First of all, let's be honest. The number of businesses that fold due to bad partnerships is staggering. In some cases, they are charlatans, in others inept business people, and others find themselves unable to scale with any growth.
And then, there's you. Struggling to get all your information inputted into whatever CRM package you use, keeping up with your books, trying to determine if this piece of data goes here or there, and then, putting on whatever hat you have to wear that day to get the job done and bracing yourself for the mental breakdown you seem destined to have any day now.
There has to be a better way, and when you decide to partner with someone, whether that is to produce for your company, handle a certain aspect of your business (such as bookkeeping or marketing), choosing partners by proxy or in an ad hoc fashion is never good. You have to hire them, just like an employee.
And that means asking them questions. Tough questions that you may not feel comfortable knowing the answers to, but you still have to ask them. When you consider how many people are really not good at communication in general and interviewing in specific, it's no wonder that many companies struggle to build high-quality partnerships - or even staffs.
We've covered systems ad nauseum in these pages, but the truth is, you have to start somewhere, so I went back over the last 40 years and decided to reverse engineer the questions that you really need to ask and give them to you as examples of the sorts of things that you should ask any potential business partner, regardless of the size of their company.
· First of all, do they actually understand what your company does? Here's a hint - you have to understand that, too ... and it can be harder than you might think if your still among the smallest of the small and starting to scale - where is that growth going? Where does it lead you? Any partner - right or wrong - can lead your company into areas that you are no longer an expert at.
· What technology platforms or software do they use and are they complementary to your own suites and styles? This is far deeper than Mac versus Windows, but if they use Infusionsoft and you're using Constant Contact, or Xero and QuickBooks, understanding how things get done - schedulers, payables, payroll, commissions, etc... are all critical. Best to air out any challenges long before you get too far entangled.
· How do they - as principals and as a company - handle challenges and issues? Do they have systems in place? Are they playing fast and loose with the business or do they have a structure complementary to your own?
· Along those same lines, in the course of your own due-diligence, is your potential partner proactive or reactive? It may seem silly to ask for references, but you are staking your business and reputation on their actions. The truth is out there and you have to get it.
· How much room do they have to scale? If your own business is at the point where you need help, and your partner's is as well, is it even possible that you can create more business from two entrepreneurs that are already "maxed out?" Unlikely. Find out now instead of later, when you are faced with twice the deliverables and a partner that went to Tahiti
· Last but not least - are they personally organized in a fashion similar to you? Certainly, some of us are more disorganized than others, but if they are a slob in real life, chances are, their business is run the same way. Understanding how they work - and live - can keep you from having your data and reputation compromised due to a careless partner.
Your own business growth and success depends on many things and along that growing path, you are going to have to concede certain responsibilities and activities - whether for your accounting, your production, or day-to-day management. The key to succeeding in all these is, of course, creating the systems to do so, but those have a way of being addressed too late. At the very least, these questions can help you to formulate the plans that will make you more successful.