Partnerships are Like Marriages – Sweet or Sour, Depending upon Trust


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Posted by: Doc Sheldon

Watching for the future of business? Too late. You blinked.

Watching for the future of business? Too late. You blinked.

Partnerships are often likened to marriages, and any of us that are both married and have had an opportunity to work with a business partner are likely to recognize the parallels.

I have a number of past partnerships, with a handful still active, as well as some ongoing strategic alliances. And having been married for most of the last 40+ years, believe me, I can see the parallels, too.

I also know that all those relationships contributed significantly to my success as a business consultant, because of the lessons learned.

I recently viewed an interview video Rand Fishkin did with Greg Gottesman, of Madrona Venture Group, that reminded me of those parallels. Greg made some excellent points in response to Rand’s questions, and I think they apply to our readers in various ways, so I’ll elaborate on them a bit, with a twist.

Who are your Partners?

First, I’d invite you to broaden your definition of partner. You may have a partner in your business, which certainly fits the conventional meaning (an investor and entrepreneur are partners, in a very real sense), but it could also refer to a colleague that is working with you on a particular project, whether a superior or a subordinate. And of course,. In an even broader sense, it might be a client or a vendor.

Regardless, while there may be other factors that govern your relationship, in some sense, you’re still partners, as long as you’re sharing the risks and rewards of your collective efforts. That makes what Greg talked about equally relevant here. He made the point that trust – going both ways – is a critical element of the relationship.

It’s surely no surprise that we’d say that treating your partners with integrity is a crucial aspect of building and nurturing trust. That means more than simply giving honest answers, though… it also means being honest with your opinions without being asked. It means being transparent (another point Greg mentioned). In short, it means you:

  • Push back when it matters
  • Defer when it doesn’t matter
  • Know whether it matters or not

I don’t care if you’re teamed up with your boss’s boss or the new guy in the mailroom, your newest client with the shoestring budget, the SEO consultant helping you improve your website’s performance or the angel investor that fronted the seed money to develop an idea you cooked up. There will be times when it’s inconvenient to be honest and transparent. But there’s never a time when it isn’t advisable. Let me repeat that…

Who are your partners

Who are your partners


How do you Deal with Them?

There’ll be times when you need to challenge them because you’re sure their idea means your mutual ruin, just like there’ll be times you feel like they’re raining on your parade. Sometimes you’ll need to stand fast and sometimes you’ll be able to swallow your pride and let them have their way. And nearly always, you’ll need to let them know that it’s not only okay for them to push back… it’s expected.

Often, you’ll be challenged to tell what matters enough to warrant pushing back.

A person might be tempted to apply the saying, “Choose your battles wisely”. But regardless of what shape your particular partner relationship takes, looking at it as a “battle” is the wrong approach. It’s a joint effort, working toward a common goal, or it isn’t really a partnership. In any relationship, once either party takes an adversarial position, things have already started going south.

Some partnerships just don’t work out, for a hundred different reasons. But if both sides work at it and honor not only their contractual obligations, but the spirit of the agreement, it usually can.

In a nutshell, follow the Golden Rule – treat them like you’d like to be treated.

What’s the Result?

Benefits of partnerships

It’s a Win – Win

The tangible results of an effective partnership arrangement can be amazing, delivering much more benefit than just the sum of the individuals’ efforts. But that’s often the least of the benefits – as a team, you’re efficiency will be greater, you’ll typically hit the mark more often and you’ll learn from each other.

One type of relationship that many people fail to recognize as a partnership is the relationship between a client and a vendor. While every such arrangement may not have the makings of a partnership (nearly always because of the attitude of one side or the other), they usually can. I’ve had the good fortune to enjoy the benefits of several such partnerships over the years, so now, I always make it a point to see if that potential can be developed.

As a business consultant, I always considered myself to be partnered with my clients, and adopted their best interests as being closely tied to my own. Often, they displayed the same attitude, and it made for very productive and enjoyable relationships. We developed a level of trust that made those clients return and that led them to refer me to others. We were more effective together and we both benefited.

It became such a natural process for me, that when I began my first copywriting business, and then my SEO agency, I automatically approached those clients the same way. I think that any consultant or client that does, will soon admit they’ve been missing out on something worthwhile.

While to some of you, it may seem odd to consider your SEO consultant as a partner, if you think about it, it really isn’t that big a stretch. You’ll probably be pleased to find that they look at you the same way, with your mutual best interests tied together.

Don’t believe me? Try it! Believe me, after your first success, you’ll be convinced.

Comment (1)

  • Avatar
    Michael Reply

    Awesome post, Doc.

    I do my own SEO but a close friend of mine runs his own firm. He echoed your thoughts when he said that initially people he approaches see him as another ‘Internet person looking for money’ but once they begin business, they realise just how interlinked their mutual interests are; both need succeed for the other to prosper!

    January 18, 2013 at 3:10 pm

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Partnerships are Like Marriages - Sweet or Sour, Depending upon Trust