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Business Partners: 3 Essential Ingredients

One individual (or four) may embody these characteristics. In one way or another, you need these three traits to make your business thrive.
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Having partners can be a tremendous asset or a terrible liability.  If you choose correctly and get the right mix, your team can be unstoppable.  Pick wrong and your business can be torn apart.

So how do you find partners with the right skills and personalities to make it work? Check your prospective partners against these three criteria to find out if your team has the secret sauce or is a disaster waiting to happen.

1. The Visionary

In any good business, there is a big-picture thinker, a visionary.  The visionary has the ability to identify how all parts of the business fit together, and comes up with strategic ideas and big directives.  Big problems land on his desk as well.  The visionary often makes decisions more on instinct than on research.  He is indispensable because he can put his finger in the wind and feel which way the business should move, even if he cannot always explain why.  The visionary is constantly re-thinking how things get done, and advocating for change that will make the company better and more nimble.  He is not afraid to demand and make people uncomfortable when necessary.  He is the force that dreams the impossible for the company and refuses to accept anything less.

2. The Middleman

The middleman is the force that grounds the business and charts its path.

Without the middleman, the vision is no more than an interesting idea.  The middleman is crucial because he dares to criticize the vision, and irreplaceable because he is the most innovative when it comes to bringing the vision to life.  The middleman questions, plays devil's advocate, and troubleshoots.   He is the first to punch holes in the vision, but then figures out how to fill them—ultimately making the vision clearer.  The middleman understands the vision, and is able to translate it into an action plan, to transfer it from the realm of ideas to the real world. He is supple and looks for options. The rest of the company knows its role in developing and implementing the vision only thanks to the middleman's interpreting skills.

3. The Detail Guy

The detail guy owns the action plan, and insures that the business moves forward, one task, one project, and one objective at a time. The detail guy takes the road map designed by the middleman, and carefully navigates the company from point A to point Z, passing by each checkpoint laid out in the vision. He doesn't skip steps, doesn't lose track, and doesn't pay attention to outside influences. He executes, scrutinizes, and reports. The detail guy sends back confirmation that the road ahead can be traveled as the map indicates, and he raises the first warning flag when a detour must be drawn.  He gathers feedback, which can then be used to restructure the action plan or reshape the vision. The detail guy is the force that keeps the business moving and insures it stays the course.  

Whether you have a team of people who each embody one of the three ingredients, or one person who embodies them all is not important—the important factor is that all the ingredients are present.  Indeed, I've found most business owners have some of each ingredient within them, and over time, they learn to cultivate the ingredients they possess less innately.  What is non-negotiable is that each partner must recognize the category to which he belongs.  Herein lies the greatest danger: If there is a disconnection between the category to which someone thinks he belongs and the one in which he actually operates, the partnership will not last—and neither will the business.

Last updated: Feb 10, 2012

VANESSA MERIT NORNBERG | President, Metal Mafia

In 2004, Vanessa Merit Nornberg opened Metal Mafia, a wholesale body and costume jewelry company that sells to more than 5,000 specialty shops and retail chains in 23 countries. Metal Mafia was an Inc. 500 company in 2009.




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