I am a big fan of collaboration. I like to share, engage and bounce thoughts and ideas of others. For business owners, partnerships are critical to develop and grow as a business and as a person. What do you define as a partnership? Let’s explore further.

Who do you consider a partner? Do you see professional relationships as partnerships? After working for 10 years in International administration, partnerships are key to knowing what’s going on, who is doing what, changes, challenges, progress etc.

As a business owner I have (so far) partnered with a mentor, IT company, and many colleagues and clients. I have shared my knowledge and they have shared theirs. I consider a client a partner as they are entrusting that I have the knowledge and experience to deliver for them, and I trust that they will share with me their information and knowledge so I can support properly. We get to know each other a little bit, to build trust. I’ve also brought in associates to join Blue Ninja, to support, to partner with me and speak for an on behalf of Blue Ninja. We spend time working out how our partnership will work, but a partnership should complement.

A relationship with a significant other is a personal relationship, but do they cross over into the professional arena? Does your wife perhaps do your bookkeeping? Does your husband support your IT needs? Examples, of course, but how do you define where the professional partnership ends and the personal relationship start? It’s really important to also define these types of partnerships and communicate how and why these partnerships will work. They are extremely challenging to define but can be rewarding when the partnership is deemed successful by both sides.

How do you define a partner? 

A partner is a person or business that provides you with knowledge and information that you need, and in return accepts your information and knowledge. There should be a mutual relationship, regardless of the type of partnership that may be entered into. A partner, even one where you’re paying someone to teach you, should have a level of give and take.

If you form a partnership, write down what you need from that person or business (let’s keep using person in both contexts), and what they need from you. What feeling do you get from discussing a collaboration with that person? What do your instincts tell you about them? You have a choice to not move forward with a partnership so you need to be aware of your intuition.

Partnerships can be formal, with a contract or agreement, or informal. In most circumstances, an agreement is very important and can help strengthen trust as it defines your obligations to each other, but sometimes you want the flexibility of a partnership without any strings attached. Make sure you are extremely clear with the partner what type of partnership you are looking for, and that you’re both on the same page.

For informal partnerships, these could be an understanding with someone to help you know how to communicate with others. Many businesses have a ‘go-to’ person who knows what’s going on, so they are your partner informally to strengthen your formal partnership with others. Even if you speak only every so often, those are also important partnerships to build and develop.

Are partners out to steal your ideas? 

This is a very valid question and one that should not be taken lightly. The general response is not usually, although it can happen. It goes back to what steps you put in place with a partner in the first place and the trust you place with them. It can be hard to see a manipulation in a partnership, but if you put in place protections such as an agreement or something written it will help to protect you legally (have you seen the movie The Social Network – good example of this).

With regards to how much and how often you should share with partners, that’s up to you. I would suggest not sharing everything, but it can help you to develop new ideas and concepts from talking through your thoughts. You may want to discuss ‘rules’ or conditions of sharing with others before you start, but be clear on the purpose. A partner will often have the same concerns as you, so be as transparent as you can about your ‘why’ with them. If money is a factor, be doubly clear about the purpose and the outcomes of the partnership and make sure the partnership is in writing.

What is considered a successful business partnership? 

A successful partnership will deliver what you both agree are the goals of the partnership. If it’s a client, you will deliver what they pay for. If it’s a team member, they deliver what you pay for. If it’s training you have learned something and have grown in your journey. If it’s a growth partnership you both feel that you have both gained from partnering with each other.

I could say a partnership is equitable, but that’s not always the case. There may be more give and take from either party depending on the type of partnership it is, but to be successful you both need to agree that you’ve achieved what you set up the partnership for in the beginning. If you feel it’s one-sided, or you’ve been taken advantage of, why is that? What happened? You also need to learn from your partnerships and work out what didn’t work well and build from that.

In summary, partnerships are wonderful, collaborative endeavours that you should make time for. As business owners, we form partnerships for a number of reasons, but they are important for growth and development in many ways.