Before Taking on a Business Partner..

Before you take on a prospective business partner at any level — as a contractor, vendor, or full-on partner — ask these seven questions:

1. How well do our strategic priorities align?

Aligning strategy within one organization is hard enough, much less between two or more. The better your missions match, the more likely you’ll be able to leverage off each other. But don’t expect a slam-dunk; other factorsmay stifle synergy. For example, the animal advocacy groups PETA and ASPCA have similar goals, but their tactics differ drastically, so they probably wouldn’t make good strategic partners.

2. Do we both have strengths we can leverage?

Don’t dismiss an organization out of hand just because it’s bigger or smaller than yours. Instead, look for what you can each bring to the table that maximizes everyone’s productivity and profits. Sometimes individuals can successfully partner with organizations consisting of thousands of employees because each side wants what the other side has.

3. Are we in direct competition?

If you offer complementary products and solutions that fit hand-in-glove or function in non-overlapping geographic areas, you can leverage a business partnership effectively. Otherwise, it’s extremely difficult (remember the failed merger of the telecommunications companies Nextel and Sprint?). You can join the same industry groups, but you can’t expect to partner well with organizations competing for identical resources.

4. Will they provide access to pre-established relationships?

The easiest way to acquire profits, working capital, and influence is to leverage existing relationships with clients and contacts. A new partner can let you take advantage of existing relationships you don’t have to build and might not ordinarily be able to access.

5. Do they have relationships I value?

Take great care in the selection process. Make sure your prospective partner’s existing relationships represent the type of relationships you’re looking for. Similarly, be careful whom you introduce to your own contacts and clients,since a bad partner can damage your existing businessrelationships. If anything seems fishy, back off.

6. Can we multiply each other’s efforts?

In some cases, the right partnerships can put you in multiple places at once without increasing your workload, as with Steven Gangwish’s example in the previous section. Suppose you and a partner agree to write guest blogs for each other. Right there, you’ve doubled your online visibility without increasing your workload or duplicating content. You can also share jointly written copy identifying all partners involved. That lets you multiply your exposure by the number of partners without multiplying your marketing expenses.

7. What’s my exit strategy?

If the relationship goes sour, you’ll need a way to escape before you incur permanent damage. As you map out your strategies, devise a way to safely and fairly dissolve the partnership if it starts going in the wrong direction.

The value of teamwork is revered, but many organizations fail to consider opportunities outside their immediate family. Rather than go it alone, consider developing ties with organizations independent of yours. Proceed carefully by asking the questions outlined here before you tie the knot.

Poorly considered partnerships can end disastrously. On the other hand, a good partnership, properly leveraged, can benefit you in ways you’ve never before experienced.


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