Business partnership types

Business partnership types aren’t limited to traditional mergers or acquisitions, which we often hear portrayed by the media as conflict. I grew up in the 80’s and movies like Wall Street and The Secret of My Success were all I knew about business.

In those movies, takeovers were often hostile. I can imagine Gordon Gekko sitting in his aged leather office chair, puffing on a cigar, telling his employee to buy a company, break it apart and sell it for spare parts. Thankfully, not all partnership types start Gekko’s way. In fact, so many of them can be win-win.

Partnerships help you grow

When you’re in an under-resourced startup, there are a few partnership types that can help you grow your new business, fast. I’m talking about joint ventures or limited time partnerships, which empower either party to walk away if the agreement is not working.

No such thing as self made

Motivation is essential for any entrepreneur. Regardless of how motivated someone is they are almost never actually self made. World class bodybuilder, actor and former California Governer Arnold Schwarzenegger famously remarks there’s no such thing as a self made man or woman. In his speech, he remarks, “You can call me anything you want, but don’t call me a self made man.

Adopt a startup mindset

I remember when I started work at Microsoft and I was struggling to sell my suite of services direct to clients. One of my managers suggested I sell to Microsoft’s internal Account Managers, so they could onsell my services to their clients. No one was going to sell my services because, “It was their job”. I had to convince Account Managers, out of the hundreds of products they could sell, they should focus on what I had.

Long story short, I did, and it worked.

I was lucky to observe some highly effective leaders in my time at Microsoft. Our best got things done through their networks. Everything was based on partnerships. In fact, I made my own “internal sales” role redundant by helping build and train Microsoft’s network of external partners, including one big telecommunications partner. Combining their powerful sales force and rapport with small business clients, with our cloud based software as a service offering, was a win-win.

Dreamtime Tukka story

I remember attending a business event, where a local entrepreneur by the name of Herb Smith presented. He is the Founder of Dreamtime Tukka, who from humble beginnings grew his business to be extremely successful. Today Herb supplies Qantas, service stations and more in massive quantities. I recall one thing that stood out about his story. Herb was smart enough to realise he couldn’t do it alone, so he enlisted the help of a local commercial bakery to bring his family recipes to life on a large scale.

Partnership types

I have shared many times that success today is not about resources, but rather resourcefulness. Whatever you lack or consider a weakness in your business, you can instantly make up for with one of the below partnership types.


Affiliates are other people or organisations who sell what you have, in return for a commission payment. Reward your affilitates with a percentage of sales, a flat fee per sale, or both. One possibility is to manage this manually, however, there’s also software to help you keep track as you build a larger affiliate network.


Amassadors may be opinion leaders or influencers you know can sway their follower’s buying decisions. Target influencers in your industry or who serve a similar audience to your client base. You might have an affiliate arrangement as above, or you can create something special for your selected ambassador, like free merchandise for their followers.


When you need professional advice but are not ready to hire someone full time, you might consider getting a consultant in. You will find consultants for management, leadership, law, finance, human resources, recruitment and marketing. As they are an external service provider, you have the option to implement their advice or not.

Complementary services

Whatever industry you’re in, consider complementary services to yours. Partner with someone who provides a non-competing service to the same target market to yours. Provide referrals to each other, offer discounts to each other’s clients or find a way to promote your respective businesses. This may be as simple as recommending your new partner to each of your clients and handing them a business card.


In every industry, there is someone who collects and curates relevant news or content. Industry websites, subscription newsletters, trade magazines are all opportunities to showcase what you do. Can you offer a relevant article, bonus giveaway or exclusive subscriber discount to the curators to be featured on their blog, on their website or in their next newsletter edition? Some publications will even review your service, if you ask.


When you decide to publish blog posts, videos, podcasts and other content, you can find a guest expert to contribute. John Lee Dumas, does this with his podcast, Entrepreneurs on Fire. He interviews a new business guest every day but he also offers to appear as a guest on their podcast. You can also attract guest bloggers, video creators or invite experts to create new bonus content exclusively for your audience.


You can always learn something new in business. Sometimes it helps to re-frame who you consider to be an expert. Maybe check out a new author or someone who wants to promote sign ups to their new online course. I’m not suggesting great advice comes for free but maybe you can invite an author to train you and your team in return for buying a set number of copies of their book, the opportunity to sell their services or some other arrangement they’re happy with.

A few years ago, I recruited high level speakers from Microsoft, Dropbox and Amazon, for a local information technology expo. Instead of reaching out to the entrepreneurs who founded big tech firms or even CEO’s, I contacted mid and senior level executives working at these firms. You’d be amazed at what these experts can teach you. They’re working in the trenches or running teams who do the same. Furthermore, they love to tell people about their passion projects or what they are working on now. I did have some long lost connections in the industry but I was surprised none of the speakers ever requested a speaking fee.


Of all the partnership types you have at your disposal, few are as valuable as a quality mentor. Find a mentor who can get you through the tough days. Even if you’re the most motivated person in the world, I believe you will have days it hurts to get out of bed, days it’s hard to keep going and times you have clients who you feel are un-grateful. The best mentor is someone who has, “Been there, done that” for exactly where you want to go.

Simon Sinek talks about finding a mentor


Media are always looking for content to publish. Offer to write an article, send a picture of interest, provide a video, write a regular column or appear to provide comments as an expert. Working with media doesn’t need to be a one off. This is one of those partnership types where it pays to forge a longer term relationship. Remember to have press ready photos and a kit ready to go, in case they need official information about you or your business.


Resellers often earn a higher commission or markup, than affiliates. In return, they tend to be more involved in the one-on-one sales process. The benefit of reseller partnership types (like the telco example I mentioned previously) is that they often have an existing client base, along with the trust and rapport that comes with it. Keep in mind, if you go down this road, you may need to create brochures and other collatoral to help your partners sell.


Your suppliers or vendors may be more valuable than you realise. Reach out to them if you can think of any opportunities to help each other with sales, distribution, promotion, processing, value adds and more. You will be surprised at the sales materials they can share with you, free training they provide and tips for how to get the most from their product or service. Plus, they have a vested interest in your success.

Many partnership types

The partnership types I have listed above are not all of them. I have written about those I believe are most helpful for startups. If you think of a partnership idea or opportunity I haven’t mentioned, go for it. In fact, disruptors are creating new business models and partnership types often, so don’t limit your own thinking to my list.

Partner Promotions

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