Does your skill set complement theirs?

By Jillian Kramer
January 21, 2021
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Have you ever wondered how to turn your dreams of owning your own business into a reality? We can help. Each week, as part of our Self Made series, we showcase female entrepreneurs—as well as their quality, handmade goods—and share their best advice related to starting, maintaining, and growing your own business.

Choosing a business partner is one of the most important decisions that you will make for your company. In fact, executive leadership coach Jo Ilfeld describes it as being akin to a marriage: You'll spend tons of time together, you'll have to talk through important decisions together, and your financial welfare is tied to the success of the other person. But how can you know if you've found "the one" for your business? Here are five signs that someone would make a good partner. 

You share a vision for your business.

A good partner will share the same vision for your business as you do, says executive and career coach Terry B. McDougall. Before you take on a business partner, McDougall recommends that you have several in-depth discussions to make sure you're on the same page. You can talk about areas of focus, your dream clients, and how the business can grow, to see where you both stand.

"Someone who wants to grow to world domination will not partner well with someone who just wants a modest income," points out Ilfeld. So, "have the conversation early about what kind of business you want. It might change later—but starting on the same page is a necessary step."

You have similar expectations.

If you're willing to put in overtime to see your business succeed. But if your potential partner is only willing to work so many hours, your partnership may not. That's why Ilfeld recommends talking to a potential partner about the expectations she has about work hours and availability. If you find you have a similar work ethic, your partnership is more likely to be positive, Ilfeld says.

You trust each other.

"When you're pouring your heart, soul, and money into a business, it's critical that you be able to trust your partner," says McDougall. Ideally, you've known a potential partner long enough to have witnessed them in action and established that trust, says McDougall. But if you're taking on a partner you don't know personally, then trust your gut: "If you're listening to this person tell you about their experience and there's something that doesn't ring true, be very skeptical," Ilfeld says. "Even the best contract won't protect you from someone who doesn't act in full integrity."

You have complementary skill sets.

Your partner should have complementary—and not competing—skills. For example, if you're a whiz with numbers but aren't exactly a people person, you might want to look for a partner who can schmooze with clients. With complementary skills, you won't risk arguing about who will take the lead with certain tasks; you can each just focus on your strengths, says McDougal.

You enjoy spending time together.

You'll log a lot of time with your business partner, so it's important you like one another, says Ilfeld. Partners "can work through a lot of differences," she says, "but if you're not motivated to spend time together, it will be hard to get past the first problems that arise." Ilfeld recommends you spend as much time together as possible before entering your partnership. "If you find yourself looking forward to more time with this person," she explains, "that's a great first sign."

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