Partnering has been a business buzzword--and an effective practice--for some time. But to make partnering pay even higher dividends, find ways to do it your competitors won't think of.
"Seek out [businesses that] want to accomplish the same things you do but that might have different perspectives or organizational backgrounds," says Scott Anderson, president of Anderson Services and Consulting Inc., a Raleigh, North Carolina, marketing and business development consulting firm.
For example, one of Anderson's clients had an idea for a new product. The traditional business approach would be to find a design firm to build a prototype, then either set up a facility to make the item or contract out the manufacturing. But the client had more ideas than time and resources, so Anderson suggested the unconventional approach of licensing the product to a university, where students could handle the design, manufacture and marketing, and the entrepreneur would receive a royalty from sales.
Once you've identified potential partners, Anderson says, consider how they'll benefit if you're successful, what their skills and resources are, and to what extent they'll be willing to contribute to your efforts. Rank them according to potential, and contact them with plans that will benefit you both. And remember, it's not necessarily the type of partner that makes the relationship unconventional, says Anderson; it's how you structure the relationship.
"You're using a resource at no cost to you that your competitors aren't using," Anderson points out. "You'll have more resources dedicated to achieving your goals. If you become an advocate of your product, you can give your potential partners a fire-in-the-belly kind of willingness to work with you that they wouldn't otherwise have on their own."
You may find partners who want to work with you simply for the benefit it will bring to their operation; others will want a commission, referral fee or some other compensation. If that's what it takes and you can afford it, Anderson says you should be willing to pay. "This is business," he says. "It's not goodwill--everybody's doing it for some sort of advantage."
Finally, if you implement a partnership, monitor its progress to be sure you're getting what you need out of the relationship. If you're not, Anderson says, either make the necessary changes or find another partner.