Working with external partners such as agencies, suppliers, vendors or even freelancers can add a dimension of extra expertise to your business. Partners can fill a knowledge or experience gap in a technical, complex or resource-heavy discipline such as bookkeeping, branding or even product development, and free up your other employees to focus on tasks that center around their individual core competencies.
Getting the most out of these relationships, however, can be challenging. Some vendors’ work styles and preferences may not align with your company’s, and if expectations aren’t clearly defined, set and agreed upon early in the process, the work delivered may feel incomplete, unsatisfactory, or at worst, something that feels much different than what you were looking for.
The key to bringing on an outside partner who can actually ease headaches instead of creating them is to invest in the relationship. As the owner of a subscription-model graphic design service, I’ve seen firsthand that the best partnerships are ones in which both parties commit to learning and growing together.
As much as we wish it were so, outside vendors simply can’t be turnkey solutions: The relationship requires investment, communication and dedication on your end, too. In order to develop a valuable partnership that allows your team to focus on your core competencies, implement a few of these strategies to select the right vendor and nurture the relationship:
1. Determine goals and codify those in a statement of work.
Before you reach out to third-party partners like subscription-based services or independent contractors, know what you want out of the relationship. Think about what you consider to be your company’s core strengths. That’s where you want to keep your team members’ energies focused. The rest can be outsourced to a partner. Once you know what you are ready to offload, write up a creative brief to flesh out your ideas for specific projects or campaigns. This will help you be clear on your needs and will illustrate the time and resources required for you to meet your desired outcome.
Your brief will inform a statement of work shared between the partners, so it can help you determine which partner to choose. The more complex your needs, the more you can expect to pay for expertise. Based on the deliverable goals outlined in your creative brief, the SOW should clearly define roles and responsibilities.
2. Choose a partner who specializes in what you really want.
Gone are the days of generalists. Now, you can find niche groups and individuals focused on doing precise tasks so your team members can focus on their core strengths. These are specialists who seem to effortlessly do what your people can’t. For instance, our team operates as a creative production company. We design daily. We don’t do anything else, which is why we can achieve superior results in far less time than people who might spend only 10% of their time on graphic designs and illustrations.
Leaning on outsiders will allow you to ramp up faster, prevent your core staff members from burning out and enable you to recover during the coming days of global economic recovery.
Of course, you want to vet prospective partners and check out their external validation on sites like G2, Trustpilot and Facebook. When you find ones that fit the bill, interview them to be certain that they’ll be the bridge over your gap. You might ask questions about their motivations for their business, their goals in the partnership, what the company culture is like and how they’ve handled conflicts with other partners.
3. Operate within an atmosphere of transparency.
As Harvard Business Review research shows, being an authentic leader nurtures trust between you, your people and your partners. You will never be able to work with external businesses or individuals if you don’t trust them. Just as you wouldn’t automatically fire a good team member who comes to you with one lackluster idea or product, give your partners the chance to improve and get to know your style.
Learning to give and receive honest feedback upfront will enrich your partnerships. You’ll find that being transparent and considerate usually helps you grow the trust necessary to get closer to your objectives.
4. Invest in win-win relationships.
No matter what else you do, find a partner that’s happy to work with you and vice versa. You’ll both get a sense of value, and that value will promote a sense of excitement. Without a solid fit, you could end up going in diametrically opposed directions. And that won’t lead to you feeling comfortable when it’s time to cut the check for their services.
Not all outside partners will give you a feeling of instant “click,” so give it a little time for the relationship to mature (a good rule of thumb is about 90 days). However, when you work with someone else or another entity who’s on the same page as your team, you can make major inroads rapidly.
Maybe you’ve already considered looking into a strategic partnership or two. Perhaps you’re just at the beginning stages of figuring out how to scale your business while providing stress relief for employees. Either way, name your workgroup’s core strengths and then look for others who can fill in the missing parts. That way, you’ll grow faster and without the friction of burnout.
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