When it comes down to it, a lot of the questions you are going to ask yourself about a potential business partner are ones that you would ask yourself if you were dating with an intent for marriage. And, like marriage, the stakes are pretty high. So whether it’s for a long-term partnership or a one-off, it’s important that you vet each other fully before moving forward. And above all else, it’s important to get the specifics of your relationship down on paper, along with a solid out clause should you need it down the road.
Here are the questions I think every business partnership should cover:
1. You share the same values.
“Are we both moving in the same direction and do we want the same things out of this business relationship?” If your potential partner wants to be in and out of the business within 24 months and you want to grow an empire and pass it down to future generations, you are going to hit a wall really quick when it comes to strategic planning and goal setting. So, first and foremost, you want to make sure that you both want the same things for your business.
2. You have complementary conflict-resolution styles.
In any relationship, there are going to be good times and bad, and how you handle the conflict in your relationship says a lot about your partnership and its growth potential. Do you have similar conflict-resolution styles? When your potential partner is stressed, do they stay the course or cut and run? Do they have a history of such behavior? Learning about someone’s style before going into business with them will go a long way toward ensuring that a partnership withstands the test of time.
3. You have similar work ethics.
Here’s something I see a lot in business partnerships: One partner works 80-plus hours a week and is very goal and growth focused, while the other partner rarely shows up for work and when they do make an appearance, they spend their time on low-value tasks that don’t propel the business forward. Neither partner knew what to expect when they entered the partnership, and it ended in a lot of conflict. Before starting a partnership, discuss your goals and your work styles and create a plan for how to achieve those goals. Varied work styles can still work, but clear communication and a focus on high-value tasks is a must.
Even if you share the above three elements, there is always going to be an element of risk when entering into a partnership. But if you spend the time talking through different scenarios and getting to know each other in these areas, you will have a much easier time down the road dealing with issues and conflict that arise.