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Strength in numbers: finding the right partnerships for your business

Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely business. With long hours and the final say on all decisions, the constant pressure is a lot to bear. As someone who had always worked in charitable organisations and never in a commercial enterprise, I knew when I started my business that I didn’t want to go it alone.

My baby food business, Piccolo, was launched with a tiny marketing budget. This had the potential to be a real issue for two reasons – first, we needed to raise awareness quickly, and second, parents obviously want to trust a brand before buying its products for their babies. So we needed a way to secure confidence among our target market.

Cat Gazzoli, founder of Piccolo, relied on partnerships with charities and other business to get her brand message out Photograph: Piccolo

Combining forces with like-minded companies and individuals has enabled us to thrive where, otherwise, we might flounder. We’ve worked with parenting charity NCT, baby-swimming lesson company Water Babies, post-natal exercise business Buggyfit, and music classes organiser Hartbeeps. We’re also working with the Trussell Trust to set up our One for One initiative, donating food pouches to food banks and charities across the UK with every pouch bought in-store. These relationships have benefited our partners as well as engaging a greater number of people with our message.

However, there are a number of challenges and potential pitfalls to taking this approach. You need to get the basics right in order for your business partnership to be mutually beneficial.

Pick the right partners

For startups, the key to finding business people to partner with is recognising those that share a common purpose with you. There needs to be kinship. Founders are likely to have started their own business based upon a strong commitment to a set of values. It’s crucial to find those that share those same values, whether they are social purpose, environmental awareness or even just a commitment to creating a great product or service.

Manage your expectations (and theirs)

You need to be open about your capacity to support your partner. Even with common objectives, neither party can expect the other to come to their aid at the drop of a hat. Each company needs to recognise how much in terms of resources are available on each side, and understand that there will be times where one side is working harder on a project than the other. Small businesses aren’t driven by the same, strict commercial objectives as larger corporates, so it’s fundamentally about give and take.

Draw up a contract

Successful business partnerships can come down to the strength of our personal relationships. You need to have full respect for the people you are partnering with. However, I have been in business long enough to know that relationships sometimes aren’t enough. Be diligent and ask any partners to sign contracts that set out all your aims and objectives. This way, you can both be accountable and avoid any major disagreements down the line.

Avoid a bad marriage

A business partnership is just like any relationship; if it’s not right, it just won’t work in the long run, and if there’s no natural value alignment, it’s not worth pursuing.

That old adage that it takes a village to raise a child applies to business too. It is better to work with people going through the same challenges and combine forces to offer your customers a stronger proposition than if you were to go it alone.

Catherine Gazzoli is the founder of baby food startup Piccolo

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