Entrepreneurs have a reputation for trying to do it all singlehandedly.
In the early days of starting your business, you may feel like you’re wearing several hats—too many, in fact.
For this reason, you might consider working with a business partner. Not only does having a business partner distribute some of the work, it gives you someone to bounce ideas off of, the benefit of an additional skill set, and a colleague who feels as passionately about your business idea as you do.
But, how can you find and cultivate a business partner relationship like that?
I asked several entrepreneurs their advice on how to find a business partner; they shared with me where they found their business partners, and what advice they would give to entrepreneurs hoping to start a business partnership.
While you might be fortunate enough to meet your future business partner in line for coffee one morning, not everyone finds themselves in such serendipitous situations.
Sometimes, you have to do some legwork, and go out of your way to seek out a great business partner. Here are several places to find the perfect partner for your business.
Tap into your co-worker pool, both past and present
Choosing a business partner from your co-workers, either those you currently work with or from a previous job, can be a great way to find someone to start your business with. Not only is it convenient, but choosing a business partner that you have already worked with can give you a huge advantage over picking a partner you haven’t worked with yet.
Why? You already know how your potential partner does business. You know if they are hardworking, reliable, and honest—or if they’re the type to waltz into work every morning 20 minutes late, or spend all day complaining about their hangover. Choosing a business partner from your current or previous coworkers means you’ll probably already have an idea of how well the two of you work together as well, which can save you heartache down the road.
Go into business with a friend (even though some experts will advise against it)
This one seems easy, but partnering up with friends is one of the most common ways to find a business partner. We saw it with David Daneshgar of BloomNation, and countless other businesses have been started because friends decided to team up and work together.
“Our best friends are usually the best business partners,” says Viola Ng, co-founder and marketing manager for Pointshogger.
Though she recommends partnering with a friend, Viola points out that the friend you choose to partner with doesn’t have to be your platonic other half. “We aren’t the BFFs who have the same interests or the same education background […] in fact we are almost at the opposite spectrum: He’s the lawyer/finance guy, and I am the marketing/design girl.”
Partnering up with friends has its inherent potential drawbacks: It is possible that if the business venture goes south, you may lose out on the friendship. But, if you have clear communication, choose someone with a personality and skill set that compliments your own, and make sure you are both on the same page, many of these concerns can be avoided. We’ll cover that more later when we discuss the things to consider before choosing your partner.
Take advantage of networking—either online or through in-person events
Jillian Darlington, founder of the MomCo app, met her business partner on HeraHub, an online networking community that offers coworking space for women. “At the time, I was a member of Hera Hub [and] it is through that network that I found Beth Bryan. She had recently been laid off from her corporate job and was doing consulting work for some local companies and entrepreneurs,” says Jillian.
“We immediately clicked and were the perfect team because our skills complemented each other. After three weeks of working together, Beth approached me about investing and becoming a permanent part of MomCo. That is when she became my co-founder and we have been two moms on a mission ever since.”
If you are a member of any online networking groups, this may be a great place find your business partner. If you do not currently belong to any groups, consider joining one; there is a networking group for virtually every occupation under the sun.
A professional association is a good place to start, as well as a simple Google search for networking in your industry, which will likely reveal plenty of options.
Not only that, networking groups in general are a great place to find potential business partners, and there are likely to be some in your city that meet in person. Most cities will have at least one general networking Meetup group, and larger cities may have industry specific groups as well.
Consider partnering up with a sibling or other family member
Going into business with siblings is similar to going into business with friends—only if the business-end of the relationship takes a dive, you can’t as easily dissolve the relationship (this could be a positive or a negative, depending on how you look at it).
“People often express surprise that my brother and I own a business together and can work alongside each other every day,” says Danielle Kunkle of Boomer Benefits. “I always share with them that I started this agency with two other partners, only to quickly find out that no one else worked as hard as I did, so I was giving away two thirds of every commission to people who weren’t pulling their weight.”
As a solution, Danielle went into business with her brother. “It was my mom who suggested inviting my brother to join me, and it was ingenious because we were raised by the same parents to have the same work ethic, and he and I have both been entrepreneurs since childhood.”
Attend a business course or industry-related training, and keep an eye out for partners
If you are seeking to further your knowledge about your industry, learn how to run a business, and generally better yourself as an entrepreneur, you may be attending or have considered some type of business course. While these have the obvious benefit of improving your skill and understanding of your field, why not use the opportunity to look for a potential business partner?
“I found my business partner in an business development course I was taking, and we literally just ‘clicked,’” says Shannon Conheady, CEO and co-founder of RepairQuote. Since the two met through an entrepreneurship class, Shannon knew that they were equally committed. “We both had a decent idea that the other was interested and committed to launching a venture,” he says.
Your local community college or extension school affiliated with a larger university is likely to have business development courses, which can have the dual benefit of teaching you valuable skills while also expanding your network, placing you in contact with other like-minded entrepreneurs.
