How to Pick a Business Partner in 3 Easy Steps

How do you pick a business partner? Legendary partnerships aren’t always the result of pure serendipity, and since everyone loves a good story that’s too bad. But pulling names out of a hat is no solution either. Go with the first person to volunteer and you’re likely to become the entrepreneurial equivalent of one of the first kids to die in “The Hunger Games.”

But if you’re smart – if you know where to find business partners and how to separate the winners from the losers – then you might just find the Ben to your Jerry, the Abercrombie to your Fitch or the Barnum to your Bailey. This guide was created to help you do just that. It’s based on the personal experience and strategies of The Content Factory’s two co-owners, Joan Barrett and Kari DePhillips. Their business partnership grows stronger every day. Follow these tips and yours can, too.

How to Pick a Business Partner

We can’t choose our family members. We make friends at work and school, and we find new people to date online or through a friend. But how do you find a business partner? Sadly, they don’t all hang out in a clubhouse waiting for you to barge in and propose a winning business plan. You need a plan, a way to focus your search. To find your very own business soul mate, there are three important principles to keep in mind.

bigstock-handshake-in-office-13871237Don’t choose your twin. Ever notice how superheroes that team up never have the same powers? There’s a reason for that. It’s because no one, not even superheroes, are good at everything. A masked avenger with the power to turn invisible might suck at hand-to-hand combat once he sneaks into a villain’s hideout. That’s why he needs a partner who can kick some serious henchman booty, even if he’s an open target throughout the entire melee.

A successful business team works the same way. If you want your company to go places, you’ll need a partner whose entrepreneurial skills complement rather than mirror your own. It’s one of the reasons why Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak had early success when they started making and selling Apple computers. Wozniak, a tech whiz and an innovative designer, lacked marketing skills and never once thought to sell his products. But Jobs was a visionary who understood the potential of those first machines, and he used his business savvy to really catch the world’s attention. Neither one could have built the Apple empire alone.

To create an equally successful partnership, try this: before you begin your search, write down a list of things that you’re kind of awful at. We know it’s a bummer, but the more honest you are with yourself, the stronger your partnership will be. Revisit your list frequently as you search for your future teammate. It’ll point the way.

Linkedin login page on Apple iPad screenDon’t take credentials for granted. It’s easy to become blinded by impressive credentials – browse LinkedIn for an hour and you’ll see them everywhere. Your friend from college was a VP of marketing at a major startup. Your cousin works at Google and has already been promoted three times. Your best friend’s sister manages a string of retail stores in your home state. This is impressive stuff, but never forget that while an employment history can tell you where someone has worked, it can’t tell you how that person works. To learn that, you’ll have to look deeper.

Because we’ve all encountered people who somehow occupy positions that they’re unqualified for, we should ask ourselves what exactly credentials are capable of measuring. While we’d never dismiss the value of an impressive resume outright, couldn’t a fantastic set of credentials sometimes be the result of extroversion and charisma – or even luck? What about great connections? If we’re honest, we have to admit that the world sometimes works this way.

But the one thing you cannot fake is know-how, and that’s why we think that Aza Raskin, co-founder of Massive Health, had it right when he said: “When I’m hiring, I don’t look for credentials, I look for knowledge.”

Instead of basing your decision on a resume, base it on research, and on personal experience. Your best move may be to partner up with someone you’ve worked with in the past. If your potential partner has the characteristics of an entrepreneur, you can be certain that you won’t be stuck with someone who half-asses assignments, who procrastinates until the very last minute or who passes the buck when things go wrong.

Find someone who brings out the best in you. For many successful entrepreneurs, 80-hour weeks are not uncommon – and when you're exhausted, stressed, up against a deadline and almost out of coffee, you’ve gotta like the person you’re stuck with. There's nothing more intellectually challenging than running a business, and you should seek out a partner who will push you to think about things from different angles.

how to find a business partnerIf it were easy to dream up a company, to shepherd it into existence and finally to make it indispensable to people around the world, then home garages across America would be turning out way more computer whizzes and far fewer indie bands. But bringing a great idea to life takes massive energy, endless creativity and tons of time. If you don’t fundamentally like your partner, how will you brainstorm? If you’re not hanging out together and enthusiastically bouncing ideas off one another, where will you get the energy to proceed when things are tough? That kind of energy comes from the partnership itself. At its best, it’s electric.

So check yourself. If you’d be afraid to G-chat your partner 20 times in one day, that’s not the person you’re looking for. If it’d feel weird to phone the person at dinnertime to get help with an important problem, then you’re already thinking of your project as a job, not as an adventure or a life mission. Search your mental Rolodex for the person who has a passion that you can activate through the partnership. If you don’t know anyone who fits the bill, then start making connections, because you’re now on a quest to meet that person for the first time.

Follow those three tips and you’ll be well on your way to forming your own entrepreneurial dynamic duo. But just to boost your chances of success even more, here’s one final bonus tip: pick someone you’ve been in a fight with. Not a knock-down, drag-out bar brawl, but at least a heated discussion or argument. Everyone gets along well when they agree with each other, but you and your business partner won’t always see eye to eye, and it really helps to know how your potential partner handles disagreement. Does she discuss the problem calmly, like a rational adult? Is he likely to blow off your calls for a week and badmouth you to all your employees?

If you’ve argued with the person you’re considering, then you already have these answers. Kari and Joan, the co-founders of The Content Factory, were roommates in college and close friends after graduation. The pair are about as far apart on the political spectrum as two people can be, so they’ve definitely had their share of disagreements. But on the occasions when they don’t see eye to eye, things never get ugly – over the years, they’ve learned to “fight clean,” you might say. The point is only this: if you don’t know exactly where to find business partners, think about the people you debate with the most. Remember your last argument or discussion. Feel that energy? Think there’s a way to put it to use?

We’ve shared our ideas, now we want to ask you – how do you pick a business partner? Do you have a secret strategy that helped you pick a business partner? Did you try to start a business with someone who quickly went from sidekick to arch-nemesis? Do you have any business partner horror stories? Share them with us in a comment below!

By: Alayna Frankenberry, staff writer at The Content Factory..

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