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Experts Weigh In: How do you create and maintain lasting partnerships?

2015 was definitely a year for partnerships at MyCorporation. We teamed up with some great companies, and we’ve been yielding really positive results. We wanted to ask the small business community how they go about creating and maintaining their successful partnerships.

Here’s what they had to say… 

“The best tip I have for creating partnerships is to do your homework. You need to really understand your partner’s business so that you can clearly explain how you can help them and why it makes sense to team up. There are thousands of cool apps floating around but if you can’t solve a business need for your partner then why should they even give you time of day? If you can answer: “Why partner?”, “Why partner with you?”, and “Why partner now?” You have done your homework and are ready to partner up.” –Sean Higgins, ilos

“Since founding my company in 2009, I have relied heavily on establishing strategic partnerships in order to deliver new services and reach new audiences. What I’ve found is most important when establishing partnerships is to establish them with the long-term in mind; come up with clear, tangible goals and objectives, laying out precisely what each side can bring to the table, as well as where you hope your partnership will take you. 

Perhaps most importantly, however, is that the partnership must enhance both brands; when selecting strategic partners, you want to make sure that you are getting into bed with parties who are A) above reproach; B) in good standing with your audience/customers; and C) have the potential to greatly enhance your own brand through association, by way of their reputation and credibility.” –David Jacobson, TrivWorks

“As a maturing firm with a 30 year history, we’ve learned that partnerships of all types are essential to business health and growth. Today, we at FMG Leading work with seasoned professionals in an informal sense of the word partnership and have a select number of formal partnerships as well. What I’ve learned in my eight years with FMG leading is that attracting, nurturing, and maintaining great partnerships comes down to 3 things: integrity, transparency, and values. Be honest with potential partners about who you are, what you are looking to create, and be transparent about what aligns with your values and vision (or not). It’s better to nip an untenable relationship in the bud early on. Be very transparent about the financial agreement and communicate it a win-win manner. People trust you when you’re crystal clear from the beginning, when they know what you stand for (values), and when you fulfill on your word because you haven’t overpromised or overcommitted yourself. Finally, trust your intuition. Pay attention to how you resonate with a potential partner. If you don’t personally connect with them, I would suggest you keep looking. You invest too much of yourself in your business to be surrounded by people you’re tolerating. Appreciate your partners and your partnerships will flourish.” –Erin Rocchio, FMG Leading 

“First, all parties in a partnership need to have selfish beneficial reasons to stay in the partnership. If each partner does not have mutual benefits then the partnership will eventually collapse. Second, the partners should sit down and layout the roles of each party, the benefits each will receive, and the expectations of each party. Third, partnerships should be reviewed every 6 months just to take stock and make sure every party is still happy.” –Liam Brown, Sidestep Coaching 

“I’ve always found honesty is the best solution. If we ever run into any issue with finishing a client’s work, we inform them as soon as we know. Secondly, we always try and keep heavy lines of communication up. This might mean that our account managers can’t talk with as many clients per day but we get a much higher rate of returning customers.” –Dillon Orr, CreateAInfographic.com 

“As an online business, I have to make the most of every opportunity that I can to build relationships with my partners. My best tip is to follow up periodically in the way that my partner uses most. This might be anything from giving them feedback on LinkedIn to liking their Instagram pictures to commenting on their business blog. Paying attention to where my partners live online and then interacting with them in that place helps maintain bonds over time.” –Tricia Meyer, Sunshine Rewards 

“Establishing a partnership relationship is crucial to every business. In order to maintain a healthy and happy partnership make sure all parties are on the same agenda when it comes to the business goals. Understand what each party wants out of the partnership will help build a solid foundation to a successful partnership. Communication will be key when it comes to responsibilities and contributions to the partnership. Make sure early in the partnership everyone has a clear understanding of their roles and what value they bring to the table. Maintaining a partnership will mean transparency. Values like honesty and commitment will be huge factors to maintaining a great working relationship. Lastly if you don’t trust your partnership the working relationship will be doomed to fail. Keep these tips in mind when looking for a new business partnership.” –Lisa Chu, Black N Bianco Children’s Clothing

“I’d suggest that small businesses work with their suppliers to innovation their value propositions together. Small businesses have limited resources and should take advantage of working with suppliers – especially those that want to be strategic – not just vendors. It’s a win-win scenario and can create a long lasting relationship.” –Patrick Stroh, mercuryba.com

“For me, the best tip for creating and maintaining lasting business relationships would have to be finding something in common that we both want to achieve. For the partnerships that we have with the swimwear brands that we sell it is very clear. To move more of their brand name designer bikinis. Having clear in common goals is, in my opinion, the most important thing that you need to have for a successful partnership.” –Candice Galek, Bikini Luxe 

“Successful partnerships have to make sense. By that I mean you should avoid forcing either party to do substantially different activities than they’re already engaged in. The best partnerships involve both sides doing what they’re best at; the ones that don’t work out often involve one or more parties doing something they’re not comfortable with. 

