In 2012, I had finally come to the end of my degree and it was time to take a trip to celebrate all the hard work. But I didn’t want to travel alone, I needed a buddy, a partner.

I chose my best friend – we had worked through nights in the library without sleep, cried over exam pressure and dealt with university politics together; it was an obvious choice. We were so excited, we chose our destinations, booked transport, packed our bags and we were off! But things went south pretty quickly, we soon learned that excitement and a common need to get away weren’t enough. Details like expectations, budget and desired outcome of the trip hadn’t been discussed. One person wanted a restful holiday and the other wanted to see a new place every day. One person wanted to stay in nice hotels and the other only had a budget for hostels. One person wanted to explore history and culture and the other wanted to shop and find a beach! It led to one person going home to rest with her family and the other continuing on and travelling alone. And a friendship that had been built and tested through all the fires of four years of university life was damaged almost irreparably in those short few weeks. A bad partnership, poorly planned, can bring irrevocable damage both personally and in business.

Choosing the right partner 

In the same way, a good partnership can revolutionise your business. It can bring great benefits and help you grow and scale but it also comes with risks. Choosing the right partner and finessing the details of a partnership is vitally important to its success and to your business overall. Partners can be suppliers, investors, knowledge and resource sharing partners or anyone else that has involvement in your business dealings. Some of the benefits include the opportunity to form an economy of scale, help you enter new markets, enhance competitiveness and give you resources and skills to develop new products. 

Partnerships can be hard work and many are long -term. A partnership can be like a marriage - you are stuck with it- so you need to have a sincere desire to make it work! You must learn not just how to make a good partnership but also how to nurture it, how to maintain it.

How to get started?

When considering a partnership, you need to have a clear understanding of your strengths and weaknesses, your expectations from your partner (and what you can give your partner) and the desired outcome for your business. Remember, there will be different value-adds, one might offer resources and the other might offer knowledge or skills. You must ensure that the end goal is clear and targets are well defined. 

So how do you get started? Find a referral; a warm contact referral is always more valuable than a cold pitch. Show your strengths; know your product/service and practice your pitch. Show them the competitive value for them; be clear on what is in it for them. Know your leverage; what you can offer and what you expect. Define roles.

And what makes a good partnership? Maintain regular communication; update each other; air out grievances as soon as they occur. Be open and transparent and have integrity in all your dealings. Admit mistakes. Respect each other; both strengths and weaknesses. Support each other. Be professional. Put all agreements in writing.

And remember: Don’t compromise on your business values or mission - just because a partner can offer you something you need, it doesn’t mean the partner is the right one. Be cautious- they might turn out to be competition or not considering a long-term option or might not deliver on what they offer. Be clear when negotiating. Protect yourself- Consider well what information to share and what you commit yourself to.

 The value add to your business

If you want to build your business, partnerships are a fantastic way to do it. TBN runs capacity building programmes with partners, to expand business networks and increase support and knowledge sharing within the ecosystem with an aim to grow a community of transformational, values-based businesses. It’s important to engage partners wisely but don’t hold your business so close that no-one can come alongside you, support you and add value.  All the best!