A consultant we know was talking about a partner she was working with on a project. She thought that they agreed prior to an important client meeting that they would present themselves as a single company to minimize any client concerns. At the meeting the ‘partner’ grandstanded, establishing his separate identity and launching into something approximating a sales pitch. The client became confused and my consultant friend and her ‘partner’ lost the work.
We have partnered with several firms over the years and have had both negative and positive experiences. What we’ve learned is there are levels of partnership that reflect the level of commitment between the players. These levels also reflect the amount of trust between them as well. While have identified the levels as: ally, collaborator and partner.
An ally is someone that knows and trusts you. They respect you professionally and will refer clients to you. They may occasionally include you in their client events. Allies will market your business as situations present themselves, if you are on their mind.
It’s good to have a lot of allies to spread the word about your company and to be able to make and receive referrals. Understand, however, because your ally has to have you in mind to refer you, you need to see them frequently. Networking groups are a good way to find and cultivate allies.
A collaborator will include you in client events and will use you on their projects as the need aligns with your skills. They may work with others on other projects. A collaborative effort will generally mean that you will work as peers on a given piece of work, supporting each other while maintaining your individual company identities.
Because you actually work in collaboration with someone, they get to know you pretty well. They learn your capabilities and temperament. The relationship tends to revolve around the projects you do together. They will likely work on multiple projects with other companies with their loyalty measured by their interest in, and success of, the latest idea they’re developing.
A partner is someone who is committed to working with you as much as possible. They see you as an extension of their own company from both delivery and marketing perspectives. They will direct work to you, or work projects directly with you. You or they may take the others company identity when it makes sense. In general, you both are concerned about your mutual welfare.
Partnerships are not unlike marriages. They tend to be long lasting, they require trust and they change your outlook regardless of the success or failure of the partnership. Most partnerships have some kind of exclusivity. Cross promotion of the business involved is a given. Open and unsparing communication is required. Total honesty leads to total trust and partnerships, like marriages, need trust to thrive.
When creating collaborative or partnership relationships the two key areas you will need to manage are expectations and roles and responsibilities. Decide with the other person what each one of you wants to get out of the project. Who gets the credit? How is the fee divided? How much effort is required of each of you? Taking the time to learn everyone’s expectations will avoid a lot of grief later.
Deciding everyone’s role and what they will be responsible for in advance eliminates a lot of headaches and keeps you from having unhappy clients. It also reduces miscommunication and mistakes. Most importantly, it makes your joint effort transparent to your client.
Whatever you decide in your discussions, write it down. It isn’t lack of trust to memorialize your agreement, its common sense. No real partner will ever have a problem with it.
Peter Mehit is COO of Custom Business Planning and Solutions, a business strategy and planning firm specializes in clarifying the options and way forward for businesses in many industries. You may reach him at 800-741-8444 or visit the company’s website at www.custombps.com.