Thinkstock Image I made the best partnership (and possibly flat out best decision) of my life five years ago when I married my wonderful wife Jaclyn. We are the perfect fit. Finding that perfect fit isn’t easy; how many dates do we have to go on? How many months have you dated someone but found that it’s just not quite right? How many heartbreaks? Then you find the one, and you are so happy you waited and didn’t settle.
OK, enough being mushy, but business partnerships are not that different. The right partnership is beneficial to both parties and they get relatively equal benefit. Poor partnerships are where one party gains significantly more than the other or neither party is happy.
I’ve had many pseudo-partnerships over the years, where we’ve worked very closely with other firms, shared some office space, referred jobs to each other, and given each other advice. But none of them felt quite right. Finding the right partnership means finding another company where not only do you like the principals of the business, but you also have a complementary market positioning, not competitive. For example, maybe your firm excels at high-end audio, but video calibration is something you never attempted seriously. Find a partner that is ISF certified in video calibration but who just uses the built-in room correction system in the AVR. That’s a great match.
Recently I’ve entered into a partnership with GMI Automation, and this partnership feels like it has legs. My company, The Source Home Theater, is mainly a home automation integrator with roots in the AV world. GMI is a security integrator with some home automation capabilities. I have known for a while that The Source was missing an opportunity by not having a security offering, but undertaking that is a huge effort, with licensing and insurance requirements that vary greatly from the AV requirements in New York and New Jersey. GMI is a security-first integration firm. The opportunities abound, and because I get along so well with the main principals of GMI, we are well on our way to a mutually beneficial relationship.
I’ve talked several times about my partnership with Mark Feinberg and Home Theater Advisors. Over the past several years I have been steering The Source Home Theater toward a higher end clientele with projects that takes months instead of days or weeks. There are a lot of jobs that come our way that no longer fit our business model. I am happy to refer those clients to Mark and HTA as they focus on the middle market—jobs in size from $2,000 to $25,000. And when Mark comes across someone looking for a project that is beyond the scope of his business model, he pulls me into the consultation and sales process. It isn’t even a referral. To the client it is seamless and is just like working with another division of the same company. And that is an important distinction, as well. While obviously partnerships need to be beneficial to the companies involved, they need to benefit the customer too—or at least not complicate things for them—or the could end up being a net detriment to both businesses.
No partnership should be undertaken lightly. There is such a thing as love at first sight in your personal life, but professionally it pays to be a little more cautious and to do your due diligence. You don’t want to risk bringing on a partner that drags you down, gets way more benefit than provides, or worst of all turns against you and steals business or doesn’t uphold their end of the deal with clients and gives you a bad reputation.
The right partnership will bear fruit for years to come and can lead to a more stable, well-rounded business offering and happier clients.
+Todd Anthony Puma is president of The Source Home Theater Installation in New York City.