How To Pick a Business Partner

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If you’ve ever wondered how to pick a business partner, then you’re going to love this because we’re talking about partnerships and how sometimes they can go awry.

When you think of great partnerships you might think of…

Lois and Clark. Steve Wozniac and Steve Jobs of Apple. Or Larry Page and Sergei Brin of Google.

And these are all great teams and partners, but today I want to talk about the good and bad side of entering into a business partnership. Then we’ll dive into the most important questions to ask yourself before you pick a business partner.

My Business Partnerships: From Bad To Good

In my very first few weeks in business for myself, I wanted to create a product, any product almost, because I had learned that this was what you were supposed to do to leverage your time.

Of course, I’ve since learned a lot about building businesses online and launching products but here’s what happened next.

I started to work on creating a recipe book, but soon realized that it would take months to create all the recipes, take photos, edit, and design the thing.

So when a friend of mine approached me to partner on creating a recipe book together, I thought it was the perfect solution!

She was a master at creating recipes and taking photos, and had a bunch of them ready to go. We quickly agreed on a name for our book, and thought we had all the tough decisions made.

We forged ahead, and she started to send over her content. I started to put things together: with my writing and recipes alongside hers.

Unfortunately, we hadn’t really agreed on any of the big things for this project. In my mind, this was an equal partnership where we’d both be authors of the project.

In her mind, she was getting a free e-book designer in exchange for creating all the recipes and supplying photos.

As I worked on our project, my partner’s emails started to get more demanding. Asking to see proofs of the book, requiring changes in the way things were being worded or presented, and with each email things got more heated.

It became so bad that I didn’t want to work on the project anymore, and I avoided my inbox like the plague.

But the moment I knew I had to call off the whole project was when I felt physical stomach pains after reading an email from my partner.

Finally, I called her and we mutually decided to part ways.

We both felt the same intense sense of relief after we dissolved our partnership, and since then we’ve gone on to publish our own individual recipe books to much success on our own.

The moral of the story here is that you shouldn’t partner with someone because you feel like you’re lacking something or because you don’t think you can do it by yourself.

You can always hire a designer, a virtual assistant to help schedule and keep things on track, and you don’t need to make every new friend a business partner.

How To Pick a Business Partner So It Adds To Your Success

Now I’d love to contrast this story of partnership gone wrong with another time where partnership helped my business bloom. This time I was partnering with designer extraordinaire Natasha Lakos, and we had clear expectations and boundaries set upfront.

She did the design, my team and I did the implementation. We both brought new clients into the fold, and we were always on the same page, even when things got tricky.

When it was time for me to move on from web design entirely, our partnership evolved naturally and we’ve been able to continue to send potential clients to each other in different capacities, too.

More recently, my husband and I have also partnered in new business projects through our AmbitionAlly brand. We’re developing software and WordPress plugins together, and we’ve got big plans for things to come next.

I’ve had quite a few questions about how we balance our personal relationship and our business relationship, so stay tuned for a future Off The Charts episode all about this topic! In this case we’re quite literally married and business allies, too.

Different Types of Business Partnerships

As you can see, these are just a few of the different types of business partnerships.

You can look at short term partnerships like joint ventures, where two people team up for a cross-promotion, or to create an offering together.

Then, there are strategic alliances like complementary businesses sending each other clients. And of course, the one type of business partnership many of us think about first: the long term business partnership.

One thing that I’ve learned about taking on new business partners is that if you wouldn’t be willing to marry the person, you shouldn’t be forming a business partnership together.

Partnership in life is a lot like partnership in business, it is not to be taken lightly.

If you are considering taking on a business partner, it’s a good idea to start off with a small project or something that allows you to work together without the high stakes that most of us jump into at first.

My colleagues Nisha Moodley and Sarah Jenks have done just that: starting out by hosting a free call together, then gradually increasing their level of partnership to where they’re now hosting an in person event together.

It’s also a good idea to look for a partner who complements you. If your business partner is like a clone of you, it won’t be as much of a beneficial partnership.

On the other hand, if you’ve got totally different ideas about where the project or business is headed, you’ll definitely want to avoid forming a partnership.

Another example is the incredible set of speakers that are presenting at Off The Charts Live. These powerful women entrepreneurs are joining together, in a 2-day mini-partnership and I’m honored to be associated with them and to present them to you.

Curious to find out more about who’s gracing the stage? Click here to read the full all-star speaker line-up.

How To Pick a Business Partner

So before you undertake your next joint venture or partnership consider these questions:

  • Where do you see this project or business going in the next few years?
  • Do you see it as something that will become a long standing product or offering of your business for a long time?
  • Who is responsible for keeping the project going if someone wants to “buy out”?
  • How will you divide the sweat equity, the work, and any financial investments with ownership of the project or business?

What Are Your Partnership Tips?

Now I want to hear your partnership stories, good or bad. Leave a comment below with how you’ve been able to use partnerships to grow your business, or what partnership lessons you’ve learned.

