In almost all ways, a business partner is a life partner. You spend the majority of your day with them, and when you’re not physically with them, you’re speaking to them or texting them from your phone. You don’t make any professional decisions without them, and you know one another’s daily schedules inside out. No wonder then that the terms ‘work husband’ and ‘work wife’ have been coined — your relationship with your business partner, if you have chosen wisely, is one to be cherished and nurtured.
Like in love, it isn’t always easy to find the right match when seeking a business partner. Here are some tips on how to make it work:
1. Identify why you want a business partner, to begin with
This is an important first step. Are you running a business that you can handle alone, or — more importantly — are you someone who doesn’t really work well with others? If your answer to either of these questions is yes, you can probably stop reading this. However, if you prefer teamwork, and feel that your specific skill sets would benefit from a set of complementary skills to really build out your toolkit, it’s time to start searching for The One.
2. Create your wishlist, spend enough time getting to know each other
We’ve all spent time — be it a lot or a little — thinking about the characteristics and traits that we would want our ideal life partner to possess. It’s important to run a similar exercise when thinking about what you want from a business partner. If you feel that your strengths lie in administrative, operational tasks like accounting, financial planning for your company, drawing up contracts, HR and so on, work to find a partner who is creative-minded, and driven by good ideas. If you’re naturally an introvert, try to find a partner who is chatty and will likely draw people in, be they clients or team members.
Once you’ve selected a few potential candidates, ensure that you have a few ‘first dates’. While everyone looks good on paper, the chemistry can only be determined face to face. Whether you’ve known your candidate for a while or are starting afresh doesn’t matter, as long as you feel that you’re both aligned on the same points, and are more or less speaking the same language.
3. Explore your shared vision
This leads us to our next point — are both you and your potential partner envisioning a similar professional future? It’s critical to ensure that you both want the same things out of what you’re trying to build. If you’re keen to create the next big jewellery empire for example, but your potential match seems hesitant to think big, it’s time to move on. If you’re in the service industry and want to focus on a type of client that you think your skill set really speaks to (for example, lifestyle) but your potential partner is more excited by an industry like pharmaceuticals, this may be a red flag.
If you want to create a company that is more boutique in nature, both via the kinds of clients you have and the team you build, but your partner is thinking multinational, perhaps it’s time to continue your search. Spending time with your potential partner, understanding their professional background and what makes them tick, is an integral part of sealing the deal.
4. Think similarly but differently
This is by no means a way to say that you need to find a clone of yourself. On the contrary, it’s very important to identify someone who plays off your existing skills and complements your areas of weakness, while still speaking the same language as you. A good example of this is how you deal with your team members — one of you may adopt a softer, more understanding method while the other is all business, and results-oriented. Paired together, the two approaches will help to both nurture your team while helping them keep an eye on the ultimate goal.
Or think about this in the way you both approach tasks or client work. One of you may be very detail-oriented and more of a ‘doer’, while the other is all about the big picture, and more of a ‘thinker’. Paired together, along with a shared vision, this combination will ensure that almost every task can be completed successfully. Feed off one another to ensure that all areas of expertise that you need in order to run a thriving business are covered, both through each of your individual skills, as well as jointly.
5. Create a space filled with trust, mutual respect, and friendship
No one says that a prerequisite to being business partners means that you also have to be best friends. In a best-case scenario, you will truly enjoy the company of your business partner, both in work situations as well as during your down time. However, regardless of your possible friendship outside of work, an easy professional rapport and knowing that you have someone who always has your back, will go a long way in ensuring a smooth working relationship.
Like in any of your personal relationships, your business partner and you will also butt heads — possibly sometimes more than you may do with your spouse, siblings, or parents. Decisions that have financial implications can easily result in heated dialogue, and the frustrations of trying to complete a task coupled with the pressures of deadlines can also result in much friction. It’s therefore important to know that whatever the issue, nothing is insurmountable with a solid, reliable partner by your side.
Starting and running a business is riddled with unique challenges. Try to make this a less bumpy ride by investing your time in finding a business partner who you feel excited about, and are confident will help you translate your professional vision into the kind of success story that you’re both keen to develop. Ensure that you are in a marriage of equals, and ultimately, pick a partner whose company you enjoy and whose ideas you respect. This is what will ultimately help you take a business from good to great.