What makes a ‘good’ partnership?
For me, the answer to this question comes down to a few points of consideration:
– Why are you in the partnership?
– How did you find each other?
– What are you both gaining from the partnership?
– What are you both risking being part of the partnership?
– What are you both putting into the partnership?
– How have you formalized the partnership?
– What are your working styles?
– What are your joint aspirations for your partnership?
Why are you in the partnership?
There could be a million possible reasons why you are in partnership together, and as long as the answer for either or all parties isn’t “to screw the other over,” you should be fine. What you want in the answer to this question is commonalities. You should all have the same or similar objectives, and these should be documented at the beginning of your partnership.
How did you find each other?
This is a really important question. If you found partners via a Trade Association or by way of a personal introduction from a person known to all parties, there is a degree of familiarity and assumed trust. Whilst you cannot take the trust of familiarity for granted, it is better to meet partners in this way, rather than finding them speculatively or online. Think about the fact that this relationship could make or break your business, so honour it with the respect and due diligence it deserves. Also, go with your gut. If you feel uncomfortable with someone for an inexplicable reason, go with the feeling.
What are you both gaining from the partnership?
This has to be agreed up front by all parties and must be put into black and white. If you are both gaining potential business growth, that is fabulous. But, if you are both gaining potential business growth, and one party has put in 70 hours work for a potential contract, and the other has put in 2 hours, that needs to be considered and discussed so that all parties feel equal in effort and reward.
What are you both risking being part of the partnership?
This is a difficult but necessary discussion to have. The ‘What If’ discussion. What if, for example, your partner does something that you perceive as being unethical? How will that impact your brand and your partnership? What if your partner goes bankrupt? What is your implication by association? What if you disagree about the direction of a project? Who has the deciding vote? What about proprietary information? Are you risking anything by sharing information with partners without an NDA?
What are you both putting into the partnership?
This has to be agreed upfront. Are you investing? If so, how much? What about time? Is that an investment? Do you have an equal(ish) portfolio of clients to bring to the table? Does that matter? Asking these questions at the beginning, and documenting the results will help as a document to fall back on, if necessary, in the future.
How have you formalized the partnership?
Are there written agreements in place? Are you happy with a verbal understanding? Whatever your thoughts on this, it has to be mutually acceptable. I personally am all about putting things in writing and having signatures on everything. Other people differ. It’s up to you, but I would suggest you always think of the worst possible scenario.
What are your working styles?
For me, considering working styles when thinking about potential partnerships is crucial. My business is my baby. 100%. I live and breathe it. I wake up excited about it, everyday. All of this is reflected in the way I work. I need to be with people who share my passion and drive, who will not bat an eyelid if they are working until midnight and have a 7am meeting. Being a night owl or early bird is not relevant in a partnership. You have to do what you have to do, and sometimes other priorities have to take second place. Again, having an open and honest discussion about this is crucial.
What are your joint aspirations for your partnership?
We all want to succeed; otherwise we would not be in business. Aspirations differ from person to person. One party may be happy with, for example, $10K a year, whilst another will accept nothing but $1M. Aspirations come from different places and life experiences. In a partnership, it is important to understand each other’s aspirations, and where they come from.
In all of this, the common factor is communication. What makes a good partnership is open, honest, documented (ideally) communication, coupled with a mutual respect and understanding. Select partners whose company you enjoy in a social and business setting. And, as always, keep it Real.