Proctor & Gamble, Hewlett Packard, Ben & Jerry’s. Plenty of big names came from the leadership of not one but two business minds, together. And even those whose monikers don’t make them obviously double acts - Google and Microsoft, to name two giants - were joint efforts from the very beginning.
The advantage of bringing together complementary skills, moral support, diversity of ideas, is clear, but how to go about finding the right business partner?
Before you start searching for a partner
You can’t pitch a half-baked idea and expect anyone to buy into it, just as you wouldn’t accept a job without understanding the role.
So, before you even begin to consider who may be the best fit, it’s important to fully explore and determine what you’re looking for in a business partner and what you expect to achieve together.
Questions to ask yourself:
- Why do I need a business partner?
- How will a partner help the business?
- Are there skills I lack which I need in a partner?
And in the same vein, it can help to take an objective look at yourself, asking:
- What skills and qualities do I bring to the venture?
- What’s my track record?
- Where are my areas of weakness?
If you’re looking for someone to dive in and sacrifice their time and potentially stable employment elsewhere, but you haven’t yet got an established business plan, you’ll probably struggle to find a candidate who’s willing to put everything into your idea at this stage. In this case, you may benefit from a mentor rather than a business partner.
If you’re a startup and looking at funding options, investors sometimes offer an element of mentorship. Alternatively, it can be worthwhile seeking a mentor from your professional network. You may be surprised by how many people in your LinkedIn network are open to mentorship opportunities.
Once you’ve determined that you definitely are committed to taking the plunge and going all out looking for a business partner, it can be helpful to set out your hopes and requirements by writing a rough job description. Having done this, you’re ready to start the exciting process of finding a partner!
Where to find a business partner
While you could leave things in the hands of fate, as with finding a job or seeking an employee, a targeted approach is far more likely to yield good results!
LinkedIn can be a great place to start but actually, you may find potential candidates closer to home. Below we’ve listed some popular business partner profiles to give you some inspiration.
Current and ex-colleagues
The advantage of tapping into your directory of current and ex-colleagues is that you know who you work well with and have a good idea of their competencies. Beware though, that someone you worked with five or ten years ago may have changed both in terms of their professional development and their broader commitments in life. If you worked 24/7 at a startup in your early twenties, don’t assume that they’ll necessarily be up for the same lifestyle ten years on! The key thing here is not to assume anything, which comes back to conveying clear expectations and delivering a compelling business pitch.
LinkedIn can give you access to a far broader pool of connections, but with some security that they’re endorsed by others in your network. Whether an old university acquaintance, a colleague you briefly worked with, or someone you saw present at a conference, there’s some implicit level of trust that this person has qualities that may make them a suitable business partner.
Friends and family members
The advantage of this is that you can be sure you’re compatible on a personal level. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be well-matched as business partners; many of us are very different in our professional lives to how we are socially. Be wary of making exceptions for those you’re familiar with. If their profile wouldn’t pass the test for a stranger, think carefully about whether they’ll actually be able to fulfil your expectations. The last thing you want is to make a decision that’ll simultaneously set back your business plan and ruin a valued relationship.
If no one from your existing network fits the bill, it’s time to broaden your network. Again, a targeted approach is most likely to succeed. Joining relevant Meetup groups and attending networking events and conferences is a sure way to expand your professional network, bringing you closer to finding the right business partner.
Even if you can’t attend in-person networking events, there are a growing number of platforms designed to bring entrepreneurs together, such as Co-Founders Lab. If you’re in the tech startup space, another strategy is to join a community, such as an accelerator, incubator or coworking space. While many accelerator and incubator programmes only take founder teams, some focus on pairing up co-founders. For example, Entrepreneur First.
What to look for in a business partner
This comes back to scrutinising your business plan, evaluating your own competencies and determining what is needed to complement them and take your business idea to the next level. It may be tempting to hire someone with lots in common with you, but this isn’t necessarily what your business needs.
Sometimes, it makes sense to seek out a business partners who’s your polar opposite, or at least with a background in a totally different field! The key thing is to ensure that you’re aligned in terms of ambitions and objectives for the business. What drives you? What are your expectations in terms of growth - and what about work-life balance? Getting off on an unequal footing will only lead to resentment later, so it’s important to communicate these things from the outset.
How to attract a business partner
Once you’ve established a potential candidate comes the more challenging tasks of determining whether you really are a good match, and selling your idea to them!
Sometimes, the perfect partner on paper is just that: the perfect partner on paper only. For this reason, it’s important that you’re able to effectively communicate your plan to them and present your expectations from a business partner. These aspects need to be clarified from the get-go, as small misunderstandings can quickly ramp up and undermine what could potentially be a great partnership. A trial period can be a great way to establish whether you’re a good match.
A business partner can be the most profitable relationship you ever have (both literally and figuratively!) But it’s important to find the right match. It’s worth putting in the time, effort and process to maximise your chances of success. Good luck - and don’t forget to think about business insurance - directors and officers cover in particular!