Starting a business is always daunting. The courage, skills and adaptability necessary to invest in your dreams is considerable. One way to make the experience more manageable, more enjoyable, and more likely to succeed is by finding a good business partner to help shoulder the challenges you’ll inevitably face. Finding the right person, with the right skill set, and with whom you have the right dynamic can multiply your business’s ability to succeed and grow.
A good business partner is like a teammate, a spouse, and a battle comrade rolled into one. Like any of those partnerships, a business partnership has to be carefully considered, and committed to fully. That’s why it’s vital to identify the right partner: one who will share your vision, complement your strengths, and be there through thick and thin.
Do You Need a Partner?
The first question that needs asking is whether or not having a partner is right for you and your business. Depending on the type, size and scope of your venture, a partner may be redundant, or even a liability. In deciding whether to seek a partner, two areas of concern need to be addressed: one business, and one personal.
On the business side, the solo entrepreneur simply has to determine whether a partner would facilitate growth and help the business run more smoothly. Does your business have a need that could be better met by someone other than yourself? Are you creative, but lack marketing skills? Are you a great marketer, but lack design capabilities? It all comes down to the needs of your business, and your own strengths and weaknesses.
Also, the size of your business and its current stage of development can be the difference. Many entrepreneurs start off alone, refining their product and learning as they go. With initial success, perhaps the business grows. That’s a good thing, until it grows beyond one person’s capacity to manage. Ask yourself if the cost of having a partner share in the rewards is worth the projected increase in those rewards.
On the personal level, it’s important to ask yourself if you would enjoy working with a partner. It’s tempting to think of business as a matter of cold calculation, and assume that major decisions are subject only to the whims of the bottom line. However, a small business runs above all on passion, and passion can be quickly dampened by a bad interpersonal dynamic.
Remember, choosing a business partner means starting a relationship- a human relationship that can either add or detract from the desire that motivated you in the first place.
Finding the Right Partner
Once you’ve decided that adding a partner is the best move, the real challenge begins. Where does one find the ideal business partner? Unfortunately, there’s no Partner Store where an entrepreneur can browse shelves of candidates.
Ironically, finding a partner actually starts well before you’ve decided to have one. The most crucial factor in finding your ideal companion is building your professional network. In business, you can predict with reasonable accuracy what you’ll need, but it’s almost impossible to know who will turn out to be a key figure for you. Someone you met and exchanged business cards with at a conference a year before may turn out to be the one. With a strong network in place, the partner you’re looking for is likely to already be someone in your circle.
Once the candidates have been established, there are a few key things to look for when narrowing the field. First and foremost, a potential partner must share your vision. When discussing the possibility of a partnership with a candidate, find out exactly what their goals and aspirations are. Do they align with your mission statement? The most qualified, amiable partner in the world will be nothing but a source of conflict if he or she doesn’t share your endgame.
Equally important is the personal connection. It may sound a little Hollywood, but partners have to have chemistry. This requirement is too often overlooked. In business, it’s often assumed that people don’t have to be friends or even get along in order to work together effectively. In some cases that’s true, especially across different levels of business or between rarely intersecting departments. A partner, though, is another matter.
At the partnership level, especially in a small business, the relationship is far too intimate for antagonists to function effectively. Coworkers and colleagues may have to work together, even through personal differences, but partners need to do more than that. Partners need to depend on each other, and be mutually supportive. When disagreements arise between partners (which is natural and acceptable), there may not be a chain of command to grant the final authority to one or the other; that means that partners, as equals, have to esteem each other enough personally to find a solution.
To put it bluntly, there’s nothing unprofessional about choosing a partner you like. In fact, it’s crucial.
Another requirement for a good partner is a complementary skill set. Two partners with the same exact areas of expertise and abilities are not a team; they’re redundant. No one would want to watch Miami Vice if Crockett tooled around Miami with…Crockett. The concentration of pastels alone would have ensured the supremacy of the drug cartels. As an entrepreneur, you’ll need to find your Tubbs, whose muted palette and easy humor will take your business to places you couldn’t take it alone.
Here at Business Republic, for example, my partner Nicole and I occupy different spheres of our operation. While my business expertise provides the analytical and sales aspects, Nicole as production manager employs her creative expertise to make it all smooth and presentable. Neither of us can do what the other does (or not remotely as well), and that’s how our partnership produces the best overall product. Before seeking a partner, identify exactly what your business needs that you’re not the best person to provide. Then, find the person who is.
Once you’ve identified a potential partner who shares your vision, brings a needed set of skills to the table, and with whom you get along, it’s time for the final phase: the trial run. Choose a single project or temporary period in which you and the candidate can test your dynamic. Try to engage in something that will test a wide range of scenarios, and see how you jell.
Sharing the Spoils
When it comes time to decide how partners will share in the profits, different businesses and different types of partnerships will seek different arrangements. Overall, the guiding philosophy should be that both partners feel respected, and that their work is valued. Codependency means co-profiting, and any partnership in which one partner seeks to get the most for themselves rather than seeking to be equitable is beginning badly.
Honor your partner’s contribution, and be very clear about the terms before the partnership is made official. Make sure that each partner’s role is clearly defined, and that each is secure in the knowledge that their contribution is valued appropriately. Make clear the fact that lines of communication will always be open, and that alternative views will always be welcome and honestly considered.
Running a business with multiple partners creates more variables. If your business reaches a point where yet another partner or partners are required, make sure that that decision is also one in which existing partners have a say. The decision to add a partner, and the decision as to which candidate is best, should be team decisions if all partners are expected to work together fruitfully.
When assembling a team of more than two, this is a delicate process. If any parties on the partnership level feel as though their input was either not solicited or ignored, resentments will be sown. The most dangerous situation for a business run by a team of partners is one in which Survivor– style alliances or camps are formed, fueling conflicts and breeding animosity. Always remember to assemble your team as a team.
Having a partner should be a great experience, one that enhances both the success of your business and the joy you experience in running it. At the end of the day, we humans are social creatures who survive and thrive on our interdependence. In business as in life, it’s rarely a bad idea to share the challenges and the rewards.