One of the most interesting panels on which I’ve participated was when I spoke with a dear industry friend Amanda Loesch on best practices for successfully selecting and working with business partners at the Legal Marketing Association’s Southeast Conference a few years ago in Orlando.

This wasn’t the usual type of program at which I usually presented and as someone who has been on both sides of the industry as an in-house marketing professional and a consultant – or a vendor as some call it – I was really glad to be a part of this discussion.

The initial name of our session had the term “vendor” in it, and we struggled with that term and did a lot of due diligence to come up with a word (“business partner”) that we thought much more accurately reflected the true relationship between in-house legal marketing professionals and the outside experts they rely on for key projects. Our hope was that others will start to use this term in their everyday vernacular too.

Now that I’ve been at every size firm, I have come to rely on key outside business partners even more than before, and having strong relationships with these industry experts is crucial to the success of my initiatives as well as my overall success.

During our session, we delved into how to identify projects that can benefit from working with business partners, and how to gain internal buy in to bring these experts on board. We then discussed how to effectively manage the relationship with your business partner once they’re hired, including how to ensure you stay on budget, how to efficiently communicate and set expectations, and perhaps most importantly, how to build a collaborative, mutually beneficial relationship with each other.

Here are some of our top tips for successfully working with business partners:

  • Choose wisely
  • Communicate effectively
  • Share information and priorities
  • Set clear (and realistic expectations)
  • Be fair and flexible
  • Say “please” and “thank you” (a lot)
  • Understand their business and challenges
  • Plan for contingencies
  • Put as much thought into rewards as penalties
  • Build partnerships for the long term
  • Pay on time (!)
  • Evaluate results before you continue working with them
  • Continuously strengthen your relationship outside of general day-to-day contact
  • Don’t get too close with them in case something goes wrong

Finally always be kind to everyone because you just don’t know when you’ll cross paths again. Many people in our industry pivot to both sides of the industry – consultant to in-house – and back. You just never know on which side you will be a few years from now so consider everyone a referral source and a future employer.