Five Questions to Ask Your Potential Business Partner
The road as a solo business owner or entrepreneur can be pretty tough to handle on your own. It’s a natural tendency for us to want to partner up with someone else, especially when the going gets tough. But before you jump into business with another person, be sure to ask your potential business partner these five important questions.
I came up with these questions from my own experience. This past year, I broke up with my former business partner, and then after just a few months back on my own I jumped right back into another partnership.
Some might say that I was just on the rebound. But I learned a lot from my first partnership about why it didn’t work, and as a result I am approaching this new partnership very differently. From the very start, my new business partner and I have had some very meaningful and sometimes difficult conversations that have centered around the following topics…
Have you talked about how it’s going to end?
Just like with any new relationship, it’s so exciting and energizing at the beginning! We naturally want to talk about all of the things we have in common, and show only the best side of ourselves to each other.
But rather than focusing on the beginning of the relationship, it’s much more important to talk about the END. As in, how are we going to end this partnership? It’s not very likely that the business is going to be around for the rest of your lives, so what are the 5-year, 10-year and life goals for each of you? And how are you going to resolve it when one partner wants out?
Where are you at in life, and in your career?
We all go through phases in our life when we have more time and energy than at other times. So honestly identifying and discussing where you are at in life and in your career can help in setting clear expectations for each other.
Or more importantly, you might discover that you are in totally different places in your life and/or your career. For example, one of you may be ambitiously starting out your career, and hungry to grow and achieve world domination! That is going to be a very different mental state from the person that is just a few years away from retirement, and coasting until they can spend their days practicing their golf swing. Get what I mean?
What do you bring to the table?
By definition, a partnership is where two or more people share ownership in a business. This implies an underlying sense of equality that is so important to a successful partnership. So, are you both bringing something to the table? If not, then one partner might be frustrated that they are pulling more weight than the other.
Keep in mind that it doesn’t always have to be a 50/50 split for everything, and in fact I don’t recommend that (see question 5 below). There are many ways to contribute to a business: time, money, equipment, real estate, client list, network, etc. The important thing is that you both feel that the breakdown is equitable and fair to both parties.
Along those lines, another important factor is whether or not you have similar work ethics. Seems obvious, but someone that likes to pour themselves into their work might not get along that well with someone that values their free time.
What role(s) will you play in the business?
On a similar note, do you have different but complimentary skill sets and business strengths, or are they pretty similar? My experience is that it works best if you have different skill sets, so that you can each be responsible for different parts of the business (and not be constantly butting heads). Establishing roles and guard rails for each person can go a long way toward setting clear expectations.
One way to learn more about each other’s strengths (and yes, possible “areas for improvement”) is to take a personality assessment like the DISC profile. Take the test separately, and then sit down together to review your results. It’s fun to discuss your results, and discover surprises about each other and possibly yourself too!
Can you disagree, and who is driving the bus?
We’re taught that disagreeing and arguing are negative things that we shouldn’t do. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t do them. There will most definitely be times when you don’t agree with your partner.
So how are you going to handle that, especially if one or both of you are conflict averse? From my days as a project manager, I found that learning some basic conflict resolution strategies really help when you’re in these situations. Just like most things, conflict resolution is a skill that should be practiced in advance of a heated conversation.
At the end of the day, though, there might be times when you simply can’t come to a consensus on a decision. That’s why it’s important to determine who will be the tie breaker, or as I like to say, the bus driver. Decide in advance who is going to have the final say, and all have to respect that decision and get behind it.
In the end, the goal of these questions is not to start the relationship off on a negative note. It’s more about setting the groundwork for open, honest conversation that will create a strong foundation for a long-lasting partnership and a successful business.