Q&A: Finding a Business Partner

By Rieva LesonskyBusiness on Main

I’m starting the search for a business partner. What qualities and qualifications should I look for?

Finding a partner can be a challenging task. One of the most common mistakes entrepreneurs make is to look for partners as if they’re looking for a mate — and that’s just so wrong.

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When it comes to business (unlike searching for a mate), you’re not looking for someone who thinks just like you do, who shares your strengths, or who you’ve known “forever.” Too many would-be entrepreneurs team up with their best friends, siblings, parents or spouses because “we get along so well and think the same.” But “getting along” while an asset is not the most important quality you should seek in a partner.

If you’re both creative people, for example, who's going to do the books or make sales calls? The best partnerships bring people with different skill sets together “to form a more perfect union.” This way your small partnership can offer a wider range of talents and is better positioned to take on more tasks.

In fact, thinking alike is a liability, not an asset. If you have the same ideas, why do you need, or even want, a partner? If it’s money you’re after, do you expect your partner to be the silent type to support your goals? If so, it’s essential you make that clear up front.

Ultimately, you and your partner do need to share the same goals and work ethic. Nothing will derail a partnership faster than one of you working harder than the other.

You need to talk all this out ahead of time. Whether you’re going into business with someone you know intimately or a relative stranger, this is a business arrangement, and you need to get everything in writing. Don’t forget that you need a breakup plan, too. If the partnership doesn’t survive, who gets to walk away with what? Even the best of partnerships can fall apart. Remember Sonny and Cher?

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