Are You Choosing the Right Business Partner? How to Know (Almost) for Sure

By Fergus Cleaver

Are you asking the right questions before committing to a business partner for your new endeavor?

The first question to ask, of course, is whether you need a business partner at all. But let’s set that aside and assume that, yes, you do need to share the load. What comes next?

It’s hard to overstate the importance of choosing wisely. Your business partner is basically your work spouse. You’re going to be working closely with him or her, hopefully for years, and probably on a more-than-9-to-5 basis. You need to get along, and you need to make sure that your interests are complementary—even if you live hundreds or thousands of miles apart and rarely meet face to face.

Business experts can and have written volumes on the process of finding the right business partner. These questions can set you on the right track, but they’re no substitute for the reasoned guidance of a small-business coach with knowledge of your personal situation.

Do You Trust Them?

It doesn’t get more basic than this. You don’t have to trust your business partner with your life, mind you. Just your livelihood and nest egg.

As tempting as it is, it’s not a good idea to rely solely on your gut when evaluating a business partner. Hopefully you’ve known your potential partners long enough to make a very informed decision. If not, it’s absolutely crucial to dig into their background and look for any red flags. The judgment part comes later, when you decide whether any red flags you find are disqualifying.

Are They Willing to Work With You on a Trial Basis?

You’re not hiring this person, remember. You’re entering into an equal partnership with them, one that will hopefully last for many years. In that kind of relationship, parting ways isn’t as simple as saying, “It’s not working out.”

More and more business partnerships are starting with trial runs—essentially, incubator phases wherein the partners work together without formally committing to a financial and legal partnership. If things go well, great—sign the dotted line. If not, no harm, no foul; go your separate ways and move on to the next adventure.

Do Your Strengths Complement One Another?

Great business partnerships are built on complementary strengths. You might be a great visionary and inspiring leader, but without a savvy numbers person who’s great at day-to-day management, you’re likely to struggle. Think of the ideal partner as a half-sibling, not an identical (or even fraternal) twin.

Do You See Eye to Eye on Your Long-Term Plans and Prospects?

Put another way: Do you and your partner want to be in roughly the same place five years down the road? Before formalizing anything, have a long chat with your prospective partner about your respective visions for the endeavor. If any big-picture disagreements arise, it’s probably better to cut your losses, as fundamental conflicts rarely turn out well for anyone involved.

What do you look for in a business partner?