Making it as an entrepreneur requires a certain willingness to take risks. Often, that involves going it alone to do something no one has done before. And while that spirit of adventure has launched many entrepreneurs, the greatest -- and most sustainable -- startup success stories tend to be tales of partnerships.
Over the course of my seven years as an entrepreneur, I’ve learned that it’s tough to be the kid on the playground without any friends. The same is true in business.
You can survive alone, but you'll only really thrive when you plug into the community around you. External partnerships can serve as a startup’s connection to an established community by making their product or offering seem more familiar and less risky. For small businesses and startups, building this brand recognition and affinity is critical.
Partnerships are at the core of my company, Whence. By working with local businesses, we’ve been able to grow our subscribership. We don’t partner with just anyone -- we choose partner brands whose values, style and mission reflect who we are and whose products or services appeal to the target demographic.
Like all good things, there are some obstacles when it comes to partnerships. Not all will be a perfect -- or even a good -- fit, and it can sometimes be difficult to identify when a potential partnership might be a bad idea. Thankfully, there are some things you can do to be smart in aligning with partner brands:
1. Be clear and straightforward about your business
It helps to know what you do, how you do it and why you do it that way before engaging in partnerships with other small businesses.
It’s easy to become enamored of every potential partnership opportunity that comes your way, but chances are good not every opportunity will be the right one. Having a clear picture of your who, what and why create a roadmap and a guide that keep you on target so you’re less likely to wander outside of your intended scope of business. While flexibility and thinking outside the box can, at times, stimulate growth and open new revenue streams, it can also blur the big picture.
Trying to be too many things to too many people can result in a brand that means nothing to everyone. If your partnerships don’t make sense, you risk building a poorly defined brand that makes no sense to the consumer.
2. Ask questions
Do what you can to make informed decisions about your partners and partnerships. You’ll never know everything, but it’s up to you to arm yourself with as much information as possible. When you partner with another brand, they become an extension of your business. It’s important to fully understand who they are and what they stand for, because those values will become the things consumers associate with your company as well.
3. Be honest about your own business
There is no shame in being honest about the limitations of your business -- but limitations aren't fixed. As an entrepreneur, you must be willing to explore every opportunity and possibility to expand and grow your company. By knowing your limitations, you’re better able to identify strong partners who can fill the gaps.
4. Know when to hold 'em. Know when to fold 'em
It’s great to try new things and take risks, but when a partnership isn’t working, you have to be willing and able to cut it loose. It’s never easy, but it’s necessary.
The startup world can feel lonely at times, but it doesn’t have to. Smart partnerships can contribute to the growth of your brand and influence consumer perception in positive ways. The best thing you can do as an entrepreneur is be clear, be informed and be intentional in aligning with partners who share your vision. Your brand will be better for it.