16 Comments

  1. daphne cohn on May 7, 2014 at 11:22 am

    this is excellent Nathalie. I loved the stories- they really helped illustrate your points. I’ve had several business relationships that didn’t make it and ONE that did – happens to be with my husband which just proves your point – business relationships are just like a marriage.

    I’ve also built my business on incredible JV & affiliate relationships.

    Great video!



    • Nathalie Lussier on May 7, 2014 at 4:01 pm

      Thank you Daphne!

      It’s so interesting that you mention your husband and that partnerships are like marriage, definitely found that to be true. :)

      Love that you’ve done well with JVs and affiliate relationships too!



  2. Anne on May 7, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    Thanks Nathalie!

    I started a business several years ago with my best friend. I thought because we had been such good friends for so long that we would be great business partners!

    It ended up being a total disaster. We had different levels of commitment, and it almost destroyed our friendship. After a serious heart to heart, we ended up closing up shop and getting back on track as friends. The story had a happy ending for our friendship, but it was a rough 2 years in business!



    • Nathalie Lussier on May 7, 2014 at 4:03 pm

      Oh wow Anne, thank you so much for sharing – in the hopes someone else who was considering this takes a page out of your book. :)

      I totally hear you though, and I’m happy it ends with a happy friendship!



  3. Linda Basta on May 7, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    hi1
    loved your post!

    My situation is a bit different.
    I have an ebook and pain related sites & blogs, but I sell a physical product called RealTime Pain Relief. (pain cream).
    I do some marketing on line, but most people are making the best money doing vendor booths at health shows and flea markets.
    Because i am handicapped and pretty much ‘homebound’, I am looking for persons in the Buffalo, NY area that would ‘partner’ with me , since I cannot do them myself. I can train, support, and even help with expenses to some degree.
    didn’t mean to make this post like an ad, but my question is … just make them a Distributor under me and only earn a quite limited amount of override income, or… ‘hire them’ with some type of written agreement..which I find a little scary.
    I love this product and this company and hate to give up on it.
    Any comments or advise?
    Linda



    • Linda Basta on May 16, 2014 at 9:14 pm

      any advice for me?



      • Nerissa Marbury on April 20, 2015 at 9:06 am

        Linda,

        It sounds like you already answered your own question.

        “I can train, support, and even help with expenses to some degree.”

        “make them a Distributor under me and only earn a quite limited amount of override income”

        In either case you should have a written agreement.



  4. Bianca Forbes on May 7, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    Hey Nathalie,

    This is a really good topic! I’ve wanted a business partner – long term for quite some time.

    I’ve carried out short term projects with people. That’s been helpful to get a feel and more clarity around the kind of person I want to work with.

    I currently help other entrepreneurs set up and run their business as a partner – close to a COO. The irony is having to put a CEO hat on and have a COO for myself!

    How long did it take for you to get into a good groove with the partnership that worked?



    • Nathalie Lussier on May 8, 2014 at 3:33 am

      Hey Bianca!

      I love that you offer your services as a partner / COO, and it’s great to know this kind of support is available for people out there. :)

      For the partnerships that worked, getting into a groove didn’t usually take very long… a few weeks at most? I think there’s just something that “clicks” (at least for me) and things start to flow because we’re a good fit from the start. It could be different for everyone though. :)



  5. Naomi Goodlet on May 7, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    I’ve done quite a few really successful JV’s and am about to embark on my first ever partnership to create a product with someone else. Thankfully we were upfront about our expectations upfront, we also resonate really well on the results that we want to create for our clients. I’m feeling positive!



    • Nathalie Lussier on May 8, 2014 at 3:34 am

      That’s great Naomi! I think the fact that you have successful JVs under your belt is going to help with the partnership you’ve got coming up. :)

      Excited for you!



  6. Pip Brennan on May 13, 2014 at 9:47 am

    I was just discussing this very topic yesterday! I think all of your suggestions are great, and would add:
    Consider doing something like a DISC Pair profile to get a heads-up about how compatible your personalities and working styles really will be
    Ensure there is an exit agreement in place (I guess like a pre-nup!)
    For me the JV and short term project resonates best – keep it simple!



    • Nathalie Lussier on May 14, 2014 at 11:42 am

      I like the idea of taking some profiles / tests to understand how you work together – what a great idea Pip!



  7. Amanda on May 19, 2014 at 4:16 pm

    Very well timed to read/watch… In the early stages of building a partnership with someone, I’m going to make sure those questions can be answered & will opt out or in.
    Thanks Amanda



  8. Nerissa Marbury on April 20, 2015 at 9:11 am

    Great post! I’m currently bringing on strategic partners versus business partners or employees. My strategic partners are the first tier of folks or businesses I go to for projects I’m bringing in.

    It helps keep my business highly scale-able and overhead low compared to employees. However, it has the feel of a business partnership because we complement one another and send business to each other.



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