Partnerships can become your ‘go to’ resource to accomplish anything. Want exposure for one of your clients? Media partnerships. Want to get more leads to an event? Affiliate partnerships. Overseas expansion? International partnerships.

However, even with the FUTURE framework, which I built to help me with progressive partnerships, over the years I’ve failed way more than I’ve succeeded in trying to create win/win relationships with strategic business partnerships. When that failure has occurred it is normally because I have forgotten one of the following:

1 – Take the pressure off (kiss lots of frogs)

Nothing sets a deal up for failure faster than when you really need it to work. Funnily enough, others rarely share your urgency. If you feel yourself having any sense of desperation for a deal to work out, it is time to start phoning round other partners. Most deals will not deliver exactly what you hope for, so take the pressure off any one deal by having multiple fall backs.

2 – Think big, have a vision, bake a deal pie

In almost every deal I have ever done, there was something else we could have brought in as a negotiation tool or a way of working more effectively together. Don’t be afraid to have fun with your partners. Imagine multiple ways you could work together. What would happen if you added a third partner or a fourth? What if you added more products or created a separate business to maximise this opportunity?

3 – Think small, baby steps

Big thinking is great, but always set up something small that you can start doing right now, today, to get started. It doesn’t matter how small it is – a tweet announcing you’re planning to work with a certain partner, a timeline of actions, a date for launch. Just get something nailed down. If you can’t move forward with anything on the first meeting then it is likely an indicator of how that partnership will turn out.

4 – Treasure map

Picture a two by two matrix with ‘High Value and Easy to Implement’ in one corner and ‘Low Value and Hard to Execute’ in the other. You want to have a basket of ‘Easy to Implement’ partnership options that you can pull out during any conversation to move things forward. Do you have a free gift you can make available? Some research you can share? A database you’re happy to promote to your partners? Making it super easy for people to work with you is the key to building long-term relationships and moving up the value ladder to the game changing deals.

There is an intersection that you have to test based on a simple matrix. Is this a high value opportunity or a low value opportunity? Is it easy to execute or hard to execute?

Remember, you can get value in many ways from each partnership. Will you meet likely clients from it? Will it give you credibility?

The next question is about ease of execution. Can you do this partnership without using too much time/energy/resources or is it going to be a time sink?

In an ideal world every partnership would be high value to you and easy to execute. If it is low value and hard to execute you definitely want to bin it. You need to base your decision on where on each line each specific opportunity falls.

5 – Over deliver/over communicate

Make it a point of over delivering in every partnership. The only way you can do that is to understand how you create value for your partners. Once you have that down you will consistently have your pick of people to partner with whenever you need them because you have set up an expectation.

Whether you’re over delivering or under delivering, ensure you are communicating more than you think is necessary. The most common mistake people make is when stuff stops working as they’d hoped, they go into hiding. I have been guilty of this in the past, and I’ve also been on the receiving end of it. Don’t be that person.

Progressive partnerships are, in my mind, the fastest way to achieve anything in business. Like anything, they need practice, attention to detail and a healthy dose of humility to consider others’ needs first. By keeping these five ideas in mind, hopefully you can avoid many of the common mistakes.

And a bonus point:

Assume best intent 

As you can tell, when it comes to the challenges and opportunities associated with entrepreneurship, I am pretty unapologetic in my belief that whatever situation you are facing, there is usually a strategic partnership that can sort you out.

Need more customers? Who already has those customers and what can you offer them? Better distribution channels? Sure you could build them yourself, or you could find someone who already has them. In short, I have a pretty one size fits all approach to building businesses. Look at the trajectory of any successful business, and it is normally easy to see the inflection points where a strategic partnership has propelled the business to the next level.

Yet every partnership is different, and even the best, most logical partnerships have a habit of going awry from time to time. Business partnerships are no different from personal relationships. On paper everything can be perfect, but people have all these weird foibles that keep things interesting, so often we end up with misunderstandings and partnerships coming to a premature end. That means less value for customers and shareholders, and more stress for you.

The challenge of course is that the person you are partnering with has a whole host of other priorities in their life that you aren’t aware of. Even with the most compelling proposition in the world, you will never fully understand what pressures and strains they are under. But you can, and should, safely assume that even if their goals currently align with yours, they won’t do so forever.

Differing priorities often lead to miscommunication and confusion. And miscommunication and confusion mostly lead to partnerships falling apart. The trick to avoiding this in your partnerships is to acknowledge it upfront. Recognise that it will happen and address it. Assume best intent.

Assuming best intent acknowledges that we live in complex times. Things will come up, neither party will have full visibility of what the other side is doing, things move fast and we don’t always have time to communicate everything in as much detail as we should. Or understand it even if it is communicated.

The intent of any partnership is always that both parties will benefit more with the alliance than without. When things come up in your partnerships, as they invariably will, assuming best intent provides the best possible platform for starting the conversation.

I’m not naive enough to assume it is a panacea, that every partnership will survive and every party will have best intent in mind. However, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that the reverse scenario, one which is many people’s default assumption, will lead to partnerships failing to live up to their potential.

Assume best intent! 

The above is taken from my new book “Progressive Partnerships – The Future of Business”. If you enjoyed this and would like to read more, you can download a free sample of the book here: