10 Criteria For Selecting a Business Partner That Won’t Be a Total Disaster

You're basically "business married," so choose wisely.



Deciding to partner with someone in business is very much like marrying someone. You’re together everyday and you each have quirks that get on the other person’s nerves. Most importantly, you share ownership in a business — and nothing gets people crazier than dealing with money.

You can handle a tennis partner that doesn’t have a rocket serve, a golf partner that just can’t hit short putts and a bridge partners who makes bad bids. Of course you don’t like losing, but you can paste a smile on your face, shake hands and swear to yourself you will never get stuck with that loser again. Unfortunately, getting out of a business partnership with that “loser” is really difficult — and in some cases, it’s harder than getting out of a bad marriage.

Here are 10 criteria to use before agreeing to partner with someone:

1. Ability to Draw Clients: The stress of bringing in clients is much tougher than providing your actual service. Therefore when you’re looking for a partner, make sure they’re good at developing business. There is a real premium for people that can develop a book of business. If you can bring in money you can always find people who can do the work.

2. Good Writing Skills: A partner should have good writing skills so they can convey your story in no more than three sentences — and preferably one. Writing clear concise proposals and finished client work helps to retains clients.

3. Good Verbal Communication Skills: The person needs to be quick on their feet, have a pleasant voice and be good at convincing others why they should do business with you.

4. Detail Oriented: In a partnership both people have to be detail oriented. They need to be interchangeable. If one partner is out the other partner has to be able to jump in and handle whatever comes up.

5. Good Networking Skills: You never want to bring in a partner who isn’t good at networking and bringing in business. I know a lot of partnerships work with one person making the rain and the other person doing the work. Unfortunately, the person bringing in the clients usually gets tired of being the sole breadwinner. They become resentful and think they’re better on their own, and can hire someone who isn’t taking half the income and equity.

6. Good Follow-Up Skills: You want a partner that follows up with people within 24 hours or less. It’s a good way to prove that when they say something, they get it done. I had a partner that I had to constantly follow up with to make sure they were getting work done. I felt I didn’t have a partner, but an incompetent employee. Unfortunately, I was stuck with him and his salary. I should have partnered with him without legally entering into a partnership agreement, where we each owned half the company.

7. Handles Pressure Well: There is a lot of pressure in any business, even one where there is a demanding market. The pressure to get, maintain and retain clients is incredible. You want someone who is unflappable and even-keeled. You want someone logic-driven not emotionally driven. Spirited discussion is good, but one side screaming down the other or collapsing under the pressure of the work isn’t going to be productive. You want someone who has a positive disposition every day because that’s what it takes to handle the ups and downs of business.

8. Good at Multitasking: Few startup consulting firms have staffs, which requires the partners to be able to do multiple things simultaneously. If one person handles more than the other, that will cause strife. If you take someone from a large company as a partner, it’s often a huge transition from having support staff to no one handling your everyday needs. Make sure your partner has had experience handling multiple tasks without help. I had a partner who was a major executive at a large company and he ran a small group that ran like a mom-and-pop shop. He even had to get his own coffee. I knew I had the right guy when past employees talked about his ability to juggle lots of things.

9. Database of Contacts: This goes back to being a good networker.

10. Ability to Interact with High-Level Professionals: Not everyone is good at pitching to leaders. Some people get very nervous. Yet, you really need someone who can interface with other CEO’s to close a deal and/or handle the communication while a project is in motion. A good partner needs to be able to project self-assuredness and intelligence so the client will have confidence.

Always test drive a car before you buy it and don’t just pick the first car that looks good. Take a few out and see which one you are most comfortable with. Stay away from best friends. It has been my experience many best friends become even better enemies.