Business partnering: the fastest way to grow

Two oak trees growing together: business partnering in practiceWhat do you do when one of your most valuable clients asks you to do an extra project that’s outside what you normally do?

On one hand, it gives you the chance to expand your area of expertise, expand your relationship with that client. And it’s paid work, which is tempting if times aren’t as good as you’d like.

On the other, it takes away time and resources from the things you do best at the moment. It’s also likely to take you longer than it would someone who does it regularly, meaning it can be much less financially rewarding than you’d hoped.

A great third option is business partnering: finding someone with the right skills to deliver it. 

This is often the solution that gives you the quickest results and the chance to grow fastest. If, for example, you’re a social media expert and someone asks you to do a full digital strategy, it might be a great opportunity for you to partner with a more experienced digital strategist. You can take the lead to lay out the scope of the project, and define what work is done by you, and what by someone else.

Business partnering means that you get to keep the relationship with your client. You build your credibility by being seen to be at the centre of a network of experts, and strengthen your relationship with someone with complementary skills.

Find the right business partner

The key thing is to find a partner you trust. Your reputation can be strengthened by a good recommendation, but weakened by a situation which goes wrong, even if it’s not your fault. So choose someone whose work you have confidence in, and who you are sure will be a good fit for what your client needs. Using someone who isn’t right, just because they’re a friend or have done you a favour in the past, will only be damaging in the long run.

Introduce your client to your partner yourself

If it’s a project involving direct communication, provide the introduction between your business partner and your client. A powerful way of doing this is to introduce them in person by setting up and running the first meeting yourself, at your offices, your client’s, or perhaps over lunch. Even if you’re then handing over the relationship, you’ve positioned yourself as the person at the centre of the network. What’s more, introductions made in that way almost always result in the work being agreed.

Should you subcontract the business partnering relationship?

There are two main ways of organising it. You could subcontract, which means that the client books all the work through you, and you manage it all, or you could make the introduction, and the client contracts directly with your partner.

The upsides to subcontracting are that you you can add a margin to the sum you pay your subcontractor, and retain all the direct relationships.

The disadvantage to subcontracting is that you take on the risk and the responsibility. You’re responsible for managing all the work, and sorting out any problems, including any issues with briefs, late/non-delivery, and standards of work. You’ll be responsible for paying your subcontractor, so consider what would happen if your client was late paying, or didn’t. If you’re not VAT-registered, you need to be certain that the additional revenue won’t affect your status. Ensure, too, that you’re not doing something outside your business insurance cover. You should have very clear contracts with both your client and your sub-contractor to go down this route. The risks increase with the size of the project, so if you’ve never done it before, starting with smaller tasks is a good way to learn how it works.

Manage your client and partner relationships

Even if you’ve handed over the contractual relationship, keep in close touch with both your client and your partner. No matter how you manage it legally, you can build your reputation by ensuring that the additional project dovetails with your own work where possible, adding value for everyone. Try to ensure that the strength of your relationship with your partner gives more value to your client that if they’d chosen to work with someone you may not know. The more you can help your client to reach their goals with minimum stress, the more your reputation will grow.

 

Does business partnering work for you? What are the keys to working with a business partner successfully? I’d love to know what you think in the comments below.

 

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