Identifying Strategic Partnerships

Joe Weinlick
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Strategic partnerships are one way to grow your small business. They enable you to build allies, gain access to new audiences and jump on market opportunities you can't manage on your own. Before you rush into an agreement, take time to evaluate which partnerships can help you reach major business goals.

Evaluate Your Goals

Strategic partnerships bring many benefits to your company and require great effort. To make a partnership worthwhile, take time to evaluate your business goals, both short term and long term. Pick the most important objective, and hunt for partnerships that can help you achieve it. If you want to increase your blog readership, for example, you might agree to swap guest blog posts with another company. This strategy keeps you focused on major goals and helps reduce wasted time on initiatives that don't do much for your business.

Focus on Mutual Benefit

Mutual benefits are the most important part of strategic partnerships. If a joint initiative doesn't benefit both companies, it won't go anywhere. After you find opportunities that support your goals, figure out what the other company has to gain. For example, if you want to place a product in a specific boutique to boost sales, you could offer an exclusive discount, early access to new shipments or a special workshop for the boutique's customers. It can be useful to back up your benefits with numbers and documentation from past partnerships to give new partners more confidence in the arrangement.

Make Your Pitch

The way you pitch strategic partnerships depends entirely on the situation. Consider your relationship with the other business owner. Are you friendly? Have you worked together in the past? If so, you can make a casual elevator pitch with a phone call or at your next networking meeting. When you're targeting a completely new partner, or if you're proposing a high-stakes deal, a more formal pitch is a better choice. Come up with a business proposal, schedule a meeting and lay out your case as you would when pitching a client. Focus on the mutual benefits but stay flexible — the benefits you see for the other company might not align with their goals. If you're prepared to roll with suggestions and make changes to the arrangement to create a better fit, it's easier to close the deal.

Create an Agreement

The final step of finding strategic partnerships is coming up with an agreement. A formal, legal contract is always advisable, whether you're working with an old friend or an industry powerhouse. Contracts protect everyone involved; they also force you to think through the terms carefully before moving forward, which can help ward off problems down the line. At a minimum, include the dates of the partnership, the allocation of costs and each company's responsibilities in terms of labor and resources.

A thoughtful, careful process can help you identify strategic partnerships that benefit your business. By proceeding with care, you can identify the best opportunities and spend your time and resources on projects with the highest return.

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