A partnership is not just a title. Simply put, its two or more people coming together to exchange value/resources in a mutually beneficial way. Partnerships as a way of growing a business should be part of your business plan in in order to scale it.
Specialization is the name of the game if you want to scale up, so partnering with other individuals who are highly competent in other fields than yours is crucial. This can be seen with law firms who have several highly specialized partners within the firm. But taking it out of the law firm, as service providers, the most successful lawyers don’t view their clients as just clients. You have to look at them as partners because you have to be vested in their success as well and this goes beyond just getting paid your fees. You should want to see them succeed genuinely because people can smell ingenuity/artificiality from a mile away. A question to ask yourself is, are you genuinely in your strategic partner/client’s success or are you trying to take advantage of a situation in a short-term basis for your benefit?
So, what is a strategic partnership? To put it in local parlance, a strategic partnership is a partnership ‘wey get sense!’ It is a relationship that will help you grow, make money, connect to your profitability point while still building the relationship. To identify a strategic partnership, you need to look at what is there to be gained by your business and that of the other party. You need to ask yourself, for this business to grow, what do I need to do, who do I need to work with and where do I need to be?
Identifying your needs as a business owner is a good way of identifying who will make a good partner as an SME. A good rule of thumb to follow in identifying partners is, map, approach, fall and fail (this builds experience). You need to develop a business development muscle which is your ability to adapt to failures in partnerships and businesses quickly. You need to also map your industry, clientele and more importantly, the companies and relationships that feed into that.
It’s not enough to just go after your clients but strategically, you need to do more by being part of an elite community/network, professional body, associations and committees. Make a habit of attending conferences, seminars and workshops. It increases your visibility and sometimes, you don’t identify partners but they identify you!
Building and maintaining strategic partnerships is like maintaining personal relationships. You have to put the work/required effort into it. There has to be mutual respect, give and take and a long-term mindset in the relationship. It’s never a waste of time to build valuable relationships even if in the short term, it seems to be leading nowhere. In the long run, you’ll be grateful for it.
It is important to build relationships with strategic partners identified in your business plan long before any funding is available from them. This is important because this places you at the fore front of their minds when an opportunity beneficial to you opens up from their end. It’s not when the funds are available you want to become friends with them. Invest in and nurture relationships that you see potential in early on. That’s how you’ll grow and keep growing. In the business world, familiarity brings opportunity.
With all the advantages that a partnership offers, there are times when a partnership might have to end even if it still financially viable. Some possible reasons could be a breach of trust or contract by one party, difficult working conditions, damage to mental health of one party, or some deeply personal reason for any of the parties, amongst others. In such a scenario, it is important that all possible alternatives to solving the problem (like using a mediator) has been tried to no avail. After this, and both or one of the partners still wishes to separate, the terms of termination as laid out in their contract, should be abided. It should be noted that all partners are not supposed to be friends or family. This is important to note because we tend to mix up partnership with friendship. While it’s nice to have, it’s not required.
In summary, do the work to be someone people want to partner with. Be the expert in your field and be a member of a community, even Instagram based ones. Always keep your value proposition high, have a plan and have a backup plan for your plan. Research more on the subject of partnerships so you can learn more and have realistic expectations. Think of partnerships and business development as a muscle that needs to be developed, train it and be prepared for an elevator pitch anywhere and at any time.
Ultimately, you should be able to ask yourself this question, ‘If you were not you, would you want to partner with yourself?’ If you can’t answer that question truthfully, that’s a problem but a solvable one. The solution is to develop yourself and in that comes value. Remember, people are hesitant to offer value if they sense they are not getting any value in return from you, even if it’s a feel good one.