I am a small-business owner and our products are selling really well. We’re growing. But as we grow, I realize, as I am truly a creative designer and thinker, there is a need for a partner who is skilled in areas of business that I am not; securing capital to grow, handling the financial and legal matters, etc. Where does someone begin to seek out a partner?
Sairey Gernes, SGDstyle, www.SGDstyle.com
Business partnerships are like marriages — you need to find someone who is both compatible and complementary to you in ways that can grow the business. That takes time, so go slow on the partnership idea.
For now, form an advisory board — a few experienced businesspeople who can help answer the types of questions you are asking. Ask your family, friends, banker, lawyer and accountant for recommendations. Organizations like the Small Business Development Center or SCORE can also connect you to people who can help. A student intern is another option. They won’t have all the skills you need but you may be surprised at the life experiences of some students. A few years ago, a local group was looking for a student intern with knowledge of Asmat art — we found one with the experience they wanted.
Start with an employee rather than a partner. Find someone with the high-priority skills you need. And if it doesn’t work out or you don’t need their skills long-term, it’s a lot easier to separate from them than a business partner.
Finally, work your personal and professional networks. Ask people who know your business if they know someone who might be interested. Attend events that attract the type of partner you are seeking. And use LinkedIn or other social media sites where there are interest groups related to your business. A local software company announces their job openings there, and even seeks job candidates based on profiles.
As your business grows, taking in a partner may make sense. But take the time to find the right partner. You could avoid a lot of heartache.
About the author: Mark Spriggs, Schulze School of Entrepreneurship, University of St. Thomas, mtspriggs@ stthomas.edu