How to Partner with Other Businesses


When you own a business, you get used to doing everything yourself -- you’re not only the artist but also the CEO, the creative director, the marketing manager, the customer service rep, the secretary, the bookkeeper, the mailroom, and more. So you might bristle when you hear the word “partner.” After all, you’ve got this entrepreneur thing on lock, and you’re not really looking to share any of the big-cheese duties.
But don’t worry, we’re not talking about hiring a business partner; we’re talking about teaming up with another business owner to take both brands to the next level. Connecting with other companies -- whether it’s a local vendor, an industry blogger, or a big corporation -- can help you gain experience, tap into a new market, build your network, and maybe even barter for a few freebies along the way. Here’s how to forge a partnership that benefits both parties (without being annoyingly high-maintenance or opportunistic).

Identify potential matches.

Most photographers have already considered the usual suspects -- local wedding venues, event coordinators, newborn prop-makers, that sort of thing. And yes, those are all excellent options. But when brainstorming potential partnerships, think beyond your own industry.
  • Could you display your newborn photos in the waiting room of a birth center?
  • Would a local makeup artist be willing to style your boudoir mini-sessions in exchange for some portfolio photos?
  • Can you photograph a school event and share the images online to drive traffic to your site?
  • Could you do promotional images for a nearby salon, spa, or yoga studio in exchange for free services?
  • Can you offer headshots for a local wedding planner in exchange for a spot on their vendor list?
  • Could you write a guest blog about your area of expertise for a photography site or equipment manufacturer in order to gain industry cred and drum up interest in your workshops?
  • Would another local photographer be interested in setting up an agreement where you refer to each other for sessions you can’t accommodate?
The pool of potential candidates is endless, so get creative. Above all, make sure it’s a person or business you like and respect, not just the one with the highest profile. You’re going to be working closely together, so don’t join forces with someone who rubs you the wrong way.

Decide what you want from the relationship.

If this is starting to sound suspiciously like dating advice, you’re onto us. Setting up a professional partnership isn’t all that different from making a love connection. You might run into rejection at first, but eventually, you’ll stumble upon an awesome prospect and think, “I found the perfect match! This could be the one!” When that happens, don’t just dive in headfirst -- take a step back and evaluate the long-term potential. Before you approach any vendor or business owner, you should have a solid grasp of your own worth (ahem, your hourly rate) so you don’t get roped into a lopsided relationship. Once you’ve gauged their interest, discuss what each party wants from the partnership, so you’re both on the same page and no one ends up feeling used. We mentioned this is a lot like dating, right? So now it’s time to…

Make it official.

Now that you know what you have to offer and what you’re expecting in return, it’s time to put it on paper. While paperwork may not be the most glamorous part of an exciting new partnership, it’s a critical step. When you inevitably get blindsided by your busy season, and you’re being pulled in a million different directions, you may start to feel like you’re putting way too much effort into this partnership and not getting enough in return. That’s the perfect time to review your original agreement and make sure everyone’s holding up their end of the bargain.
If the thought of writing up an agreement from scratch is enough to make you want to crawl back into your lone-wolf cave, we have good news: Design Aglow now offers a vendor marketing kit to help you work up an irresistible proposal and set up an airtight agreement for bartering services or displaying your work. That way, you can breeze through the boring administrative stuff and get back to connecting, collaborating, and all that other soul-feeding stuff.

Keep the magic alive.

Fulfilling your end of the agreement is the bare minimum, but relationships rarely thrive on the bare minimum. Give your partners the warm fuzzies by tagging them in an Instagram pic, tweeting about their biz, or raving about them on Facebook. Social media shout-outs add extra value to your end of the partnership for zero cost and very little effort -- and they’ll likely return the favor, so it’s a win-win. And if a partner has gone above and beyond for you, consider thanking them with a little gift, like a mini album or framed wall collage.

Know when it’s over.

The industry changes at warp speed, so chances are, the time will come when one or both of you is no longer getting much out of the partnership. If it stops being mutually beneficial, or they start flaking out, or you just need to focus on a better opportunity, it’s okay to bow out as long as you’ve fulfilled your end of the agreement and don’t burn any bridges. Let them know you’ve enjoyed working together and hope they’ll keep you in mind for future projects or collaborations. (Yep, this is pretty much the professional equivalent of the can-we-still-be-friends speech.)
Partnering with another business takes a bit of legwork at the outset, but once you find someone whose business complements your own, it can bring fresh energy to your business. As long as you establish clear-cut guidelines at the beginning -- and get it all in writing -- teaming up with other professionals is a great way to grow your business and share some of the never-ending workload. And don’t get discouraged if you have a few false starts before something really clicks -- even if someone isn’t the perfect partner, they can still prove to be a valuable part of your network.

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