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Finding a Partner 

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Business > Ask an Expert

Finding a Partner

An exercise in value sharing.


Partnerships can be a great way to grow your business. But as everyone who has been involved with a partnership knows, they can come with their own unique set of challenges. Along with his or her expertise and contacts, a partner brings new ideas, goals, and management styles that may or may not match your own. But don’t worry; if you’re thinking of turning your solo operation into a partnership, you can find an ideal match by being strategic. Here’s how.

Most people base their partnership strategy on skill sets. They either look for someone with similar skills who can take over and give them a break when they need one, or someone with complementary skills who can do the work they either don’t like doing, or aren’t good at.

While both strategies serve their purpose, neither effectively deals with the number one reason partnerships fail: incompatible values.

If it’s going to work, the process of finding an ideal partner must essentially be an exercise in value sharing. Like a marriage, neither partner will know exactly what the relationship is going to look like until after they’ve made the commitment. However, when you articulate your values and expectations as clearly as possible from the start, and ask potential partners to do the same, the odds of a great match are significantly increased.

Before you walk down the “partnership aisle,” take some time to document your own values and expectations. Then provide personal definitions for them. For example, if you value “integrity,” you might say, “I believe it is important to always follow through on my commitments.”

The definition is important because people often attach different meanings to different values. Take “work ethic,” for example. You might believe it’s important to work as much or as late as needed to do an excellent job while your partner might feel it’s important to do a great job within defined office hours, in order to maximize home/family time. If these differences were not brought forward early enough, a conflict would inevitably emerge, perhaps to the detriment of the partnership.

Going through a values-sharing exercise with potential (or existing) partners is an effective way to bring discrepancies to light, before they become deal breakers. This will help you understand who you’re getting into business with, and how you might approach conflicts before they occur. So it’s important that everyone be as thorough and honest as possible from the start.

There is no such thing as a perfect match, but with the right information on the table, and open minds, it is possible to build a partnership that feels like one. The goal is to identify a set of corporate values that everyone can agree to. And if you’re part of a partnership already, you can still collectively develop your corporate values for the same purpose.

Once partners have identified their personal values, bring them together to begin looking for the “corporate overlap.” For example, if all partners have“integrity” as one of their personal values, then a collective, corporate definition can be worked out, which could look something like: “Integrity: when any one of us gives our word to a client, the entire organization is obliged to follow through on that promise.” At this point, it might be a good idea to bring in an outside consultant with no vested interest to make this exercise as smooth as possible.  

A shared set of corporate values is the key to a successful partnership. Once they are agreed on, they become the organization’s foundation for decision making; when in doubt, defer to the corporate values. By following this strategy, a partnership can continue to work as well as everyone dreamed it would, the day it was formed.

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