No partnership should be one-sided. Both parties need to be getting something they want. If one side isn’t getting much benefit, they’re going to put less energy into their end of the partnership, no matter what they agreed to do on paper. 

Good partnerships develop in phases. You’ll want to go in with an easy first step so both sides can see some success in the first month. That way, you inject much-needed early energy into the partnership and prevent it from faltering before it takes off. 

Strong partnerships demand strong communication. Don’t be surprised when a situation comes up that isn’t explicitly described in the contract. Can you communicate and work with the partner in that scenario? Often, that comes down to your trust in each other and your ability to effectively communicate.” –Marc Prosser, Fit Small Business 

“The primary function of a partnership – creating value that works for both your business and the business of your partner. You can each bring something different to the table, but there must be intrinsic value, otherwise the partnership will not last. The difficulty at times can be simply defining the value properly, and succinctly. It is not always about money, it can also be about knowledge sharing, or even having a similar business goal or target audience. Often times I partner with companies that share the same focus on the same customer, so we can all add our own value to the equation, to make a more complete solution. 

Partnerships, to me, are really the core of how business gets done. If you don’t have partnerships, then you will not grow your business. It also doesn’t matter how many business cards or linkedin connections you have – it is important to grow and cultivate your current partner network every single day, to explore new opportunities as well as solidify existing activities.” – Doyle Buehler, The Digital Delusion 

“Do what you say you are going to do, be generous – if you can do a favor or something at no cost to promote a partner do it, be sensitive to time requirements – everyone is busy so use their time wisely, say “Thank You” when they return a favor, share success stories, and match up with partners where both partners can benefit. 

We work with many partners, some are bigger than us, some are smaller. We treat everyone the same – we make sure we don’t burden our partners, and try to do most of the work. We provide the graphics, text etc when running campaigns so their team has less stress. We make sure we have an outline and clearly explain what the commitment is and what the campaign is including the goals. We know the partner’s customer base profile so we work with partners where we offer something attractive to their base.” –Betsy Flynn, What’s in Today

“In my experience the best way to create and maintain an effective partnership is to take the initiative in the first place and approach the other party with a clear idea of what you want and hope to accomplish through the arrangement. It is important to understand that a partnership is, by its nature, meant to be mutually beneficial so be sure to demonstrate the value your proposal represents to the other party. Don’t be selfish!” –David Dumas, MyLaunchKits.com 

“Keep your commitments. If you keep your commitments and you do what you say you will do, this will keep the trust within the partnership. Most partnerships fail because of lack of trust. Keeping your word and understanding that your word is more valuable than a written contract will keep any small business partnership soaring high above the competition.” –Lucinda Cross, Activate WorldWide Inc.  

“The most effective way that I have created partnerships is to help other people and businesses succeed without asking for anything in return. This can be in the form of patronizing the business yourself or passing successful business referrals. When I have referred business to other credible businesses or professionals, it has always come back to me in the form of a good business practice or the development of a partnership. The business owner will then have you at the top of mind when they run into someone who may need your services. As a business owner that provides solutions to people, by me referring solutions, it shows my thought process. The best way to maintain partnerships is to speak regularly in person, do breakfast/lunch/dinner, brainstorm ideas in the best interest of both companies, take an interest into their personal lives and well-being, continue referrals, and of course generate revenue and help each other.” –Ray Mckenzie, Red Beach Advisors 

“With my small business I have to maintain many partnerships. On a day-to-day basis we work with a lot of distributors. Creating these partnerships was easy since they provide products that we sell. However, the work is maintaining the relationship to make sure it stays beneficial for both of us long term. I always make sure I’m doing everything I can do on my end to make the distributors life easier. This encompasses simple things like giving them my direct phone number, to making sure that all the file formats on my email attachments are opening correctly on their computers. This makes their job painless and also helps build a personal relationship. So whenever I need things in a hurry, or require immediate assistant with something they always take care of me right away. 

