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3 Types of Business Partnerships That Will Help You Succeed

Rachel Hofstetter  |  January 23, 2020

Whether you're "just friends," "dating" or "married," these business partnerships can ensure your success. Find out how each one works.

There’s a secret-sauce mindset that allows you to work smarter, not harder — and the key ingredient is a partnership. In fact, working with others is critical to getting more done. “Don’t go it alone” sounds so simple, but how do you actually apply it to your business?

Look at every aspect of your business to find opportunities for collaboration. Can you co-create content? That’s a partnership! Can you serve a similar audience with samples or expertise? That’s ripe for partnership talks. 

Once you’ve found ways to collaborate, the trick is to find the right partners. The best way to do this is with a simple mindset shift: Give first. Always come from a place where you’re offering something of value first, and make sure the “win” for the other person or brand is immediately obvious.

Just as our lives are filled with varied relationships, there are multiple types of partnerships that serve different needs at any one time. I like to think of partnerships as either “Married,” “Dating,” or “Just Friends” — and like any vibrant social life, it helps to have a mix. Here’s how to harness the power of partnerships in your business.

1. The ‘Just Friends’ Partnership

As in real life, many partnerships start out as simple conversations between friends and grow from there. Begin with an idea of what you could partner on (or if it’s a big-picture item, pick out one part to focus on first). Then start a conversation with the “give” of how this partnership idea can help the other person or brand.

My go-to strategy: Briefly share an idea, then ask, “What would success in this area look like for you?” The next step is the hardest: Listen to what they say and come up with a win-win plan to move forward.

For example, my company creates who’s-who directories for events like weddings, and we recently partnered with other wedding brands for a virtual online party. We offered to handle all the logistics and technology (and created shareable social media graphics). Within a few weeks from the initial conversation we were hosting the event with four other brands. Total work for my team? About 10 hours. The combined social reach of the party? One and a half million impressions. That’s working smarter — not harder.

With a “just friends” partnership, don’t drown in the details. The partnership should move quickly, and because the experiment is low-stakes, you should have results quickly.

If it’s for a single promotion (and no money is being exchanged), skip the contracts and anything that would need high-level approval; a friendly email that reiterates the agreement you came to verbally should suffice.

2. The ‘Dating’ Business Partnership

When you want to continue a business partnership over time — or build up more materials or collateral together — consider yourselves “dating.” At this point, you might start to invest significant time, money or goodwill in a project.

For example, a major resort includes a sample of our booklets in its box of goodies given to couples who book a wedding. In return, our designers created resort-specific pages and designs that couples can use in their books for extra personalization. The resort gets to offer a special bonus to its customers, and we get to connect with those customers. Win-win.

Similarly, I once hosted a fun, free event that connected the community with local food-focused business owners. I had the idea for the event, and then reached out to the chamber of commerce to explain the vision. Because it aligned with its mission, we unofficially partnered over the course of six months and were able to each bring completely different skills and networks to the table. The result: a big impact without a big time commitment.

3. The ‘Married’ Business Partnership

A “marriage” business partnership is often a traditional co-founder relationship. That is, two or more people going all-in to build a business together.

A marriage can also be more project-based. For example, I’m “married” to my business partner, Angela, and we’re each fully vested in all aspects of our business and have equal ownership of the product and mission. However, we each have other companies as well. These kinds of partners might come together for a set project (like a book or product), while each one keeps working on respective other projects.

The one thing that all married partnerships have in common is that they’re official, with formal contracts and agreements. The best way to score a great married partnership? It’s the same as it is in our personal lives: Start with being friends or dating first.

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