Start a business with a partner
Business partner relationships are often compared to marriage -
and not without reason. Entering into a business partnership is no
small commitment. You're going to spend more time with them than
anyone else while you set up and run the business. The fate of your
idea lies half in their hands. Which means you need to be damn sure
you're on the same wavelength.
Partnering really isn't for everyone. This guide will help you
figure out if you want to partner and, if you do, how to start
finding the right person for the job.
- Balance your skill set. Choosing a partner who
excels in the areas your weaker in makes your business stronger all
round. This in turn makes investors and banks more
- Split costs and share
- Less lonely. Having a business means you have
someone who understands what you're going through as well as
someone to work with.
- Sharing responsibility. Big decisions and big
debts are a huge emotional strain. Having someone to talk things
out with is a real relief.
- Bigger network. A business partner brings with
them their own set of contacts - and if you choose wisely, they'll
have access to the people you need. Though this shouldn't
necessarily be a priority for getting a partner, as an investor can
probably open more doors.
- Means one of you can take time off while the
other holds the fort - often a rare luxury in the startup
- Better ideas. Having someone to bounce ideas
off, who has a different outlook to you, will push the creative
thinking of the business further.
- Sector knowledge. If you're moving into an
industry you don't necessarily have much or any experience in,
joining forces with someone who does can save a lot of hassle and
- Expertise. Similarly, bringing in someone who
has more experience in business than you can help you avoid the
pitfalls many startups fall into.
- Risk to your relationship if
you knew the person previously. Be very aware of the delicacies of
mixing business with pleasure.
- Risk potentially to your bank
account as well if things go pear-shaped and you haven't
drawn up proper contracts. Plus, there's always the - admittedly
small but still real - risk the person you choose to partner with
will screw you over.
- Risk to your business idea as you can't really
know how things will turn out with a partner until you've committed
to working with them. You're at least in part placing the fate of
your business idea and ambition in their hands.
- Falling out over big decisions. While
differences of opinion are what often develop ideas to their
optimum stage, it can also be very frustrating when you really
believe your way is better and you have to either compromise or do
- Less independence in many respects - precisely
because of the reason mentioned in the previous point. If you're
very headstrong and have a tendency to always believe in your won
ideas without being particularly flexible about it, a partnership
probably isn't the right way forward for you. However, in some ways
a partner can also afford you more independence, if you're both
sure of and stick to your roles - as you will have more time to
explore the areas you're strongest in and so develop these further
in your own direction.
- Different amounts to invest can make things
- Much more difficult if things start going wrong with
the company as you're both jointly responsible for
everything - it just makes things more tangled.
- Conflict over being the leader. One party is
prone to get at least a little jealous if the other is always the
one receiving praise or heading up the business and out there
networking. Working tirelessly behind the scenes while your partner
is out there doing the glory tasks can feel incredibly thankless.
Leadership issues can also be problematic if you already have an
idea and a sense of how you want things to work - you have to be
very careful not to come across as the other person's boss. If you
want a partner, you have to be willing to treat them as an equal,
not an employee.
- Difficulty resolving conflict. It's nigh-on
impossible to judge how you and a potential partner will fare in an
argument together and how easily you both compromise until you're
so far in to the business that a really hairy problem has come
- Hard to find the right person. This is one of
the greatest challenges facing business starters who don't have an
obvious choice in mind. Look at the section below for starting
points, and don't be defeated easily in your search. That said,
it'll always be better to go ahead solo than start a business with
someone you don't completely trust or who isn't really the right
fit for what you're doing.
What to look for in a business partner
You'd be lucky to find someone who ticks all these boxes, but
this is the ideal checklist for your partner:
- Someone with skills and experience in the areas you're
- Experience in the sector or in the role you'd
picture them having.
- If you already know them, someone you feel you can
easily resolve conflict with and work with - and
that's very often not just your best mate. Try to keep things
slightly more at arm's length.
