All small businesses have access to two powerful tools that can help them ramp up sales and grow business at a fast pace. Both of these tools require a little elbow grease and a lot of planning, but when used effectively, they can increase the success of a business fairly quickly. The first of these powerful tools is word of mouth referrals, and the second is business-to-business partnerships.

Most of the new business that I’ve received during my entrepreneurial career has come from these two techniques. In fact, it’s been the long-term relationships that I’ve built with partners that have created the best opportunities for collaboration, education and growth.

The right partnerships with the right businesses aren’t one-time events, but living relationships that grow and develop over time. And time is an important consideration. Building B2B partnerships requires a lot of it, along with clear objectives, foresight and an honest approach. But, when done right, B2B partnerships are worth the effort and can be a win-win for everyone involved.

Before starting the process of creating a partnership, you should first carefully consider which partnerships and alliances truly support your business objectives. For example, think twice about any partnership that forces you to stray from your brand image, confuses your clients, or hurts your reputation.

Once you have an idea of a relationship that will add value to your business, follow these nine steps to develop a profitable, long-term B2B partnership.

1. Find Potential Partners

Look at complementary businesses, established businesses in a new geographic area, and the local chamber of commerce to find possible businesses to partner with. And don’t overlook the potential of competitors; teaming up with your competition can often become some of the best B2B partnerships you form.

2. Screen and Eliminate

Consider these questions to narrow the field and streamline your decision: Is the potential partner established? Are they profitable? What is their reputation?

3. Recruit

Once you have a shortlist of desirable businesses you’d like to partner with, prepare a proposal that outlines how you envision the relationship will work and the benefits for each party. It’s usually a good idea to form casual relationships with decision-makers at these businesses first, so you can get to know each other, and test out your personalities and your ability to communicate effectively with each other before pitching a partnership.

4. Get It in Writing

Once you agree on the terms of the partnership, put it in writing! You don’t always need a formal document filled with legalese, but you do need some record that clearly outlines what both parties are agreeing to before kicking off the relationship.

5. Develop the Relationship

Like all relationships, B2B partnerships take time to develop and flourish. Start slow with simple goals and milestones that give both businesses a chance to focus on their strengths. Put in the necessary effort to learn more about each other in the early stages of the partnership.

6. Generate Leads

Most successful partnerships involve some form of joint marketing and lead generation. Brainstorm ways you can create mutual leads, and explore running an integrated marketing campaign that benefits both businesses.

7. Refer Buyers

Leads are great, but buyers are even better. Nothing says, “I love this partnership” like sending over your most qualified leads (i.e. established buyers) to your partner.

8. Help Your Partners

A true B2B collaboration isn’t about creating a one-time blitz, but instead looking for ways to support each other over the long term. Start the reciprocal giving by going above and beyond to find cross-sell and up-sell opportunities for your partner.

9. Manage Relationships

In order for a partnership to be profitable long-term, it needs ongoing management and exceptional communication. This includes having regular check-ins, updating your agreement when needed, adjusting expectations, and even being open to terminating the arrangement when it stops working for either party.

As with all successful business initiatives, it is better to do a few things well rather than everything mediocre. So take your time and follow the nine steps above to find a few thriving partnerships that will take your business to the next level.