Published April 7, 2009

How to Build a Business Partnership’s Foundation for Success

Some of the greatest corporations in history have been built from the foundation of a humble partnership. Forming a strategic alliance involves two or more parties, who work together to achieve a common purpose. The business partners may share risks, responsibilities, resources, competencies and benefits.

By sharing resources and experiences, each company in a partnership gains more than they would individually. A common saying is, "Do what you do best, and partner for the rest." Here are some ways to build a successful strategic alliance:

  • Make expectations and responsibilities absolutely clear. Start your partnership off on the right foot by making the responsibilities, expectations, and roles for each partner painfully clear. Feel comfortable drawing up a legal contract that outlines the risks and rewards that will be shared between the two business partners. Erasing any ambiguity is a critical component to developing a successful long-term relationship.
  • Make sure the decisions and interests are mutually beneficial. From the initial decision to work together throughout each business decision thereafter, it is important that both sides will equally benefit. The only way a strategic alliance will be successful is if both parties are happy. You should always strive to expand the proverbial pie, instead of divide a bigger piece for yourself.
  • Be comfortable with mutual dependency. Know that a strategic alliance means that you can lean on each other, share thoughts and ideas. Include every member of the team in decision-making. Share resources and benefits. Offer support for other team members. Through open, mutual communication, the best ideas and solutions are born.
  • Know that times will not always be easy. No partnership is constantly a walk in the park. There will be times where your partnership will be challenged by internal and external struggles. In these situations, remember that the benefits of working together will be far greater than being solo. Keep track of gains and setbacks in a visible place so everyone can see exactly what progress (or not) is being made.
  • Cement commitment. Commitment is the ultimate key to a business partnership's success. Every member has to be equally dedicated to the cause, and put in an equal amount of effort. If your heart's not in it, get out. Likewise, if you find that your partner's commitment is lackluster, it may be time to dissolve the relationship. Remember, your partnership is only as strong as its weakest member.
  • Practice solid communication. Taking your strategic alliance to its fullest potential means communicating openly and honestly. All business partners' expectations and concerns should be addressed, as this is the only way to ensure a successful relationship. Keeping your thoughts and concerns to yourself only plants a seed of demise for the future of the relationship.

If everyone is working together and equally committed, the partnership can take on unexpected opportunities, including new marketplace possibilities.

At the beginning of every partnership, make sure you set clear, achievable goals. Define and delegate roles and responsibilities and allow for suggestions. Make sure everyone understands the resources available, the needs of the team as a whole, and the constraints on the team. Above all, continue to learn from each other to take your businesses to new heights of success!