In a tough economy, growing your business doesn't have to involve costly new hires or expensive acquisitions. Instead, teaming up with another small business might be your best solution.
Successful teaming relationships can help you gain experience, offer a more comprehensive service, or take on bigger contracts.
Earlie Butler, founder and CEO of Document Integration Technologies, a West Orange, N.J.-based technology solution business, teams with other companies to reach a broader client base.
Over time, he's learned how to choose the right partners and communicate effectively. "Just like anything else, some relationships are going to very good and productive, some not so, and others just fall apart completely," he says.
If you want to try teaming with another small business, here are six tips to ensure a successful relationship:
1. Be honest about your weaknesses. Before you enter a teaming relationship, assess your strengths and weaknesses. "When you're teaming, you're looking for someone who will be right next to you," says Michelle Thompson-Dolberry, an advisor on small business growth for American Express OPEN. "You have to be open about what you really bring to the table," she says. Ideally, you'll complement each other's weaknesses.
2. Be open to teaming with competitors. Most businesses look for partners that offer a service they don't, but your best asset may actually be your competition. "Even small variances in what you deliver to a client could make you a powerhouse," Thompson says. Together, you could offer a more comprehensive service or tackle a bigger project.
3. Set clear parameters at the beginning. At the outset, make sure your expectations are aligned. "Communication gets difficult when people have different expectations," Thompson says. Agree on logistics, as well as a game plan for potential problems, such as a client who doesn't pay or a dispute you can't resolve. That preparation will give you a framework for resolving any issues down the line.
4. Keep written records of everything. To make sure everyone stays on the same page, write everything down. This doesn't have to be arduous; it can be as simple as writing meeting notes and storing them in a shared Google document. The notes will clarify any confusion and give you a written record if anything goes awry.
5. Watch out for red flags. To vet potential partners, make sure they reply to emails in a timely fashion, arrive on time, and follow through. "If you see that the other party is not willing to compromise, that's a huge red flag," Butler says. Ultimately, trust your gut, just as you would when hiring a new employee.
Related: How to Break Bad News to Clients
6. Be fair. Last but not least, always treat your teaming partner fairly. "[Your actions] should be for the mutual benefit of both parties," Butler says. Your success is contingent on your ability to work together, so having their best interests at heart will serve you too.