Crash Course in: Finding a business partner

You want to set up your own business and you have the kernel of an idea. But rather than go it alone, you'd prefer to find a partner to share the load. The question is, how do you find that significant other?

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Get networked. Entrepreneurs rely heavily on networks, so join as many as you can, especially those specific to your industry. 'Approach it in a structured way,' says professor Nigel Lockett, director of the Leeds Enterprise Centre. 'Think about the opportunity you want to exploit and then set out to identify people who can help you.'

Consider brokers. A number of companies keep databases of potential enterprise directors. Organisations such as Directorbank (directorbank.com) are particularly good for finding an experienced pair of hands.

Look for complementary skills. Doug Richard, former Dragons' Den investor and founder of School for Startups, says most people's core competency falls into one of three 'buckets': sales, delivery or analytic. 'So you have to think about which one is you and then find the other two. It's a very common failing to hire people like yourself so you end up with three engineers, or three sales directors, and completely unbalanced.'

Seek input. Business ideas need a while to take shape, says Lockett. 'You have to continue evolving the business idea as you take it to market, and that means finding people who can help you to shape it.' Don't be afraid to look for people better than you, he adds. And find a partner who believes in the opportunity enough to be passionate about it.

Remember the T word. Trust - more specifically trustworthiness - is the most important quality you're looking for, says Richard. 'If you're running a business together, your partner will be doing stuff behind your back, so it's much better that you want to let him or her do that. The partner will also be watching your back.'

Do you have chemistry? Gut instinct is not a bad starting point, but you don't have to like the other person - it's more important to know you can work together even if you are opposite personalities. 'One thing that is important is to have the same work ethic,' says Dinah Bennett, director of the International Centre for Entrepreneurship and Enterprise (ICE). 'It's no good if one person turns round and says: "I'm doing all the work, he's not contributing."'

Get it on paper. You should always draw up some form of partnership agreement so that the details of what each is putting in and getting out are clear. 'It should cover things such as your vision, your plans, the resources each brings to the business, but also what happens if it is dissolved,' says Bennett.

Give it a road test. If you're not sure if it will work out, you can always invent some kind of trial. 'Working on a couple of smaller projects together is one way,' says Bennett.

Do say: 'This is my idea, I'm looking for someone to help me take it forward, with strengths I don't have.'

Don't say: 'Hey, you and me are so alike. We should go into business together!'

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