It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. One of the most effective ways to get new customers and satisfy existing ones is to form a brand partnership.

A brand partnership can take what you know even further, producing a serious amount of return on your investment.

Like any relationship, a brand partnership takes work. But if you do it right, it benefits everyone involved. Now, you just need to get started. These six steps will help you develop a mutually-beneficial, long-term business relationship.

1. Identify your ideal business partner.

Like any good strategy, developing a solid brand partnership starts with research. What kinds of businesses would complement your business?

Start with ClickZ’s method: Draw a box. Inside the box, write the type of product or service your business offers. Around all four sides, write down the types of products or services your customers would typically use in association with yours – before, during, and after. What kinds of complementary products and services would enhance the customer experience?

2. Take time to vet candidates.

Once you’ve got a good crop of potential partners, it’s time to figure out if a partnership is the right move for your business. Move the decision-making process along by asking yourself these questions:

  • What’s the company’s reputation like?
  • How established are they?
  • Are the profitable?

Before you mention any word of a partnership to a prospect, you need to be certain that it’s a worthy investment of your time, and that comes down to values. You need to share the same values as your partner. Sharing the same core values will allow you to reach decisions more easily, and it also makes for a more authentic, transparent, and symbiotic relationship.

3. Reach out and recruit.

You can’t propose a pitch without having a relationship with the business first. If you’re completely starting from scratch, see if a mutual connection can put you in contact or simply shoot them a cold call or email to get the ball rolling.

Before you draft up a proposal, familiarize yourself with their brand and get to know their movers and shakers. This is a great way to feel out personalities and communication styles before you commit to anything.

Remember: it’s a lot easier to work with people you truly like and respect.

4. Make it official.

Once you’ve decided to venture into a partnership, hash out the nitty-gritty details. Work together to determine what each of you wants to get out of the partnership and what each of you can offer one another. What does the ideal partnership look like? What are your overall objectives? How closely will you be working together?

Then, put it in writing. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a formal document; just something that acts as a record and clearly summarizes what each of you is agreeing to. It may help to have a third party assemble the agreement for you.

5. Start slow and steady.

A brand partnership is just like any relationship: it requires nurturing. Your shared goals will take time to reach, so instead of diving headfirst into an overly ambitious project, scale it back—at least at first.

Smaller goals offer minimal risk and are easier to achieve. They’re also a great way to get a better idea of how your partnership will transpire, giving you the opportunity to dissolve the relationship if necessary.

6. Put the “partner” in “partnership.”

Relationships—business-related or otherwise—aren’t static. You may not need to be in constant communication with one another, but if you don’t routinely tend to your partnership—whatever frequency that may be—the partnership will not exist.

If it ever feels like one partner is dominating the relationship, or putting in all the work, or not communicating effectively, etc., it’s time to reassess. That’s why having the partnership agreement in writing is so important. It clearly outlines responsibilities and holds both parties accountable.

For a partnership to be successful, both parties actually need to be partners. That means bringing equal amounts of effort and value to the table. At the end of the day, everyone needs to feel like they’re benefitting from the partnership.

Now get out there and start building brand partnerships!