Creating a beneficial partnership from scratch is a little harder but definitely possible. We have created partnerships with all of the major bloggers in our industry. We did this by cold emailing them and offering to host a free giveaway for their readers. Most bloggers respond very well to a freebie that has value. After the giveaway we also send a free gift to the bloggers to thank them for the free exposure. This has allowed us to gain a ton of exposure from the key influencers in our industry.” –Grayson Ervin, CigarsFor.Me 

“Find out what value you bring to the other side, and make sure the partnership is mutually beneficial. Ideally, it needs to bring the same value for both sides. A small hint: it’s fine if you bring more value to the other side if you understand you did and you’re happy with the value you get.” –Ratko Ivanović , EnCoCreative

“Good communication and a dedicated contact at the company for the partner to deal with. Quick response time to emails/calls (under 2 hours). Personal touch with interaction and regular in person meetings. Giving the partner what they need in order to achieve their conversions and goals.” –Lucy Challenger, Polo & Tweed  

“For our business, maintaining face-to-face interaction with clients on a re-occurring basis enlists trust. It is extremely important we meet with clients as much as we can. We are an online web design firm serving over a dozen clients in Chicagoland, so we try to be as personable with everyone. Someone handling your businesses website wants to be certain about a level of trust – given we are representing their business! We know of too many firms taking a web design project on and forgetting about the customers themselves afterwards.” –Vincent Robert, Become The Solution Inc.

“Constantly ask questions and show interest. Too often, we get caught up in our daily lives and forget to ask our valuable partners how everything is with them. By asking questions and showing an interest, your partnerships will flourish and last much longer. We have been in business for over 25 years and have had long lasting partnerships over the years. This is the key to success in my opinion.” –Todd Damon, This is Woodworking

“It is very easy, treat people the way you want to be treated, understand 
that people are not perfect and be ready to forgive. Always be in a good 
mood and it will help others to be in a good mood. That, my friend, is always the beginning of a beautiful relationship.” –Christopher Bledsoe, International Cigar Experts

“Partnerships work best when you treat the partner’s business like it is the most important thing in the world. Treat your partner contacts well and work hard for them and it will come back to you.” –Carl Mazzanti, Emazzanti.net 

“One of the best ways to create and maintain a good partnership in business is to make sure you meet face to face occasionally. It doesn’t have to be every week or every month, but as often as you can. In the meantime, just stay in touch and bring them value as often as possible. That could be something as simple as sending them as article on your industry that they would enjoy.” –Julie Austin, Swiggies.com 

“I have found the best way for creating and maintaining a lasting, beneficial partnership is to be transparent, honest and full of integrity. I’d like to say never let your partner down, but we all know there are times when a partner will disappoint the other and it’s especially vital in those times to be transparent, honest and full of integrity. A deeper appreciation for 
each other often blossoms when these traits are incorporated.” –Kornel Kurtz, WebTek

“Business partnerships are like real life relationships, they will only last as long as you make an effort or there is a mutual need. The most important thing in maintaining a business partnership is having the same goal. It just will not work, if the partners all have different vision for the company. An undermining game will always go on behind the scenes in this case, as each partner will try to steer the company in a direction which promotes his idea of what the company is supposed to be doing. Communication is the second most important thing. Any formal communications should take place in writing, even if the partner happens to be your best friend or wife. Having a strong communication will prevent any misunderstandings from occurring, which will, in turn, keep everyone focused and prevent any hard feelings between the employees. A very important part of this is to accept any mistakes that occur and take responsibility. Anything in Business is based on need. So, if you have a business partner who complements your skills, then that is the best foundation that you can have. A good example, of this can be that you are good at budgets, finance, etc. and your partner has the right people skills to implement those budgets. So, to summarize it, lasting partnerships need homogeneous goals, complementary skills, and excellent communication.” –Kayla Ethan, Rebates Zone  

“Partnerships start with solid relationships. Without that you have no basis for trust or growth together. Only partner up with highly trusted individuals that you know can deliver their end of the bargain whatever it may be. It’s all about trust and execution. Without that you have nothing concrete.” –Ryan Bartlett, SEO Direct

“Much like any other relationship, it’s important that you begin strong. Put your best foot forward in an honest, genuine effort to make the relationship mutually beneficial for both parties. Make sure to think about growth from both parties’ perspectives. Don’t be entirely selfish, or the partnership is doomed to fail.” –Josh Dziabiak, The Zebra 

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Deborah Sweeney

is the CEO of MyCorporation.com. MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA, and trademark & copyright filing services. MyCorporation does all the work, making the business formation and maintenance quick and painless, so business owners can focus on what they do best.