Here are 5 things to consider:
Now that we’ve gone over a few of the places you can look to find a business partner, there are several things to consider before you commit.
How do you know if your partner is “the one”? Here are five considerations that will make your decision to work together that much easier.
Find someone with a complimentary personality–just like you would in a romantic relationship.
If you’ve noticed that advice on picking a partner sounds an awful lot like relationship advice, you’re right; finding a business partner is a lot like finding a romantic partner. “You need different personalities, but also have to be able to completely get along,” says Jim Belosic, CEO of ShortStack. “It’s sort of like a marriage.”
He adds: “If I married a woman like myself, we’d be completely reckless and the house would never be clean. My wife balances that side of me and it’s the same thing with my business partner.”
Why does this balance matter in business? For the same reasons it matters in a romantic relationship—complimentary personalities help balance each other. “[My business partner] balances some of the risks that I want to take with logic but at the same time I balance some of his ideas that may be too tech-y for our users,” says Jim. “He works well by himself and my personality allows us to manage a team, so collectively we make a great team.”
Choose a partner you can trust.
“A good partner is basically about finding someone you can trust—and that is not always easy,” says Matthew Reischer, founder of Legal Marketing Inc. “My current partner is my brother, and it truly is the easiest partnership I have ever been involved with as there is much less acrimony, disputes or conflicts that often seemed to be the case with my prior partners.”
This is one area where having a past history isn’t a negative; siblings, family members, and friends are often the people we trust the most. As trust is such an integral part of the business relationship, friends and family can make excellent business partners for this reason.
If your business partner is someone you have more recently met and perhaps share less history with, be sure to determine as soon as possible if they are trustworthy. It sounds obvious, but if you have any reservations about the trustworthiness of your potential partner, don’t ignore them—it may save you trouble in the long run.
Make sure to define the parameters of your, uhh, “relationship.”
Remember how I said finding a business partner is a lot like finding a romantic partner? Well, it is—but there’s one important aspect that the two relationships should not have in common.
Viola suggests having an honest conversation with your potential partner about the status of the relationship and any potential romantic involvement, especially if the partner is a friend or someone you share history with.
“If you’ve always had a thing for your best friend but you never told them, now is the time to discuss,” she says. “Any surprises in that route of relationship matters can be lethal to the business.” Remember what happened between the co-founders (and ex-romantic partners) Whitney Wolfe and Justin Mateen of Tinder?
Viola made sure to have this discussion with her friend and business partner Matthew, so as not to run into any situation that could potentially hurt their business. “Once things get awkward, it will be very difficult to stay professional at that point without letting personal emotions come into play,” she says. “The friendship can suffer and so will the business. A startup takes long hours and hard work to make it successful, so you and your business partner/best friend will have to spend a lot of time together.”
Pick a partner who is hungry to succeed.
You want a partner who is as passionate about the business as you are, so seek out individuals who share your commitment and your drive. “Look for someone who is involved with their craft outside of regular business hours,” says Shannon. “If you are looking for a good developer, attend local meetups within the coding community.”
Why does this matter? “Because if they are spending their own free time to attend these meetups, they are passionate about what they do, and it will reflect in their work,” he says.
“Your potential partner should be as hungry to succeed as you are,” says Jim.
He adds that this drive for success will also help establish equality in the relationship. “If one person has all the money and the other has all the expertise, there can be bitterness. If you’re both struggling and you both put everything you have on the table, you’re going to work equally as hard to be successful. You’re both going to get the same rewards and go through the same triumphs.”
Consider a partner in a different field.
While it might be tempting to look for partners who know your industry as well as you do, a business partner doesn’t need to have your same same skill set, training, and experience. In fact, it’s a good idea to look for a partner who brings a different viewpoint and work history to the table.
Partnering with someone who has a different background and skill set can help both you and your business partner, as you may be able to leverage your differing strengths and weaknesses.
“Know your strengths and weaknesses so you can choose a business partner to fill in where you fall short,” suggests Viola. “It works even better with someone who is different from you so that you can get a perspective of things you never think of.”
Not only will this lend your business fresh perspective, it can also eliminate squabbles. “If you and your partner both have expertise in public relations, you’re always going to be arguing over who is right and who is wrong,” says Jim. “I’m a marketing guy and my co-founder is a developer, so I don’t question his stuff and he doesn’t question my stuff, mainly because we don’t really know what the other person does. It works out great that way.”
Having a business partner can help lead a business to greatness, but don’t feel the pressure to rush into anything.
Worse than not having someone to partner with would be choosing a business partner with different goals, a work style that doesn’t mesh with your own, or a personality that clashes with yours.
Jillian sums it up nicely:
“To other entrepreneurs, I would recommend that they find someone that has as much passion as they do in their business.
Being an entrepreneur is hard, there are long days, and it can be lonely at times. Having a great co-founder will help them get through these hard times.
It will only work if both people have passion for the business and truly believe in what they are doing.”