As a business coach, I am often consulted by wannabe women entrepreneurs and asked, "Should I ask 'so-and-so' to be my partner?" I am never surprised by the question as I know how scary it is to launch a business all alone. Women, more often than men, wonder if having a sidekick will make the journey less frightening. Is it because women are brought up to believe that we need a partner in life and therefore in our business?
First, let me say that there is a big difference between having a business partner and a life partner. Although, even as I write this, I realize that more and more today the two are often indistinguishable. As an entrepreneur married for more than 42 years, I know that what I need in a mate in no way resembles what I might look for in a business partner. For instance, as I have told my husband many times, when I am ranting about business, "I don't want your opinion, I just want you to listen!" The first lesson in business partnership is to respect what each of you bring to the business and be prepared to act on the opinion of the partner best able to handle the situation. Successful partnerships are all about balancing the skills of the partners. For example, if you want to launch a retail business and your expertise is merchandising you probably don't need a partner to handle the details of accounting, real estate, legal or marketing. These are all positions that you can easily contract out and hold on to 100% ownership of the company. However, you may think you want to bring on a partner because of a financial opportunity. I suggest you think long and hard before making that decision. The consequences could be difficult.
In another scenario, you are starting a technology business of some type and your expertise is IT, you may very well need someone who specializes in sales, marketing and business operations to become a partner. The balance of skills may be just what is required to be successful.
The fact is there are no hard and fast rules of how to find the right partner for any business that I know of. But, there are a lot of things to think about before divvying up the equity in your business.
As a fan of Shark Tank, I notice that the majority of businesses profiled on the show are partnerships. I'll bet that since the show first aired in August of 2009 more businesses in America are partnerships that ever before. (I hope someone will research this for me and email me the answer). But, the show doesn't share any downside of business partnerships and I'm here to tell you they exist and they destroy small businesses every day in America. Miserable business partnerships keep me and many of my colleagues in business and they don't move the company they fight over forward.