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BFS Capital Blog

11 Tips for Forming Successful Partnerships with Other Businesses

October 21, 2013

For small businesses, some of the best pathways to success can be the simplest. If you aren’t already, have you thought about partnering up with other small businesses? says this can be a great solution that can keep costs down and mitigate risks. At the same time, teaming up with another business can help you gain experience that you might not otherwise get. And not only that, it can enable you to expand your product or service offerings and can grow your reach and capabilities.

Good partnerships don’t happen automatically. To maximize the benefits for both parties, here are six tips for forming successful business-business relationships:

    • Come clean about your weaknesses. As with any relationship, transparency is everything. Be open and honest about your weaknesses and your strengths, too.


    • Consider competitors. You want to team up with a business that offers things you don’t. But small differences can pack big punches. A competitor might be your best bet.


    • Set clear expectations and parameters. You can’t communicate too much. Establishing a framework at the beginning will help resolve the inevitable questions and issues that will arise.


    • Put everything in writing. It’s an important part of the communication process and provides clarity and definitive records.


    • Listen to your gut. Are you seeing/feeling red flags with potential partnerships? If you value promptness and follow through, for instance, and you’re not seeing that same commitment to those values, this isn’t the relationship for you.


    • Put being fair at the top of your list. Make sure everything is mutually beneficial. Listen openly and objectively. View engaging in a potential partnership much as you would hiring a new employee.

Small business expert, CEO and contributor Deborah Sweeney writes on that partnerships between small businesses should be win-win situations for both businesses and built on a foundation of trust. But the success of the partnership (and whether the partnership even comes to fruition) is frequently determined in the approach, especially if you’ve never had a partner before. How do you start? How do you reach out to another small business owner?  Sweeney recommends proceeding thoughtfully and carefully, one step at a time. Her insights apply to those entering into partnerships for the first time, as well as to those who may already have some partnership experience under their belts.

    • Focus on other businesses in your industry—different but still closely related. Start by looking at their sites and whether they already have partners.


    • Reach out. A lot of business owners hate this step—but there’s no way around it. And if you don’t try, you’ll never know.


    • What about a cross promotion to start? After you’ve made contact, you need to propose something that will be of mutual benefit. Make a plan, and keep it simple.


    • Do a test run. Once the partnership is taking shape, be committed, but go slow. Small steps may make the most sense as you iron out expectations and the rules of the road.


    • Don’t limit yourself. Businesses that successfully leverage partnerships usually have more than one, each of them somewhat different. This ultimately becomes a network, with continuing benefits for all involved.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

Are you currently in partnerships with other small businesses? How did you get started?