I am often guiding my coaching clients how to have powerful conversations with potential partners so that they can be clear about what they want to gain and what they have to offer.
The ability for an entrepreneur to forge a strategic partnership (whether it is a business partnership, a joint venture or a short-term alliance) is critical for continued financial success in an ever-changing and highly competitive environment. Here are some tips:
1. See beyond what's on the table. Imagine there is one chocolate chip cookie on the table but everyone wants a piece. It’s warm, chewy and calling you by name. OK, now imagine there is another whole sheet of cookies baking in the oven.
This is the best way I can describe the scarcity-abundance theory. The bottom line is that when we enter strategic partnerships, the dynamic plays out best when we come from a place of abundance.
Sure, when we come together to create new partnerships, we can feel anxious and exposed. Take a deep breath and believe that all parties will eventually have their needs met to put you in the optimal position for achieving a better partnership.
2. Be clear on your why. Often people enter into partnerships because they don’t feel they have enough value on their own. Coming from this place almost never creates a mutually beneficial relationship. The chance of getting burned is almost guaranteed.
Be clear on the value you bring to the table. Be honest about why you're interested in creating a partnership and what you bring to the table. Write down the answers to the following: “Why does this relationship benefit my professional and personal growth?” and “What do I expect to gain from this partnership?”
This is not a time to hash out your business plan or a mission and vision statement. If you don’t have clear answers to these questions, you're not in a position to create effective connections.
Do your homework. Do not pass "go" until you have these answers covered.
3. Understand the why of your potential partners. Do not hesitate to ask a potential partner why he or she is seeking to connect and what he or she is hoping to gain.
The answers are not always clear at the outset. Listen carefully to what the other party is saying. Do you have the right chemistry and a shared vision to make this relationship mutually beneficial?
If you sense resistance or a lack of clarity, postpone any decision making until your questions are answered completely and you're confident this relationship will be profitable and beneficial to you both.
4. Seek commonality and a shared vision. Do you see this partnership as boosting the vision of both sides? Do you share the same excitement and passion for what you do and how you want to grow?
Certainly everyone comes with different strengths and weaknesses, however, the best partnerships work because the vision and values are shared as well as passion and enthusiasm. These can carry the partnership through any sticking points in negotiations. Remember, the best partnerships work most smoothly when each party’s strengths shore up the connection to create elevated and shared success.
5. Don’t rush the process. There is no need to hurry into a deal. Sometimes enthusiasm and excitement can blind you to red flags and foibles. Set a follow-up meeting to address next steps so as to be sure that both parties are on board and equally committed. A lack of follow-through by one party could mean stress and strain in the future. Judicious and thorough planning are key.
6. Expect to be uncomfortable. When hashing out details about what each party brings to the table, expect some push and pull. A lot of people become uncomfortable with disagreement. Don’t let that be you. By being prepared, you will be clear about where you stand firm and where you can give way. Negotiation is a dance and as the saying goes, it takes two to tango.
By holding on for a positive outcome, commit to moving through sticking points with grace and tact. Expect win-win relationships. Initial enthusiasm can open the door but stick–to–itiveness seals a good deal.
7. Write things down. Great partnerships require great protection. Seal all agreements in writing to avoid messy breakups in the future. This is one of the hardest conversations to have but by far the most important.
How many times have you heard about a partnership that started off rosy and blew apart with hard feelings and even costly results?
A great way to phrase this is to say, “I’m really excited about this partnership and I think we will achieve great success together. Because I value our relationship so much, let’s put our agreement in writing to protect our interests and ensure our growth as partners. How does that sound to you?”
Granting yourself some protection by signing on the dotted line is brilliance in action. Respect yourself enough to protect yourself and your ideas. Contracts preserve relationships not destroy them.
If a possible partner bristles at signing anything in writing, thank your lucky stars and walk away. Integrity includes clarity of principle. And an agreement in writing seals a relationship and provides a level of security and fairness that is priceless.