Choosing your business partner may well be the most difficult business decision you’ll ever make, and on so many levels. The best advice I can give you is that if you have an ounce of doubt, then don’t do it.
Based on my own bitter experience and that of others around me, this checklist of 10 attributes to look for when sounding out a potential business partner helps break down what is a mammoth decision into more manageable chunks.
1. Demonstrable integrity/trustworthiness
It’s really important that whoever you take on operates with the same or a very similar code of conduct to yourself. The acid test for me is “would I let this person go to see my best client unaccompanied, safe in the knowledge that he or she would take the relationship forward, as opposed to sending it backwards?”
2. Established track record as an independent
Is there evidence that they are capable of both selling and delivering consultancy work, making clients happy and winning repeat business?
3. Capable of sourcing work (not needy)
The last thing you need is someone who is dependent on you to provide them with work. A genuine partner can source work for themselves, you, and anyone else in the business. They are looking out for the firm, not just themselves.
4. Communication skills
Can they communicate with others in a way that establishes and develops relationships? Sometimes technical excellence comes at a price, often in the shape of interpersonal skills!
5. Seizing the initiative
Are they good at spotting opportunities and capitalising on them?
6. Putting the client first
It’s all about the client, and the client’s experience. Do they give any evidence that they believe this and genuinely try to live it out?
7. Confidence and courage
Do they give off an air of confidence and self-assurance, without being arrogant? If they feel compromised or conflicted, do they have the courage to walk away from assignments and clients in a professional manner?
8. Business acumen
Do they display business acumen? In other words, are they capable of taking a holistic view of the business and its context in the marketplace, and then reach and implement sound commercial decisions for the benefit of the firm?
Authenticity is exceptionally important. Do they “walk the talk”? Do they live up to who they purport to be and what they stand for? Is their online image coherent with the carbon-based lifeform in front of you? There is a direct correlation between their authenticity and the reputation of the firm.
10. Technical excellence
Finally, their technical excellence is sometimes taken as a given, which could potentially be a mistake. Do they have material, either in the form of intellectual property or intellectual capital, which other people will be prepared to pay for? In other words, do they have technical know-how, expertise, and experience that can demonstrably add value?
The importance of checklists
I’m a great fan of checklists and have used them frequently in my books. If you’re struggling to assess whether you’ve found the right business partner or not, I would suggest scoring them out of 10 on each of the attributes above. I think you should be looking for a score of 70, with no scores below five if you are seriously thinking of engaging with someone.
I also strongly recommend that you run some kind of trial period to see if you can collaborate efficiently and effectively before you enter into any form of agreement.
One final word: make sure that any agreement provides for an orderly dissolution if a parting of the ways becomes necessary at a later date.