Running a One-Person Business mentors Paul and Sarah Edwards Respond:
A partnership is like a marriage in important ways, like requiring a high level of trust and the fact that not anyone will do. And, as in marriages, divorce is common; in fact it' s more so in partnerships. Since the divorce rate is running at 53%, you should proceed carefully in taking an important business risk with less than a 50-50 statistical outlook. Unfortunately business breakups are often unpleasant and expensive. We have tracked over a hundred different businesses since 1989 and for some of our books, we turn to these people for their experience. So when we added a chapter on "Overcoming Obstacles" to Secrets of Self-Employment, we asked our business owners about their worst business experiences. Overwhelmingly, the worst experiences involved failed partnerships. So, when we turned to this same 100+ businesses about a year later when writing Teaming Up: The Small Business Guide to Collaborating, to ask them about the ways in which they collaborated and how interested they were in collaborating in the future, we were surprised to learn that 61% were actively engaged in some form of business collaboration and 70% wanted to do more in the future.
Does hope spring eternal or is there a rational way to explain this? We think both are true. First, there are compelling reasons, such as your own, for finding co-venturers. Second, there are more ways to collaborate than having a partnership, which requires a high level of intimacy, albeit business intimacy. Intimacy does not develop from a contract, however laboriously and carefully drafted.
So our advice in finding a partner is to "date first." Engage in some of the other forms of business collaboration, such as jointly bidding on projects, subcontracting with another firm or principal, engaging in cross-marketing efforts, or making mutual referrals. It's a lot easier to find someone for these more limited risks than to find a full partner.
It may be that these lesser forms of collaborating make you more profitable or they may require more time than you realize in financial gain, but since your ultimate objective is to acquire a partner, you can consider this "dating" as an investment.
While you're engaged in these less-involved forms of collaborating, observe the behavior of the company or person you're working with, listen to their "war stories," particularly about litigation or financial problems, and notice your own emotional reactions to the interactions you have. If all signs are "go," then proceed to proposing.
How do you find people or firms you can collaborate with? You may do it online in listserv groups, on message boards and via their web sites; reading what they write or is written about them in print publications pertinent to your interests. But most people are more comfortable with contacts they make either through referrals by "gatekeepers" and colleagues or through contacts they make at meetings and events. Gatekeepers are often active participants in their professional organizations so attending such functions is a good way to meet them. Since you're located in Fairfield, driving to the Bay Area or Silicon Valley may not be your favorite use of time, but these areas will provide you with the opportunity to make more contacts.
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The Art (Not Science) of Picking the Right Partner