- A character that'll complement yours and so
benefit the working relationship. You definitely don't want anyone
with a short temper or who's prone to being domineering.
- Same ambitions as you.
- Same values.
- Same work ethic as you and same idea of how
much time you want to put into the business.
- Ideally, roughly the same amount to invest in
the business as you - or, more to invest if you
need a financial boost - just make sure you have contracts in place
to protect both parties and keep things fair.
- Someone with access to resources you don't
have but want.
- A business network that'll
complement the business.
- Trust. An absolute must. Is you don't trust
them, don't partner with them. There's no question there.
- Belief in the business idea - and
determination to make it a success.
- Natural chemistry.
- Someone you naturally bounce ideas around with
and get equally excited about new concepts with.
- Ideally, someone with experience in a
How to find a business partner
- Assess your strengths and weaknesses and work
out what you need from a partner. Use the list above to draw up a
list of ideas attributes - something like a job spec. Work out
which attributes are most important, as you're unlikely to find the
partner of your dreams.
- Consider people you know. This can be
complicated by the issues mentioned above, but it can also give the
opportunity to build a fantastic business with someone you already
know, trust and like. Plus, you already know enough about them to
not have to spend loads of time and meetings trying to figure them
- Friends, family and business associates are,
as always, another good source. You'd be amazed at how often
there's a friend of a friend who's just the partner. Supplier or
expert you need. You just need to start asking around everyone you
- Get networking. The best place to meet a
potential business partner is face-to-face - then you instantly
know whether there's chemistry there and you could work together.
Go to industry events aimed at the people whose skill set you want,
or for relevant industries.
- Business partner brokerages aim to match
business partners. While you will have to pay a fee, they can
produce the goods where other options aren't working out. Try the
other avenues first, then give it a go.
- There are also websites specifically aimed at
matching business partners - see some in Resources below.
- Leaders of business networks - which are worth
joining if you're looking to find a partner anyway - will hopefully
know enough members and be well connected enough to point you in
the direction of at least a few leads.
- Business coaches might also be able to help,
for the same reason - they know a lot of people in business. It
might help if you employ them to give you some training to sweeten
- Head-hunters are another option, although you
really will have to fork out for their services. Probably only
worth it if you either have plentiful cash reserves, are desperate
or are planning a fast-growth business that's going to require the
very top talent.
Starting up together - get it right
- Have plenty of meetings with anyone you're
considering before making any rash decision - you need to know them
well and trust them and their abilities implicitly before handing
over half the business to them.
- Try working on a couple of projects with them
to see if things work out, or even do a couple of weeks trial - bid
for work together and come up with ideas for developing the
- Meet up with anyone you're seriously considering in a
non-work atmosphere too - you want to make sure
there's a social bond there too.
- When you're nearing crunch time, jointly write out job
descriptions for how you see yourselves operating within
the business. It's very important to have your responsibilities
clearly defined to avoid conflict further down the line.
- You should both also talk in-depth about where you see
the company going and your hopes and goals for it, over
the next few months, year and future years - even exit plans. This
makes sure you're both on the same page about the future.
- If you've decided you're going to go into business with
someone, get a contract drawn up as soon as
possible, and certainly before either of you put any money
down. Though it may seem there's no need for this now, it will help
avoid conflict and problems further down the line.
- Hire a solicitor who specialises in company
formation and startups. They'll be able to foresee issues you may
- Decide which type of business is going to suit you best.
- Read more in our guides on company
- Your solicitor will also be able to help with this.
- Going forward, make sure you stick to your assigned roles, and
try to be diplomatic and compromise when necessary.
- MeetUp is a
great site for finding relevant groups in your area - join
entrepreneur and small business to groups to start scouting out
- Online matching services and places to find partners:
- Article: five tips on finding a partner
- Our feature on raising startup capital from
friends and family is not strictly about partnering but runs
through the issues involved with going into business with someone