How to Choose the Best Business Partner

Starting a new business takes a considerable amount of work. It also requires an assortment of skills to succeed and hit the ground running. The problem is, most people don’t have all the skills necessary to prove successful, at least early on. Before you start up your business (or take it further), make sure you clearly identify your own flaws and weaknesses. This will give you an idea as to whom you should choose as a business partner. They will be the Yin to your Yang. But don’t just go with someone who looks like your polar opposite. You need to exercise a proper vetting process. This way, you’ll clearly identify the best candidate and someone you can work with long into the future.

Test the Waters

You wouldn’t buy a car without test-driving it first, would you? Unless you’re into bidding at classic car auctions, probably not. Well, you shouldn't just sign up with a business partner without testing the waters either. Of course, you can't really bring someone in for a trial run and have him or she carry out work for you. Instead, just try to spend time together and attempt to work around them. Get a feel for what it's like having them around and how they perform their own work.

If you already have an established company, you will have a bit more leeway in having them carry out work for you. Perhaps bring them on as a contractor. This way, there’s no extensive contract and you can easily move away from any kind of signed partnership. The purpose here is to simply understand what they do, how they do it and if it fits with what you do.

Spend Time with Them Off-Hours

No, you don't need to be the best of friends. Many business partners are simply cordial, they may share the occasional dinner, but they don't need to be friends. After all, if you're a great designer while the other is a fantastic salesperson, the two of you might not have the same personalities. There's nothing wrong with that. However, when running a business, you will spend a large chunk of your day with this individual (especially early on). That means, at the very least, you need to be able to put up with them around. You know that one person whose voice is like nails on a chalkboard and whose very presence makes you want to run screaming out the front door? You want to avoid choosing this person as a business partner, and one of the best ways to do this is to spend time with them off-hours.

Be Mindful of Friendships (and Avoid Family Members)

When you're great friends with someone, it only makes sense to go into business with them. That can work. There are plenty of examples of this working (The Wright Brothers really did make it work pretty well). However, for every success story, there are a million failures. The thing about starting a business is the clear majority eventually fail. At least the first business does. That’s not to say yours will, but it’s something to keep in mind. It can put a strain on the friendship. Plus, when you’re friends with someone, it means you have a history together. Is there a chance something might happen in your personal lives that may affect your professional lives? With both of you working together the lines will be blurred between personal and professional.

If you watched the 90s sitcom Seinfeld, you’ll remember an episode where George’s friends start hanging out with his girlfriend. This makes him very upset because, as he says, “Worlds are colliding!” He meant that relationship George and independent George were running into each other and it would eventually cause one to change. The same is potentially true if you work with your friend. Independent you and professional you will collide and, if there’s anything causing problems on the outside of the business with your friend, it will make its way inside.

As for working with family members, it is highly recommended to avoid doing this. It escalates the idea of working with a friend. Should things go south with you and your friend, the two of you can walk away. It's disappointing it happened, but it is what it is. That's not the case when working with family members. If things go south, it affects not only the two of you but also the rest of your family. Again, there are a handful of examples of this working out for the best. However, it is generally better to look elsewhere for a potential business partner.

Look at their Strengths

As mentioned in the opening, you need to take a step back and look at yourself. What do you do well? What are areas you struggle with or are downright terrible at? Be brutally honest. If you have employees, ask them what they think you could do better. Just make sure you're open to constructive criticism. Some people take what is said personally. Don't. Take it in stride and use it as information for finding the right business partner.

Knowing your weaknesses allows you to seek out the right business partner. You need someone who can fill in the gaps. The two of you should have varied strengths; so, put together you can make an excellent team. You’ll want to look over the work of the potential candidates to see exactly what their strengths are. After all, you can’t just go off of what they say they are good at. You need to actually see it demonstrated. Whether it is constantly growing sales numbers or a portfolio of graphic designs, make sure to look into the candidates to ensure their strengths cover your weaknesses.

What is their Vision?

You have a vision for your business. There is a point you want to take it to. But what is the vision of the prospective business partner? When going through candidates, ask them their vision without explaining yours (at least hold back at first, as you want to make sure they don't "share" your vision just to appease your judgment). It is very important for the two of you to have the same vision. Perhaps they say something you really like, causing you to alter your own vision. There's nothing wrong with that. However, the two of you need to share the same vision. If you don't, it will cause problems with how business is conducted, because eventually, there will be a rift. If you're taking a train from DC, you want to end in LA and your business partner wants to head towards Seattle, the two of you will remain on the same path, until inevitably it splits, which can bring down the entire company. To avoid this problem and share the same path and vision.

What’s their Personal Life Like?

You don't want to pry. What they do in their personal time (as long as it's legal) doesn't concern you and it won't affect the company. The reason you want to know is if they have a considerable amount of personal baggage, the chance of them bringing it into the office increases. You need them present, both physically and mentally. If they are dealing with all sorts of personal problems, it will affect your company. Hiring someone who's going through a messy divorce and custody battles may not be in your best interest. If they are the perfect candidate for you as a business partner you may consider waiting on hiring them until the majority of their personal problems are over, but just note, a personal crisis may take months, if not years for some people to move past. Ask yourself if you can you really wait that long.

What’s their Credibility?

As you go about looking for different candidates, you need to sift not only through their professional career and even some personal insights, but you need to identify their credibility. Someone moving up in the ranks may not have much in way of pull (yet), but are they credible? Credibility is so important when starting and growing a business. If outsiders don't see you as credible than it will hinder your ability to conduct operations. If the prospective business partner does have an established career path, what do others think of him or her? Do they pay their debts on time? Are they fair? Do they do what they say they’re going to do? Whether you like it or not, what they did in the past will affect your business, should you partner with them.

This is where you likely need to put in the most amount of research. Vet the person inside and out. Don't just conduct the standard credit and criminal checks. Contact past employers and business partners. Where they professional or did they treat employees poorly? All of this will reflect on how they will carry themselves after becoming a partner with you. As is the case with most aspects of a business: the more pre-planning you do, the fewer problems you'll run into later on down the line.

In Conclusion

Choosing the best business partner is no easy task. In fact, the fate of your company may hinge on this very decision. You need someone who brings in strengths to complement your own while also covering for your apparent weaknesses. However, you shouldn't just hire someone with certain strengths as a qualification. You need a professional who shares your same vision, who brings credibility to the table and who you enjoy working with. Once you find someone who checks off all of these boxes, you'll know you have the right candidate for the position.

Additional Resources

15 Ways to Push Your Business Further in 2018
10 Tips to Be an Ultra Productive Business Owner

Tell Us –

What factor do you think is MOST important when choosing a business partner?

Written by Mike Williams

I am a serial entrepreneur with more than 20 years of business experience. My goal with this blog is to pass on some of what I have learned in order to help you achieve success in business.

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