My dad owned two businesses. His first was a single store that he and his partner grew to be one of the largest chains in California. The second, later in his life, was a carpet warehouse. While dad liked that second business, it was never nearly as successful as the first one.
Why is that? The main reason was because he didn’t have a partner involved in his second business. There was a certain energy that surrounded them and that business. While dad didn’t always love having to account for his partner, he sure did have fun and make a lot of money. As partners, they complemented each other so well that their venture couldn’t help but reflect their synergy (even if sharing the sandbox was not always easy).
As an entrepreneur, it’s natural to want to do much of everything ourselves; that is in our nature. Your business is your passion and your brainchild, so it makes sense that you may think that you are the one best suited to actualize your vision – and my Dad oftentimes thought that. It certainly feels unnatural for many small business owners to relinquish control.
Unfortunately, you probably need to.
Not even the best entrepreneur can do it all on their own. Ben has Jerry, Bill Gates had Paul Allen, Steve Jobs had Steve Wozniak, my dad had his partner Phil – you get the point. The numbers don’t lie: according to SCORE, the best startups are approximately 59% more likely to have more than one founder than less successful startups.
There are many reasons for this:
- It saves money. A partner can be an investor in your business and someone with whom to share financial responsibilities
- You will have someone to bounce ideas off of. Two heads are better than one
- Better delegation = less to do = more free time = more energy
- Networking opportunities. Bringing in a partner will instantly increase your list of contacts and clients
Related article: The 6 Essential Teammates Your Small Business Must Have
Pretty convincing, right? Once you have accepted that you just may, in fact, need a business partner, the question then becomes: how do you go about finding the right one? Here are five things to keep in mind:
1. Start with your strengths and weaknesses: By knowing yourself, you will know what your business needs in order to thrive. Look for a business partner with a different skillset than your own. It’s sort of like the Yin/Yang symbol – combined they make a whole. That is what you want.
If you tend to procrastinate and forget deadlines, you may want a partner that’s good with time management and organization. If you are not really a people person, find someone who is. By balancing your weaknesses with another person’s strengths, the whole will be greater than the sum of the parts.
2. Look for someone who shares your values: Even though you certainly need somebody with a different skillset, you still need to make sure that you both share the same values and have the same vision for the business.
3. Take your time: Don’t rush into a partnership hastily as the stakes are very high. You need time to evaluate your potential partner – is he or she trustworthy? Are they good at listening? Do they need constant direction, or are they good at acting independently?
One tip is to try working on a few projects with them before jumping into a full partnership to test the waters and see how it goes. You can think of this as dating before getting married.
Related article: 5 Steps to Finding a Business Mentor
4. Choose carefully: A partnership is like a marriage. You will be spending a lot of time together and sharing decisions. Similarly, each partner can make financial decisions for the union that both are responsible for. So, take your time and remember that half of all marriages end in divorce. Choose wisely.
5. Put it in writing: No matter how much you trust this person, putting as much in writing as possible should always be the cardinal rule. Your contract should specify who will be doing what, how much money is involved, and the conditions for backing out if things go wrong.
I want to quote the movie Jerry Maguire here. “You complete me.” Almost, but not quite; a little maudlin. Instead let’s say that a good partner should help you grow the business such that you will both be able to say, “show me the money!”
About Steve Strauss
Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success.© Steven D. Strauss.
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