It’s hard to run a business by yourself. After all, no one is good at everything, and it’s great to have people who can keep you motivated and give you new ideas. Business partners can also provide valuable skills and business contacts to help your venture succeed.
But picking the right business partner isn’t easy. I’ve been an entrepreneur since 18, and I’ve had my fair share of business partners. I’ve been lucky in finding some great ones, but there are also many people I wish I hadn’t worked with.
I put together six key areas for a lasting, successful partnership in 2016 and beyond – hope you can benefit from this sharing:
1. CORE VALUES
Find someone who is on board with the core values of your business. These are the values that are going to define your business relationship and shape the company as it grows.
One way of doing this is to make a list of values that matter most to you, and ask your prospective partner to do the same. Then, see what the overlap is and whether you can reconcile any differences.
For example, one partner may prefer to maintain control and autonomy of a business, while another might prefer to sacrifice these things in order to scale.
It’s important to discuss this openly beforehand so you can identify common goals and visions. Otherwise, your differences may lead to conflicts down the road.
Disclaimer: But note that there must be a timeline to all these – having multiple sessions over many months talking about the same issues may be a sign that one of the party does not fully understand and needs to read up and address his/her own internal ambiguities first. Start learning on your own first in terms of impact on shareholder value, business structuring, market share strategies, ROI analysis and business remodelling strategies.
It doesn’t mean the other party is not clear or attempts to hide things even after having communicated and guided over many occasions with documented notes that are being shared to all parties.
Do not get mixed up with : being unable to understand the facts of the case due to lack of acumen versus perceived ambiguity of points discussed. We need to adjust our lenses all the time whenever they get blur, and don’t blame on externalities.
I recalled a case some years ago when a client tried partnering with his friend on a new business venture. While this friend was great at taking direction, he rarely pushed the boundaries to find new opportunities and come up with new ideas.
To him, it was “good enough” if he did his assigned job. While these types of individuals make good employees, they rarely translate into strong business partners. It’s a different case altogether.
Micromanagement is especially ineffective when building something from the ground up. Instead, be on the lookout for highly motivated go-getters who will go above and beyond to complete their assigned tasks.
Seek out partners who have a history of following through on their commitments. Never partner with anyone that you feel you have to “mold” into the person you want them to be.
Remember, the big rewards go to those who are wildly successful. There is always a huge drop-off in payouts between first and second place, so you want people on your team who are striving to be #1.
3. CREDIBILITY AND SKILLS
You want a partner who will complement you well. It’s probably a good idea to understand your strengths and find a partner who will bring something different to the table.
You can verify credibility by looking at past accomplishments. Check out their educational background, work experience, and success on previous projects. Along the way, you’ll get a sense of the skills they may have developed.
Be wary of partners who view publicity and glamour as their only motivation in business – this will cloud a lot of gaps in their business and the pride/ego will skyrocket high. They are constantly in Cloud Nine whenever some form of attention is given to them, and they lose focus on the “real” benchmark of what makes a solid, robust and scalable business.
To me, credibility is not just about recognition – it is about
- the quality of portfolios that you manage
- how your skill-set stands out versus your peers i.e. niche
- the diversified nature of your clientele – are you serving only 1 type of market, community group, revenue mix type, etc?
Notice that awards are left out in my list above – why? Well, we all know what is the business model of certain (not all) event managers dishing out awards to business owners at a fee -packaged nicely as an advertorial and dinner table, etc.
Accept awards unconditionally. Not for a fee. Not as part of a package. Otherwise, it’s just advertisement. It’s perceived credibility and not sustainable form of recognition.
4. THE WILLINGNESS TO ADAPT
Businesses change constantly, and you want to be working with someone who understands this and takes it in stride. Rigidity kills great businesses, and the last thing you want is to fight with your partner about making progress.
The takeaway here is that you want to build businesses with people who are not only willing to adapt, but accept the fact that it will almost certainly be necessary as things change. Otherwise, you risk losing everything you’ve worked to build.
5. ACCEPTANCE OF CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM
Constructive criticism is a great learning tool, but it’s amazing how many people resist it. It makes sense – no one likes to hear about their flaws. But it’s the only way to make sure that you fix problems and keep improving as a team.
A good way of gauging this is by asking people some tough questions upfront. Ask people about a time they failed or struggled in their lives, and see what they learnt from it. This way, you’ll get a sense of whether they can take things in stride.
6. CLEAR COMMUNICATION
One of my pet peeves is when people say they’ll do something and they don’t end up following through. The best way to prevent this is to partner with people who are very clear about their capabilities and expectations.
It’s better to work with someone who will bluntly tell you that they are unable to do something (due to time constraints, skill levels, etc), rather than deal with a “yes-man” who’s not going to avert risks and tackle new opportunities.
You’ll save time, money, and reduce your stress levels, so don’t compromise on this.
One important thing to remember: Only work with people who you believe hold the highest ethical standards when it comes to business.
It’s rarely easy to tell whether someone is trustworthy just from personal interaction, and that’s why it’s important to conduct reference checks and other verification methods to complement your face-to-face evaluation.
As a final note, there is no such thing as a perfect partner – we all have our own flaws and we can’t expect others to be perfect when we are not perfect ourselves.
What we need to do is to ensure alignment and compatibility in dealing with others. The problem happens when small boys act like big boys; and big boys act like they are the only boys in the neighbourhood.
In partnership, always remember: humility is of paramount importance.
Here’s wishing you the best of luck in 2016!