It's easier to go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in business when you have partners. Reinventing wheels, growing each piece of your business on your own, and keeping your ideas to yourself are sure ways to stifle growth.

Early in life, we learn that it's easier either to work with people to achieve a stated goal or to use someone else's knowledge to augment our own. Children with older siblings talk earlier and read earlier, and almost everyone has discovered that it's easier to find someone with the answers (that whole "why" stage of childhood) than to find the answers ourselves.

But once we hit grade school, we are discouraged from getting help from others -- otherwise, we are branded "cheaters."

It's interesting that people in business need strategic partnerships to propel business on a growth trajectory, yet throughout our formative years we are taught to treat this interdependent concept as "bad." In business, we worry about helping our competition and giving away our ideas, and we shy away from sharing, building together, and exchanging skills and knowledge.

Consider the Basics

If such early training is holding you back from joining forces with others, it's time to break free. Strategic partnering makes sense for everyone in business. The reasons are basic:

  1. One plus one equals two -- but in the right business partnership, it can be greater than two. If you cannot afford either directly (with money) or indirectly (in terms of risk taking or readiness) to add human or other resources, launch a new product, or explore new ideas, a strategic partner offers a logical, low-risk, low-dollar way to grow.
  2. Even a niche-market company can benefit from partners. The more targeted a small business is, the more beneficial a partner can be. In the current world of superstores, one-stop shopping, turnkey services, and our clients' desire for immediacy, it's critical that a company become broader and deeper to meet customers' needs. Partnering can add immediate breadth and depth.
  3. Are you too small to have marketing, advertising, telesales, or name recognition? You can create impact for yourself by partnering with people who have brand recognition and who will comarket or custom-brand your joint efforts. Use partners to make a big company splash when you can't achieve that by yourself.
  4. Partnering enables you to provide total solutions for customers and ensures that you'll be their "go to" source. Recognize what you do well, and complement what you do with partners who do what they do well.

Fit the Pieces Together

There are many more reasons to partner, but you'll find that they all flow from the basics listed above.

Look at your business as a puzzle, with both you and your strategic partners as the pieces. As you fit the pieces together one by one, the picture that is your business grows and grows until it becomes a big, beautiful whole.

Adjust your thinking so that when you look at a new division, marketing efforts, sales campaigns, or ways to add value, you look both at outside partnering opportunities and internal options. Do the analysis. Compare the returns on investment if you partner versus if you go it alone. What will be the time to market?

Retrain your thinking to be focused on the goal -- and on getting there in the best and most cost-effective, synergistic way possible.

Strategic partners make sense. Squelch your second grade teacher's voice telling you that sharing is cheating -- and watch your business grow through "coop-etition," not competition.

Jennifer Lawton is senior vice president of consulting and technology at Interliant Inc., an Internet hosting company. Previously, Lawton was CEO of Net Daemons Associates Inc., a computer networking and consulting firm she cofounded in 1991.

Copyright 2000