are in the success of the partnership and be willing to include their resources in making the partnership successful.
- Accountability: Clearly define who is responsible for which parts of the partnership. This process needs to include a clearly written Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) or contract. A partnership should not begin until the terms are in writing and accepted by both parties.
- Recognition: How will the partners be recognized? This should also be clearly outlined in the MOU or contract. Mutually agree on the appropriate way to recognize each partner for their contribution to the collaboration. I have seen quite a few partnerships go down in flames because one or more parties felt that they were not appropriately recognized.
- Time: Time is a valuable commodity for a business owner and is a very important part of making a decision about pursuing or declining a partnership. Each party should seriously evaluate the time commitment of a partnership in relation to other business commitments. A partnership can sour quickly if one or both parties have not taken the time to carefully account for their time limitations.
- Network: A network can be viewed in two ways: connecting with other likeminded business owners to stimulate growth, and creating a system in which the partnership can grow and thrive. Networking with other businesses can provide partnership options or allow business partners to gain new knowledge or skills. Creating a system for doing business includes setting goals, measureable outcomes, and ways to gauge success.
- Economics: What is the financial investment and profit for your business? How much can you afford to invest? How long will it take to see a return on your investment? Will the ROI timeframe work with the goals you have set for your business? Understand that the financial outcomes of a partnership may not be beneficial in the short term, be more than you can afford to commit, or translate to increased resources/customer base versus cold hard cash.
- Respect: Both parties need to determine the conditions of respect. How do you respect each other in this partnership? Respect extends to how parties communicate, use each other’s time and resources, acknowledge and value each other’s boundaries, and adapt to each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Rachel J. Barrett-Dolcine, CEO of Compass Consulting and Training Solutions is an innovative strategist with extensive experience in training & development, nonprofit management and consulting for small business start-ups. Through its Community Giving Back Program, Compass facilitates free training classes and workshops for nonprofit and community organizations that are on a limited budget.
Rachel is an Adjunct Faculty member at two local community colleges, a Certified CPR/First Aid Train the Trainer Instructor, an approved Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) Office of Childcare (OCC) Core of Knowledge Trainer. She also sits on two nonprofit boards and is the Founder of the Joseph & Vera Douglas Family Foundation.
Rachel lives in Randallstown, Maryland with her husband and son.