Choosing your first business partner: How to get it right

What can you do to let the world know you are searching for a business partner? Dessy Ohanians of the London School of Business and Finance investigates.

There comes a time, when your business is growing at a steady pace. You are past the initial stages of researching, planning, launching, and securing a steady cash flow. You can see growth has been slow but sustainable, and it will be a few more years before you are happy with the state of your company.

Your growth strategy may have been to offer more products to your core clients, or offer your existing products and services to new clients.
At this stage, you may also be considering introducing new products and services to a new market. Why is this risky? Well, you have no track record with the product/service and you have not sold to these particular clients before. A lot can go wrong.

In order to mitigate risks, as a business owner you have some options to consider:

1. Buying a business – a competitor or a complimentary business
2. Franchising – replicate your success to other areas
3. Finding a business partner.

So what can you do to let the world know you are searching for a business partner?

Tap into your network

Choosing a business partner from your network of colleagues and business associates can be a great place to start your search. The advantage is that you already know how these individuals work and have seen their performance in business settings. You are aware of their strengths, weaknesses, principles, and values.

Approach family and friends

From personal experience, I know this option can be tricky but if you get it right, it can be rewarding. Working for 20 years with my husband and his sons was tough at times as you are constantly trying to differentiate between your professional and personal relationships. The boundary gets so blurred sometimes that a business problem can spill into a family issue. On the other hand, you almost never question loyalty and you know someone always has your back as you are on the same team.

Proactively network

There are many communities, both online and face to face, that put people with similar interests together. Going to industry-related events where you can find similar businesses is a good first step.

Individuals in professional membership organisations like CMI, IoD, CIM, or any others in your industry, hold networking events and informal workshops.

In education, where I work with partners, I was lucky to find a partner at an event who was looking for someone with my skills and expertise. I needed her complimentary knowledge in an area of business which I wasn’t very familiar with.

What to look for

Once you have identified one or more potential business partners, here are some essential criteria to look for:

1) Integrity/trustworthiness – You need to consider how much they can be trusted to put the interests of the company above their own. If they went out to win new business, would you let them be alone with your new client?

2) Technical excellence – Your business has spent a lot of time and effort building a reputation with clients in relation to quality of work expected. Do you have evidence they can deliver work at the standard you expect?

3) Established track record – You need to keep in mind that you are not looking for an employee that will just need to execute the company strategy and deliver results. A new partner is expected to find their own clients to add to the company pot. Can they add value quickly?

4) Seizing initiative – Similar to the criteria above, employees are not required to consider the long-term sustainability of the business. That’s the role of the owners/directors. Finding a partner that can see the bigger picture, recognise industry trends, and formulate strategies to stay ahead of competition is vital. Do they need to be told what the priorities are or can they see the bigger picture?

5) Communication skills – In this context, communication skills would need to go beyond those of selling the product/service and closing the deal. A business partner is expected to convert clients into loyal customers that will buy into the vision of the business and keep returning.

6) Business acumen – Are they able to accurately assess the business and its position in the market place? Can they spot opportunities that will benefit the company’s growth?

Finding a business partner is not an exact science and you’ll never know whether a partnership will be successful until you’ve tried it. To give your business the greatest chance of success, bringing in a partner may be a rational option.

Mitigate your risks by finding a project to work on together before signing the ‘marriage papers’ and choose someone that will compliment your weaknesses to help you excel.

Dessy Ohanians is managing director of Executive Education at the London School of Business and Finance.

Further reading on business partnerships

Related Topics

Business Partnerships

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