Are you successful enough to form strategic partnerships? Forming a strategic partnership often means that you have grown. If you need to form partnerships, your practice has been successful. Your practice may serve sophisticated clients with complicated needs.

Strategic alliances are formed between companies of all sizes. Microsoft, American Express, TD Ameritrade, MetLife, Morningstar and JP Morgan are all companies, some with employees in the hundreds of thousands, that partner with other organizations to meet strategic goals. These organizations create partnerships to develop new capabilities, to employ new skills, to introduce new capital, to create additional resources or to expand markets. What can a strategic alliance do for your firm?

Often, financial advisors use strategic partnerships to expand services to clients, to add business or technical skills, or to increase the geographic reach of the practice. Once you have identified a potential partnership, the chances of success are improved by discussing and defining the partnership. These questions are best answered by each of the partners separately, then the answers compared. There is an important difference between you telling me your goals so I can evaluate them and each of us comparing our independently identified goals to find common ground.

As you compare notes, you will find some aspects of the partnership design that you definitely want in place and other aspects that are less important. Where you can be flexible to incorporate your partner’s ideas while staying aligned with your goals you should do so.

Find or create a list of questions that will help you define the partnership. Here are seven questions to get you started.

Do the parties to the partnership share a common culture or value system?

Typically, more synergy will be created if each of the partners brings unique skills to the partnership. A life insurance specialist might pair with an employee benefits specialist or a third party administrator to offer those services to business owners. Or a financial advisor might pair with a junior advisor to provide additional capacity for existing clients and growth.

You are looking for someone who shares your approach. Each of the partners should trust the other and each of the partners should value the contribution of the other. One financial planner seeking a partner may be very successful pairing with an investment specialist because both parties value the other’s contribution while another pairing may fail because the contributions are not valued.

What are your goals?

More than one partnership has broken apart because one of the partners wanted to build an empire and the other just wanted an income stream. Talk to your partners about your aspirations. Discuss success beyond your wildest dreams because that is where empires are born. If you do not want to be an emperor–or your partner does not want to be an emperor–your plans may go awry.

Does the partnership emphasize your strengths?

Determine how the strategic partnership builds on your strengths and leverages those strengths to meet your goals. Filling in weaknesses can also be a valid reason for a partnership, but leveraging strengths is more powerful. The partnership should unleash or reinforce your strengths to provide the best results.

How will partnership contribute to your success?

Can you accomplish as much or more without a strategic partnership? If you can create similar results by going it alone, you may not want to add the complexity and reduction in control that comes with a partnership.

How will you manage the partnership and make decisions in the partnership?

Make sure you know how decisions will be made in the partnership. Which decisions will be made jointly and which will be made by one party? Are all votes equal? If you are used to making decisions without consulting anyone and you have agreed to joint decision-making, adjustments will have to be made.

What will the partners contribute and what will the partners receive?

Partners do not have to contribute equally to have a successful partnership, but there has to be agreement on the relative value of the contributions and the rewards. Sometimes, the value of the contributions appears to change. Partners will need to agree on these changes for the arrangement to continue with good feelings.

Reputations change over time. When two parties begin a joint relationship with one party better known or viewed more positively, they may want to anticipate a day when that favorable reputation is shared equally between the parties.

Knowledge is transferred over time. Two parties may begin a joint relationship with one party having superior technical knowledge, but one day that knowledge is shared equally between the parties.

What are the parties bring to the table and how should they be compensated? Can the compensation include some payment for the technical knowledge or the positive reputation that will be transferred during the relationship?

How will you grow members of the partnership and reduce the members?

The partnership will change to reflect growth and development in the business. If needed, how would an additional strategic partner be added or removed? Determining these processes, particularly how to remove a partner, when everyone is excited about the partnership, will be much easier than if the partners stop getting along.

Only by preparing for your partnership to end can you enhance the chances that the partnership will prosper. Only by admitting that you need help to more effectively serve your clients, can you get your clients to attribute the new skills to your firm. What can a strategic alliance do for your firm?

John Comer, CFP, is principal of Comer Consulting, LLC, a marketing firm in Plymouth, Minn. He can be reached at john@jcomerconsulting.com.