If you run a small business that offers a product or service, you’re always looking for ways to outsmart the competition and accelerate your growth. One way big businesses do this is to enter into a partnership with another business where they can collaborate together to achieve their marketing goals.

These types of partnerships are often high risk and require a lot of time and management to get right, but if they work they can be transformational in terms of business growth.

So the question is, should small businesses build marketing partnerships? The simple answer is yes, but it’s important to know what you’re undertaking before you get going as your efforts may be better placed elsewhere in the marketing mix.

To give you a helping hand, we spoke to some partnership experts from the big business world to get their views on what makes a good or bad partnership.

Should Businesses Partner with Other Businesses?

When we asked Alex Keane from Protect Your Bubble, Wayne Mensah from The Telegraph Media Group and Victoria Bennett from Barclays Personal and Corporate Banking this question, it became clear that there are well-established reasons for businesses to partner with other businesses.

Victoria Bennett, who is the Partnership and Sponsorship Director at Barclays Personal and Corporate Banking believes it’s important: “To tap into one another’s expertise, contacts and customers. A combined approach can be more powerful than flying solo when executed properly.”

“I’ve worked for a number of brands who don’t have time to examine their own potential and are therefore missing out on some very quick wins.” said Alex Keane, who looks after business development and B2B Partnerships at Protect Your Bubble.

Wayne Mensah, who is the Head of Partnerships at The Telegraph Group thinks that partnerships can be used to solve a problem that both parties have, but only if all other avenues have been explored first:

“Only form a partnership if it is genuinely the best solution for your objective.

Take Orange Wednesdays. The lowest day of the week for cinema was Wednesdays, here is a clear problem. Orange wanted to align themselves with entertainment to enhance their brand offering and differentiate themselves from other networks, there’s another problem to solve.

“The Solution? Orange partners with cinemas to drive customers in on Wednesdays and effectively ‘own’ this day, enhancing their brand while solving the problem of Wednesday being a low day. Both parties gain from a problem that may not have been feasible to solve any other way.

How Can You Identify The Right Partners?

Dr. Steve Howell, the Chief Executive at Innova Partnerships Ltd thinks that rigorous scoping is the key to ensuring your potential partner is presented with a clear reason to work with you: “Try to understand the perspective of the other party and their needs in the partnership. If both parties do this then there is a stronger relationship and mutual understanding of what are the important drivers for each organisation.”

To put it quite simply, there is not a direct, iron-clad way of getting new partners into bed with you. You have to use all the channels of communication available to you. However, according to our experts, there are some approaches that are more successful than others.

Our partnership experts all highlighted social media, online marketing campaigns, emails, telephoning people and attending marketing events as the most popular forms of communications, however, nothing should be off-limits, and there is no “one size fits all” approach.

There are, however, a few rules within the limits. Firstly, when looking for new partners. Ask yourself, “Is what I’m offering relevant or helpful to the business I want to go into partnership with?”

“Be realistic with what you are wanting to achieve. Make sure all parties involved are on the same page.” – says the Business Partnership Manager at AirPlus International.

“Understand who your customers are and decide which new customers you’d like to target.”  from Alex Keane at Protect Your Bubble.

Secondly, always market yourself to the right people – research and preparation is key, otherwise you’ll lack focus and potential partners will not know what it is you have to offer and what it is that you want in return. As Michael Lupin, the Head of European Partnerships at Opentop asks: “Do you have something to offer the potential partner, which is as attractive as what they have to offer to you? If so, spell out the benefits clearly.”

Finally, there needs to be an effective call-to-action in any communication with potential partners so they know what to do next and how to move the conversation forward.

There is one major thing to remember when attempting to gain new partners, and it is that potential colleagues love face-to-face communication. Now a days, it is much easier to send an email, but setting up a meeting and going to events where you can put a face to a name is the key to building a relationship.

“Face-to-face communication makes all the difference.” says the Business Partnership Manager at Airplus International.

Partnerships where there is not a clear win-win scenario for both parties are ones to steer away from according to David Price-Evans, who is the Partnership Manager at CheckaTrade: “Successful partnerships rely on the principle that the work involved and the benefits from the partnership are equally spread.”

This is a view that is shared by Michael Lupin from Opentop, a digital marketing agency who specialise in lead generation: “A successful partnership should benefit all parties involved to a similar degree – a one sided partnership will not last very long.”

How to Make Marketing Partnerships Successful

According to Leanne Johnson, Engagement Manager at CompTIA Limited, when a business enters a partnership, the first thing they need to do is to ensure that both parties are clear on how the relationship will work in a practical sense: “Transparency. Honesty. Trust. Fairness, with clear guidelines and rules agreed at the start. These will ensure watertight partnership contracts.”

This view is reinforced by Victoria Bennett, the Partnership and Sponsorship Director at Barclays Personal and Corporate Banking: “A partnership is built on trust and the understanding of each other’s goals. Communication is key.”

David Price-Evans from CheckaTrade also places a lot of emphasis on relationship building when it comes to creating a successful partnership: ”Simply trust, support, and respect each other. Nurture relationships to create lasting partnerships.”

Some Final Pieces of Advice …

Make sure the partners you choose are relevant to your business, otherwise the relationship will most probably fail. A mutually beneficial system will ensure that both parties will gain from the alliance. Always ask yourself what it is that you are offering and is it relevant or helpful to the business you want to go into partnership with?

A partnership can mean your business will have access to new products, reach a new market, block a competitor or increase customer loyalty, but at the same time, it’s essential a business has something to offer mutually for this to work.

Set clear objectives so that both of the parties involved know exactly what each requires from each other. Try to look at things from the perspective of the company you are partnering with. Communication is key.

Developing and maintaining good business partnerships are not too different from making genuine, long-term friendships and relationships in your non-working life. Use all the channels available to you – social media, events, making calls, setting up meetings.

Like anything worthwhile, having good B2B partnership skills takes work, time, and effort, but placing importance on these things will reap rewards for your small business in time.