When you hear stories of successful business partnerships, like Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google, or Bill Gates and Paul Allen of Microsoft, it's easy to assume that having a partner is always better than going it alone.
Although that's not always the case, having a business partner certainly has advantages, especially if you're having trouble keeping up with rapid growth.
When a business partnership makes sense
Here are just some of the reasons that bringing on a partner could be a smart business decision and why other entrepreneurs made a similar choice.
You're spread too thin
Katie Holmes of review site OutwitTrade says, "At my prior startup, I was always extremely hesitant to take on a partner, and only took the plunge when the responsibilities of managing the business became too much to bear myself."
"With an increase in growth, multiplying responsibility, it can be hard to stay on top of all the needed tasks to be successful," adds Sarah Franklin, co-founder of digital PR firm Blue Tree AI. When you're approaching the point of overwhelm when you have to choose between scaling back or continuing to scale, it may be time to "look for a business partner to help stabilize income and regulate internal processes for a smooth-running workflow," Franklin says.
While some businesses may opt to hire more employees, sometimes you need someone who is as invested as you are in the company's success.
You need a cash infusion
Growth costs money. If you reach a point where you need an investor to help fund operating expenses, a business partner who can afford to buy ownership shares in the existing company can be a good choice—bonus points if they have industry experience or business connections that will help generate incremental revenue.
You need specific expertise
Adi Dzebic runs Bail Bonds Network, a bail-industry website, and recognized that "To boost our authority and expertise, I had to partner with a lawyer, bail agent and financial expert. This allows us to generate high-quality, relevant, and authoritative content and services."
Once he recognized the need for individuals with relevant credibility and authority, the partners "agreed on mutually beneficial terms" going forward. Since partnering, the company has experienced 30 percent growth in revenue and web traffic.
You need complementary skills
Annlan Tran and Katie Fleming agreed to partner to grow Studio Muse, a full-service salon and spa, because the two saw that they had different but complementary strengths. "Katie does the day-to-day tasks, such as product orders, opening the salon, meeting with vendors and beauty supply reps," Tran explains. "I deal with 'back-office' type work, such as payroll, taxes, insurance, and inspections."
While many partnerships are owned 50/50, that's not a requirement.
Different kinds of partnerships
The reason you're considering bringing on a business partner—such as for more help, more money, or more marketing might—will likely point you to the right form of partnership for your business. Consider these three main types.
- General. A common form of partnership is a general partnership, in which two or more partners agree to share equally the profits, assets, and liabilities that the business generates.
- Limited. In a limited partnership, a general partner assumes liability and responsibility for the company, while the limited partners contribute only their money and expertise. Often called "silent partners," the limited partners' liability is limited to what they have invested.
- Joint venture. When two companies work together on a project, they may form a joint venture. This keeps both business entities separate but creates a third, new entity for the particular initiative they are partnering on.
How to approach potential partners
Once you've decided that a business partner would benefit your company, first you need to find potential candidates. Some of the best ways include:
- Tapping into your network for recommendations
- Scouring social media for people with the skills you need
- Reviewing lists of angel networks, if you need a partner with financial backing
- Considering competitors and other industry players
Armed with names, start scheduling short meetings—by phone and in person—to get to know those who appear to be a good fit on paper.
Cull your list of candidates based on their interests, expertise, and personality. Ultimately, you need a partner with similar values, ethics, work habits, and goals.
If you're unsuccessful in finding a suitable business partner, consider hiring consultants or employees to fill the experience gap, you may have. You may discover your future business partner within that group.
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