COMING UP FAST: Playing the field

COMING UP FAST: Playing the field - DILEMMA: I've been trying to find the ideal business partner for ages, with no luck. It's damned lonely running the business on my own - I need someone to bounce ideas off. How can I find the right person?

by PATRICK DUNNE works with 3i
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

DILEMMA: I've been trying to find the ideal business partner for ages, with no luck. It's damned lonely running the business on my own - I need someone to bounce ideas off. How can I find the right person?

ISSUES: What's the real problem? Are you looking for the right thing? Could it be that you haven't been entirely honest and it's that you keep getting rejected?

What do you want a partner for? A soulmate, someone to share the management burden with, or something else? If you want an equal in terms of contribution and ownership, you need to be picky and play the field a little.

A good partner must have the same sense of ownership, possess complementary skills and be compatible with you, the business and the top team. But remember to assess the potential of your business first. If this is significant, a partnership may be just an interim step.

Finding the ideal partner is usually down to great networking or advertising. If you know any good partnerships, ask them how they got together and why it works so well. Look around in your sector and in the local business community. A frustrated young turk in a competitor might fit the bill.

Try a number of routes energetically, have a good pitch and be selective. If you aren't a natural networker it may take practice and you have to be prepared to experiment. As a good non-smoking female friend of mine said: 'The best thing I ever did was to have the courage to snog a smoker, he was great!'

When you've found a potential partner, understand their motives and decide on how much of the equity you're prepared to offer and when. See how they get on with your colleagues and test them out with a few live problems.

Remember, it's all too easy to overlook existing staff. Don't discount them, especially the young ones with potential.

ACTION

- Be clear and honest about why you want a partner.

- Go to the right parties.

- Never go all the way on a first date.

- Check out their past, and follow up references.

- Draw up a good prenuptial agreement, integrate them well and, for the sake of the 'kids', be clear on how you're going to divide responsibilities between you.

- Remember that you have to take a risk; being over-cautious makes for a dull relationship.

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