Spend any amount of time in business and you'll inevitably have the opportunity to partner up. I'm not talking about partnership in the sense of two individuals working to launch a business. I'm talking about two business entities teaming up to win new business, introduce a product or enhance their service offering.
While this type of partnership may not seem as binding as two individuals joining forces under one entity, they should be approached the same way. Because as valuable as they can be in terms of bringing a broader skillset to the project, they can also go south for myriad reasons, especially if the partnership isn't built from a solid foundation.
With that in mind, begin the vetting process before you conduct your final handshake with a testing-the-waters, pre-partnership period.
This is the test drive before committing to three years of car payments. You want to be sure, because we all know what happens once you drive it off the lot. So get involved in a micro version of the real thing and measure your success to see if you have chemistry.
Get it in writing.
Before entering into anything major, and before you start divulging specific information and strategies pertaining to your company, get an agreement in place. This can be something slightly more informal like a memorandum of understanding (MOU), or a more formal mutual master service agreement (MSA) that stipulates the qualitative and quantitative benefits of your arrangement.
And don't skimp on the proper legalese. Do you need a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), non-solicit, non-compete, non-hire, etc.? As tough and distrustful as it seems, it's always best to think worst-case scenario - even if you have the best of relationships. This will save your bacon if and when it comes time to dissolve the partnership.
Manage expectations and communicate.
It's time to get real. What does each business want out of this partnership? Don't just limit this to the business side of the equation.
Think what each team expects behaviorally and pragmatically - speed, turnaround time, how issues are handled, alignment of customer service, culture, etc. Talk candidly about your past partnerships and what made them a success or failure. Communicate early and often, and with integrity.
When possible, bring that partner into the fold as early as you can on an opportunity. This helps ensure an even playing field and that neither of you is trying to play catch up.
Now that you've passed the due-diligence, the test phase, and you've successfully partnered up and are chugging along...let's say you hit a bump. Maybe one party isn't delivering or there's a miscommunication.
How do you turn the strained relationship around and get back in sync?
Open the contracts and the conversations.
First, set up your guard-rails. Contracts and agreements serve this purpose. They will be the voice of reason and provide pragmatic steps to reaching a solution.
Don't let resentment fester. Be honest and open about the issues. Who is losing money and why? Are you working hard enough? Whose clients or reputations are being harmed?
Oftentimes, transparency and candor alone leads business people to fight for what's right and fair, and your shared passion can lead to consensus and compromise, provided you're both empathetic to one another's position.
Compromise, or not. Just don't do either begrudgingly.
A little bit of self-reflection goes a long way toward amicable solutions. If both entities acknowledge what you could have done better, and both have the desire to keep moving forward, then great. Execute on your solution and measure the results.
If you landed on a favorable outcome overall, keep at it, possibly with an amended MOU or mutual agreement.
If you don't foresee outcomes getting better, cut ties cordially. Remember, you should already have provisions in place for how the separation should play out.
Parting ways can be hard to do, but the road to innovation is littered with partnerships that ran their course. As long as you communicate honestly throughout the lifespan of the partnership and know how to work through issues together, business partnerships can yield tremendous returns.