How do you choose a business partner for life?

Imagine a small child embarking on their first trip in an aeroplane. The excitement of the trip to come, the cute, Disney bag packed (maybe large enough to ride around the airport) and a long, tiring walk through the terminal. Then they’re quickly strapped into seat, a friendly pat on the head from a steward to boot, and the roaring engines start to engage. There’s a mad rush of energy as the ground outside flashes past, and suddenly—the plane is up. They’re flying!

However, as the child looks out the window and sees the security of home fading away, he looks to the horizon. There’s a large dark cloud with flashes of lightning drawing near.

Isn’t that a metaphor for every small business? The initial excitement, extremely hard work to get going, a rush of energy when the first sales are made, but then it all gets a little scary—and to top it off, you hear people talking about clouds.

Oxygen masks for the technical jargon

I am lucky to have worked with technology all my life. Daily, I am thrilled to see new technologies, and the potential of each of them to make meaningful changes to business and our world. But I am also aware that for many (if not the majority) of people, change and technology can be truly frightening.

However, a lot of these new technologies are only scary because of their confusing names. Take cloud computing for example. The term comes from the cloud symbol used by flow charts and diagrams to symbolize the Internet. But a cloud (or cloud computing) can be confusing. Let’s go back to the child looking out the aeroplane window for example. They may be thinking: “That cloud is full of rain, so won’t hitting it be like belly flopping into a swimming pool?”

The reality is different though (or it would most probably put the airline industry out of business). However, what can the child or the business owner do when faced with these unknowns? In the child’s case, they would probably turn to their parents who would try to explain how clouds work and how safe it is. This will put the child’s mind at ease, but who comforts and advises the small business owner about cloud computing?

Stewards for business

Unfortunately, in business, most good advice comes with a price. Consultants or experts need to be compensated for their expertise. Alternatively, there is an opportunity cost for the small business owner to research these topics, or skill themselves up to take advantage of them.

But is there a more a cost-efficient manner to achieve the above? Well, there are some great NPOs and other organisations that can help entrepreneurs and small businesses navigate new challenges. Take Sage Advice for example, your one-stop solution for all things business-advice and resource related.

Which route would I take? I would suggest partnerships are a better solution. However, I am always reminded of the Ham and Eggs restaurant fable,  i.e. this partnership needs to be win-win and both sides completely committed.

And these partnerships are even happening between competitors (like Microsoft and Amazon) where there are synergies and win-win situations to work together. So, what partnerships work for small businesses?

Well, this answer is dependent on the nature of the small business. A technology start-up is unlikely to look for help on technology, but may need a partner for legal or financial aspects in the business. For a baker, the partnership might be as simple as allowing a student to set up their accounting system, and the student gains real-life experience for course work and for job interviews.

And what should you be looking for in a business partner? You should probably figure out the answers to the below first:

  1. Why do you need a partner?
    • Can you not do this alone?
    • Is this only to achieve a short-term goal?
  2. What value will they bring (and what is this worth)?
  3. Can you work together? – culture, ethics, etc.
  4. What are the risks (both of partnering and not partnering)?
  5. Who else could perform this partner role? – short list of potentials.

Once you have a clear indication of who the potential partners are and the pros and cons of each, you can then pull the trigger and move forward.

Unfortunately, getting the right partners, at the time you really need them, is not always possible.  Also, legal, technology and compliance requirements change regularly, and so the choice of a partner is an important one.

The silver lining

Luckily, the market place for business partners is a competitive one. This means that there are plenty of options out there, and each potential partner will try to win you over with what they offer. There are a few fly by night pretenders, but also many partners who will have your best interests at heart.

Sage is one such company. I have worked in many industries and businesses over the last 15 years, but having joined Sage 3 years ago, I have been struck by the integrity and passion for small businesses that is prevalent throughout the organisation.  This passion emanates from the fact that small businesses account for 2/3 of all jobs in the world. Entrepreneurs and small businesses really are the economy, and we need to support them.

Further to this, my current focus area is Sage Intelligence—which is a reporting and analytics solution that has its origins as a small start-up that partnered with Sage. The synergies of the partnership were so good that Sage Intelligence was bought by Sage and was subsequently rolled out to all global Sage products and in multiple regions (from start-up all the way to enterprise businesses).  A real win-win for both parties.

So, who will your partner be when you look out your window and need the dark clouds explained? Who will ensure your seat belts (i.e. GDPR, VAT) are compliant? And who is ensuring that you are using the best plane (or technology) to get you beyond the clouds?

Each business is different, and the choice of your business partner will be based on your criteria above. But for me, I would turn to a partner that has integrity, experience and a strong technological understanding that would give me my time back to focus on my core competencies. They should truly be a partner that will enable me to soar freely, even when I do not truly understand the (block) chains surrounding me.