Having done some coaching work around agreements lately, and having been involved in many in my own business career, I thought I’d dedicate an episode to how to develop a professional partnership and ultimately, an agreement.
There are five stages in initiating, developing and formalising an agreement like this and I want to walk you through them.
1. Values Fit
Initial meeting – explore their methods, practice, their business goals, their ethos and what they stand for. Discover the common ground.
With any new relationship, it’s important to tap into your instincts right away and notice how you ‘feel’ about the other person. If it feels right, then you should listen to that instinct.
Neuroscience proves that this is not woo woo stuff. Your primitive brain (also known as the basal ganglia) allows you to quickly pick up important information needed for survival. Any sense of distrust, risk or fear is picked up quickly here.
Then, your slower prefrontal cortex monitors what your primitive brain has learned and it to gather a more judicious “big picture” of what is going on by taking into account more history and exerting executive control over your behavior.
So if it’s all green lights at this stage, you could move on to developing an agreement with that person or business.
If you have hesitation, explore it, and ask more questions before you decide.
The next step is to start developing agreements.
In order to build trust and rapport, you need to be collaborative and transparent.
This doesn’t mean you are giving away all your methodologies and customer lists and trade secrets.
What this means is that you start a series of back and forth conversations about the terms of how you will work together.
Along the way, use your intuition and keep testing that you are aligned. Iron out any creases along the way and explore all avenues of the relationship.
Ask lots of ‘what if’ questions.
Some questions to consider could include:
The goal of the relationship:
- Is it about simply referring clients and cross-promoting?
- Are you working as affiliates?
- Are you packaging up your individual services?
- Are you joint-venturing on a program or event?
What is included?
How aligned are the individual services?
Who owns what?
What happens when you start selling?
Who owns the leads?
4. Be Forthright
At this stage of the relationship, keep your eyes wide open and identify any niggles along the way, and explore them while they are still just niggles.
Keep your instincts fired up.
Use your character strengths of fairness, judgement, collaboration and also prudence.
Prudence is important because it’s tempting to get all excited about the opportunity and rush in, but you need to let your pre-frontal cortex do its work and consider this carefully.
When you feel that everything is kosher and you are ready to formalise your agreement, I’d advise that you put it in writing.
5. Create A Clear Agreement
While I’m not a lawyer, I’ve written a LOT of proposals and agreements and understand there are a few key things you need to include.
Please consider this general guidance only and seek advise from a contracts lawyer to ensure what you have developed is suitable for your unique situation.
Four essential things that all agreements need to include:
1. Naming the parties involved, using their formal business names.
You start there, by saying this is an agreement between X and Y, where X is the name of business 1 and Y is the name of business.
2. Definition of terms
In this section, you are listing the standard words or terminology that you use throughout the agreement.
For example if you are collaborating on a workshop, you would define the word ‘workshop’ as a term in inverted commas.
Then you would ONLY use that word throughout the agreement when talking about the workshop. Don’t use any other variations of the word.
The same goes for other things that you are talking about regularly, such as ‘the premises’, or ‘the list’ or anything else that is to be discussed as the main part of the agreement, such as a specific product, service, service provider, venue or staff.
Keep this simple, perhaps only 3 – 7 terms.
3. Specifics of agreement
This is where you list everything you agreed on verbally at the collaboration stage.
Common things to cover include:
- Intellectual property (who owns what)
- Confidentiality around methods
- Fees payable
- The period of the agreement (e.g. 6m to 1 year, single event?) as defined by a specific date range
- How you represent each other in the public eye
Arbitration offers a flexible and efficient means of resolving disputes; note that the decision is binding.
Be sure to make succinct, simple statements that clearly state the agreed intention.
It’s good to also mention a commitment to seek help via arbitration in the event of dispute.
Arbitration is a process in which you present arguments and evidence to a dispute resolution practitioner (the arbitrator) who helps you to resolve the issue. It’s a private process. Arbitration offers a flexible and efficient means of resolving disputes; note that the decision is binding.
4. Name, signatures and dates
Lastly you want to put a section for both parties names, signatures and the date the agreement was signed.
Right now you might be thinking that a written agreement is overkill, or too formal, or confronting.
And it may feel like that.
But here’s the thing: when you put your agreement in writing, you both show intent to do the right thing and professionalism.
You both show your commitment to the project and to uphold your end of the bargain.
And finally, there is every likelihood, you could totally make it work or fix any issues that come up and have a successful venture.
If things went wrong you could probably walk away unscathed.
But the thing is, there is a small chance that things could go pear-shaped and someone could sue you or try to, and if that happens, your written agreement becomes part of the evidence in a court of law showing how well each party upheld their side of the agreement.
Ready to build strong partnerships?
Be clear about what your agreement is and feel the difference. If you’re truly ready to break old habits and get out of the rut I encourage you to check out the Habitology membership.
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