I am part of a group of owners of digital agencies from across the country. We have similar (but not necessarily matching) business models. Some of the firms focus on SEO. Others offer paid search management and some have real strength in content marketing. Each firm has run into situations where a client needed something they didn’t routinely offer.  At a meeting a few weeks ago the conversation turned to finding better ways to share leads and coordinate joint projects.

As we kicked around ideas, we came up with an easy to use checklist for forging successful business partnerships.This list is not limited to the digital marketing industry. Any business owner can use these criteria to evaluate and structure strategic partnerships to outsource, refer or collaboratively deliver services which compliment their core offerings.

Get to know the potential partner

It isn’t enough to like the other business owners and potential partners on a personal level. You need to know how they feel about clients, timelines, collecting payment and communication. Will they treat your client the way you would? What are their core skills, assets and talents?

These key factors can be specifically related to the work they do. This might include mastery of a particular type of programming language or a more general qualifier such as their position on the board of a trusted organization.

Look for partners who serve a similar business target

It doesn’t make sense to partner with a company which serves companies much smaller or larger than your regular clientele. The referrals and projects will always be a misfit for one of the partners.

Beyond company size, look for partners who serve the same vertical markets and industries in which you have expertise. You won’t just find common projects to work on. Through the partnership, you’ll learn things about the market and unique ways to best serve your customers.

Get clarity before you talk to a customer

You get one chance at a good first impression. Be sure you and your strategic partner are on the same page about the entire process before meeting with a prospective client. It will help smooth out both client and partner relationships further down the road.

A few of the questions you should answer include:

  • Who will own the client, handle the billing and collections and manage the relationship after the project is done?
  • Will this be a white label situation where all services are bundled under one brand or will both firms bill individually?
  • What types of systems do you use to manage the project and keep clients informed of progress and results?

Start slowly

Take your time as you explore collaboration with other firms. Start by partnering for a small project and see how things go. Include all your planning on the front end and debrief on the back to make sure the project is profitable for both firms.

Typically in the beginning of a collaborative relationship, one company gets a project and brings the other in to help manage services. As the relationship develops, it may make sense to conduct joint marketing and proactively pursue projects you can work on together in the future. Structured contracts and very clear role definitions will be important at this point in the partnership.

If you nurture the business relationship, it may bring many opportunities over time. Always remember that the partnership will be more valuable in the long run than any individual one-off collaboration or outsourcing. Cultivating strategic partnerships will grow your business while letting you focus on the things you do best.

Have you successfully partnered with another business to meet the needs of a client? We’d love to hear your story!