10 Questions to Ask Before Committing to a Business Partner
Can you build your vision faster by bringing on a business partner?
I get this question from entrepreneurs all the time.
Wait. No. Scratch that. I don’t get that question. I get aspiring business owners excitedly telling me they’ve found the perfect business partner.
Or they’ve been approached by someone who has a great idea or opportunity and wants to bring them onboard.
Don’t get me wrong: this can be really great news. If you find a business partner who is a great fit for you and your goals, that’s wonderful. A business partner can make your entrepreneurship experience more enjoyable, easier, and more profitable.
The problem is that we entrepreneurial types have a way of feeding off of each other’s energy.
You know how it goes. You’re at a conference having a couple drinks with someone you just met, talking about your long-term goals, and suddenly you’re inspired.
You like their energy. You like their ideas. You can easily see a fun and lucrative future with this person as your business partner.
But business isn’t always fun, it isn’t always lucrative, and a business partnership is something that deserves a lot of thought and reflection.
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of working with a business partner and how to find a business partner that’s right for you.
The Pros of Working with a Business Partner
When you have a business partner, you have the comforting knowledge that you are never alone.
Every success and every failure is shared. You have someone who will make decisions with you, explore options with you, and take risks with you.
And hopefully, your business partner is strong in your areas of weakness (and vice versa). They fill in for your shortcomings, challenge you to grow, and broaden your options and opportunities.
All these things equal fast growth… if you’re on the same page when it comes to vision and values.
And if you’re not on the same page?
The Cons of Working with a Business Partner
Here’s what I tell those entrepreneurs who just found their “perfect business partner” last week:
A successful business partnership depends on alignment. Perfect alignment. In several different areas.
It’s not enough to both be excited about the same idea. It’s not enough to get along. It doesn’t even matter if your potential partner has an impressive resume and comes with powerful connections.
If you’re not equally passionate, equally disciplined, and equally committed, you do not want to shackle yourself to this person as you embark on the single greatest challenge of your life.
Listen, it’s easy to be on the same page when you’re dreaming of the future over coffee.
But what happens when you’re in it? When you have to get up at 4:00 in the morning or forgo family vacation in those early years of your business?
What happens when you get sued or realize you can’t make payroll or you face an unexpected PR disaster?
What about employee conflicts? Establishing company culture? Having to step away to deal with a death in your family?
If the person you’re counting on turns out to be a fair-weather partner, you’re on your own. And if they’re fully committed but bring a conflicting set of values or have a “my way or the highway” mentality, you’re still screwed.
You would have been better off going it alone.
I don’t say this to scare you out of establishing a business partnership. Really, a great partner is a tremendous asset. You just have to be mindful about who you choose.
Questions to Ask Before Starting a Business Relationship
When you’re considering a specific partner, ask yourself these ten questions.
1. Can You Count on This Person?
Is this someone who does what they say they’re going to do?
Get proof of this somewhere other than their own sales pitch. Plenty of entrepreneurial types can talk a big game about how hard-working they are. They may even have concrete evidence of their past successes.
But make sure you know how those successes came about. Was it your potential partner who put in the long hours? Were they present and focused? Or did they ride someone else’s coat tails to success?
2. Does This Person Share Your Mission and Values?
Think beyond hard work and discipline. Will you be able to build the kind of team you want with this person at your side?
What are the ethics that drive them? Do they share your customer service priorities? Can you expect them to show up to work with the kind of attitude you’re happy to be around?
3. Is This Person as Passionate as You Are?
More to the point: what are they passionate about?
Anyone can get excited about a seemingly easy money-making scheme. You want to make sure your business partner shares your enthusiasm for the work itself.
Neither of you can achieve real, meaningful business growth if you can’t approach the work with a sense of purpose. If your would-be business partner seems to be in it primarily for the cash, expect to be on your own when challenges arise.
4. Do They Share Your Vision?
I say it all the time: if you want to succeed as a business owner, your business has to be yours.
It has to be rooted in your vision, your strengths, and your goals for your own life. The more you bend to the desires and expectations of others, the harder it’s going to be to charge forward with conviction.
If you and your business partner enter the business with different visions, you’re going to find yourselves at odds a lot.
5. Are They Just Collecting Revenue Streams?
Will your business have your partner’s full attention? Or do they have hands in pots all over town?
If you’re counting on your business partner to be fully engaged and committed, make sure they are. Otherwise, you could find yourself fighting alone when the business struggles, because you’re the one who has the most to lose.
And you’re the only one who’s put their soul into the business.
6. Do They Share Your Growth Mindset?
It doesn’t matter how many real skills they bring to your enterprise; you’re not going to get anywhere with a business partner who thinks they have nothing more to learn.
If leadership isn’t growing and improving, the company isn’t growing and improving. And if you’re the only leader who’s interested in self-development, you’re going to find yourself constantly having to deal with your partner’s unacknowledged weaknesses and errors.
7. How’s the Communication?
Communication covers everything from actively ensuring you’re both on the same page to speaking each other’s language.
Does this person keep you in the loop? Are they clear on their expectations and ideas? Are they open to hearing you, especially when you disagree? Are you prepared to be a clear and constant communicator?
8. Does This Person Challenge You?
While it is extremely important to have a business partner who sees and celebrates your strengths, you also don’t want someone who is compulsively agreeable.
Is this someone who feels comfortable raising a difference of opinion? Will they call you out when you let fear or ego lead your decisions? Can they help you see potential areas of growth or improvement?
9. Does This Person Inspire You?
I’m guessing the answer is yes. Connection and inspiration tend to be the reasons most people are motivated to turn an acquaintanceship or friendship into a business partnership. Entrepreneurial energy is contagious.
But this question isn’t just about whether you like your potential partner’s speeches about the future and the hard work that will get you there. It’s about who they are.
Do you admire their work ethic, their philosophy, and the way they treat others? Do they remind you of who you want to be? Do they help you see the endless possibilities—not just when they’re dreaming big on a bar stool, but when you’re up against new obstacles?
10. Do They Balance Your Strengths and Weaknesses?
If you’re happy with the answers to all the previous questions, now you can ask the question most people run to first:
Is this someone who balances you out?
Which of your weaknesses can they fill in for with their strengths? Are they happy to give you control in those areas where you shine? Do your powers combined make you some kind of unstoppable superteam?
If yes, then you might be onto something. And if you are, that’s great!
We can do incredible things when we partner up. Success only happens when we’re surrounded by people who inspire us, challenge us, believe in us, and give their best to our dreams.
But if you can’t find all that in one incredible business partner, don’t worry. That’s why you build a team. It’s why you have a peer network and mentors, not to mention family and friends.
You’re never in this alone. That’s not even a question.
So don’t ever feel like you have to settle for a business partner who’s less than committed.
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