As your training business scales, typically your offering will scale with it. Whether you're looking to offer new courses that you previously couldn't, or you're looking for a new piece of technology that will compliment your existing offering, the chances are that someone else might be in a better position than you to deliver that service.
We're not saying that you should accept this and move on forever. However, it's often far more fruitful for all involved if a mutually beneficial partnership can be found. For example, Administrate's relationship with CloudShare enables our customers to access a partner who can deliver virtual lab environments better than we can. You can find many more examples of companies we partner with here!
The same is true of our finance system partners, and in providers such as MailChimp, SurveyMonkey, and many more. There's no shame in admitting that someone does something better than you can. But there is an issue with doing nothing about it. In work and in the playground, if you don't play well with others, you won't last long in the sandbox. In this post, we'll cover some of the key elements to consider when finding partner businesses, and how you can find your perfect pairing.
Establish Your Key Goals
Before setting off to find the ideal partner companies or individuals, first consider what the key goals of the partnership are in the short-term, and the long-term. Are you looking for someone to refer business to someone else for a commission, while you put your course together? Trying to find leads in a new sector? Or maybe you're looking for a long-term specialist that you'll be able to outsource to? Figuring this out will help shape the focus of your conversations. It's important to be transparent in this, as it reflects extremely poorly on your brand if a partnership you formed on the understanding of long-term support then turns into a non-starter. Honesty goes a long way.
What Value Do You Bring?
Hopefully, if you're at the stage of finding companies to partner with, it's pretty clear what you bring to the table. However, just because it's clear to you, doesn't mean it'll be clear to them. It's easy to forget that not everyone knows your company, who you are, and what you do - especially when you're living it 40-60+ hours per week! Take a step back and before approaching the partners you think could help you, figure out what you can do for them. What about you and your business is going to make your potential partner want to spend hours fostering a new relationship? And why should they trust that you can keep your side of the bargain? Remember that there is a shared responsibility to deliver. Partnerships can only really progress if there's clear value for all parties, and a joint enthusiasm to achieve that value.
Approaching Your Target Partners
You've identified what you want, and why they should listen to you. Now it's time to start making conversation. Remember that your potential partner isn't a prospect you're trying to sign up - it's a very different type of conversation you're looking to start. Often a good place to start is making connections on LinkedIn, or asking around your network to see if someone can give you a warm introduction. Perhaps inside your existing customer base, there's someone who can put you in touch with a provider? The list of sources for these conversations are near endless, but having a neutral party start the conversation for you can be a powerful facilitator to a discussion.
Learn to Accept Being Told 'No'
Be prepared for some rejection and push back. The larger a company is, the more regimented their partnership process will likely be, and the less room they will have for flexibility. Conversely, a smaller company may have an easier process that follows the traditional "lunch or a coffee" meeting to iron things out - but might be less valuable in the long term. Your key goals and aims will likely frame the type of partnership you're looking for, and those might not align with potential partners. Wish them well graciously, and make a note to catch up with them in a few months. It could be that the timing isn't right, or there are other priorities - don't take it as a harsh rejection of your offering.
Build and Adhere to Service Level Agreements
Now that you're on the cusp of a partnership agreement, it's time to build your Service Level Agreement (SLA). This could be formal or informal, but it's often good to outline the key details and expectations of the partnership and have it signed or at least acknowledged. This means that there are no nasty surprises at a later date, and all parties know what is expected of them in advance. Creating this document, however informal (the back of an envelope will do!), is the rubber stamp that confirms you're going to work together.
The Final Hurdles
Establish your key points of contact, the nature of the relationship, how you intend to promote it, and how success will be measured. At this point it's also wise to make sure that any Non Disclosure Agreements (NDA) or similar paperwork is in place to make sure you're protected in the event of a breach. This can be a hugely frustrating time, as the chances are that all parties that have steered the conversation to this point are keen to be involved. However, it is vital that provisions like this aren't overlooked. Nobody likes to think of a relationship turning sour, but without this in place, your business and reputation are at risk.
After all this, you'll be ready to agree your near-term projects, and get started! At last!
Building effective partnerships with companies that are best in breed is often the fast-track to success, provided that you build the relationship on solid foundations. It can be tempting to over-promise, posture to appear like a larger company, and many other practices that can be considered ethically grey. By treating others as you expect to be treated, and making sure your values are aligned, your new collaboration will be sure to succeed!
As Shakespeare said:
Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.