How to select a business partner

Running your own business can be either invigorating or exasperating (sometimes both).. and a lot of the time, its your business partner that makes the difference.  Your business partner should share your vision, your enthusiasm and the workload… and the whole thing hinges on a single word – TRUST.

In an ideal world, you should pause for thought before rushing into business with someone.  But we all know that this isn’t how business partnerships are typically started.   The other person may currently be your employee or employer, a friend from school or even family.  But if you are serious about your business, then you should also be serious about the people you have within it.

Here’s some tips:

1. Complementary Skills.   Do you each have different areas of expertise or are you perhaps too similar in your experience and/or core skill-set?   There’s always a risk if you are too much alike.  Stronger partnerships are usually forged when people unite to bring together different strengths and weaknesses.  The classic example is when one person is more technical (back office) and the other is more sales-oriented (front office).  This is a great mix and will usually work well due to the interdependency that’s involved.

2. Work Ethic.  There’s nothing worse than feeling like your business partner is not carrying his or her weight.  It quickly leads to resentment and the whole relationship (along with the business) turns sour.  You really need to know the person and how hard, smart, productive they work.  Ideally, you should have worked with this person in the past – professionally.  This is when former work colleagues (e.g. employees, employers) and business acquaintances (e.g. former suppliers) work best together.   This is also where working with a friend, friend of a friend, or a family member can be a disaster waiting to happen.

3. Trust.  Assuming that you are also someone who has solid personal and business ethics, then I can’t emphasise enough how important this is.  Put aside the risk of theft or illegal business activities, the reputation you will build with your business goes beyond the actual product or service you offer.  Your business will be a reflection of your core values.  If these are circumspect, then the values of your business may become so too.  It will permeate everything – your employees, suppliers and of course customers.

4. Goals/Vision.  A business will only succeed if everyone is marching to the same beat.  You need to clearly communicate and understand what your shared vision is for the business.  This includes what you actually do, how you will do it and any exit strategy including expected timescales.  If you see things differently, the whole business could be put at risk before you even get started.

I’ve worked with some great people but I’ve also made lot’s of mistakes in this area – mistakes I hope that I won’t repeat in the future.  Those business partners who have let me down came from different areas of my life – employers, friends, friends of friends, and employees – but if I were honest with myself, I was sceptical in the beginning but just didn’t trust my own gut.

So think about that word.. trust.  Do you trust the person you are considering – completely?  Trust their attitude towards money?  Trust their work ethic?  Trust their relevant abilities to deliver within the business?  And ultimately… do you trust your gut?