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Good Partners - as Important in Small Business as in Dancing.

While I'm not a passionate follower of "Dancing with the Stars," I always watch it several times a season, to get a sense of who might become the "favorite" for that season. One thing that has always intrigued me, however, was how the "chemistry" between the "star" and the professional dancer they're partnered with has as much to do with the couple's success as the "star's" dancing prowess. You'll notice that the winners just seemed to be enjoying the interaction as much as the moves, and that manifested itself in the results.

Same thing applies to entrepreneurs and the partnering relationships that they create to help leverage their resources, especially in the early going of their small business. Net, net, strategic partnerships, whether to expand sales channels in specific vertical or geographic markets, or to expand product offerings, or joint development of new products, enable entrepreneurs to add resources while conserving capital.In effect, each company brings something the other lacks or wants. Typically, for the small business, they look to partner with larger organizations with more resources, be that product, development/manufacturing or distribution.

However, partnering is more than simply two companies working together. Like dancing, it requires that each partner know their particular "steps," role and timing in the "dance." Too often, entrepreneurs expect that developing and signing a strategic partnering agreement, is all that is necessary to make the partnership work. It requires much more!.

Here are some key guidelines to making the "dance" between partners work for entrepreneurs:

The "chemistry" has to be right.
The given in a partnership is that you each bring something to the "dance;" something to contribute to the relationship. Continuing our dancing analogy, "chemistry" often makes the difference between a great one and an ordinary one. To determine "chemistry," you need to understand your partner's vision for their business and motives for wanting to do business with you, and then see if those are synergistic with yours. How important is the relationship to your business? How important is the relationship to your partner's?  While there will necessarily be differences, especially if your potential partner is much larger, if there is a very wide disparity between those answers, maybe think twice about the relationship. On the other hand, if the "chemistry" between the companies is very good, that, often, leads to a longer, stronger and, sometimes, more permanent partnership, where the larger partner provides a strategic exit for the smaller.

Have specific objectives to be achieved over a specific time frame.
Too many strategic partnerships are simply aimless. Know what results you want to achieve, by when and make that part of the agreement; whether that be a revenue target, a new customer target and/or a specific budget. The more specific, the better. Now, this may seem obvious, but I've been in countless situations, both client and companies I came into fix, where the relationships seemed to exist for no other purpose than to advertise the relationship. Most of the time, there were no objectives and no agreed upon time frame to achieve them.

You get what you give!
A strategic partnership should be important to the business of both partners and they should each be allocating resources and managing the partnership. Whether that means your sales or development folks working with theirs, somebody has to be assigned to the relationship on both sides. And there has to be a mechanism to manage it, be that through periodic reviews or periodic reports. This has to go both ways.If you're only giving and your partner is the only beneficiary, or vice versa, that can't work, long term.

More isn't better, it's only more.
You don't get points for the number of strategic partnerships you create. I, once, had a client with more than two dozen strategic partnerships, some where they hadn't spoken to their partner in more than a year. And they kept saying they weren't getting anything out of the relationships.They weren't putting anything into them!  As per my previous point, you have to devote resources and manage your relationships, or they're not going to give you the results you're looking for. And, as a small business, you only have limited assets.Concentrate them on where you get the "best bang for your buck."

Don't be afraid to "cut and run."
Often, regardless of the amount of research you do ahead of time, sometimes, you find it just doesn't work. Surprises happen. And if it's not working, for whatever reason, get out of it, quickly. You can waste an extraordinary amount of time, trying to make a "square peg fit into a round hole," burning precious time and resources with no return.

Strategic partnerships can be extraordinarily beneficial to entrepreneurs in better leveraging their resources to grow their small business. Like in dancing, where to dance well, who you partner with is as important as the steps you take as you dance together. Choose your partners wisely!

"The Entrepreneur's Yoda" knows these things. He's been there. May success be with you!

If you've got a great partnering story (good or bad), please share it in your comments.It can help another entrepreneur.

If you like this post, by all means, share it with your networks and colleagues.



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