5 Tips to Decide if a Partner Program Is Right for Your Business Katie Culp You’ve heard of your competitors using partner programs. But is it right for your business? Regardless of the size of your business, finding workable strategies to encourage growth is essential to your long-term success. To this end, some businesses turn to partner programs as a way to build profits and attract new customers. This can be a great way to inspire growth, and some businesses do very well with these programs. For others, however, partner programs don’t perform nearly as well as the owners had hoped. Have you considered a partner program for small-business advertising or profit-sharing? Are you hesitant because you aren’t sure how well one of these programs will fit your business? If that’s the case, here are a few suggestions that might help you decide whether a partner program is right for your business. What’s the Benefit? The first thing you should look at when trying to decide whether a partner program is right for your business is what the actual benefit to your business will be. Depending on the partner program you choose, you may have access to a number of different benefits such as: Profit-sharing on salesAdvertising considerationsSpecial discounts on products or servicesPartner certification or other credentials Some partners may offer other benefits as well. If you examine the benefits offered by a particular partner program and find that they don’t seem to be a good fit for your business model, then you can eliminate the program as an option fairly quickly. Consider the Costs and Obligations Depending on how a partner program works, you may be expected to pay certain fees or contribute either sponsorship or goods to events hosted by the partner as part of your participation in the program. Does the cost you’ll have to pay seem to outweigh the benefits to your business? What about the cost in time or goods spent meeting other obligations — are they reasonable, or do they seem excessive? Partner programs are intended to help you grow your business. If you aren’t a good match for the program, though, you might spend more to participate than you get back from it. Do the math and compare your obligations to the perceived benefits to make sure things will come out in your favor. How Does Participation Work? Assuming that a partner program offers benefits that would mesh well with your business model and that the value of those benefits outweigh the costs, ask yourself how exactly your participation will work. Does the program require you to stock additional goods or run specific marketing materials? Will you need to have a presence at special events? Read up on the details of what’s expected of your business over the long term and consider just how well that works with the way you do business. In some cases, the partnership is as simple as you providing a sponsorship and reaping the marketing push that comes from that. In other cases, you’ll need to incorporate parts of the partner program into your business model itself. There’s nothing wrong with partnering with a program that has event or referral requirements; just make sure that your business model can accommodate those requirements before you sign on the dotted line. Approach It Like a Partnership Many business owners view partner programs as being similar to consumer affiliate programs, and to a certain extent they are. From a business perspective, however, it’s important to look at the program as a full partnership instead of an affiliate program. Give the program all of the scrutiny and consideration that you would give a human partner that you were bringing in, weighing the pros and cons of how the partnership will affect your business in the long term. Look at how the partnership program is run and whether it seems to have a solid management plan behind it. If you can’t trust the program to run effectively based on what you’ve seen, pass over it like you would with any other potential partner whose behavior is too risky for you. Value and Trust After you’ve considered other aspects of the partner program, try to get a sense of how other participants feel. Check for online reviews and comments to see how the program treats its member partners and whether other owners and managers would recommend it. Ideally, you want a partner program that you can trust and that values the contributions of its members. If you don’t get that feeling from a partner program when you dig deeper, keep looking until you find one that deserves your loyalty. In the end, joining a partner program can be a great boon to your business. Before you sign up for one, however, it’s worth the effort to make sure that it will really benefit your business over time. More importantly, you should ensure that the benefits are worth being a part of the program at all.