The business world is full of big talkers with strong handshakes, but finding a partner you can trust amid all the power suits and power lunches can seem impossible.

But just like with dating, you often meet the right person when you least expect it. I met my business partners when we were working together at an ad agency. Back then, we weren't thinking of teaming up to start our own agency. We just knew we enjoyed working together. Over time, we became friends, and embarking on our own venture together was an easy decision.

Of course, not all partnerships survive the startup journey. Just consider Larry Sanger, the often forgotten co-founder of Wikipedia, or Facebook's Eduardo Saverin. As companies grow and evolve, it can be difficult to maintain the same relationship you and your partner had starting out, which is why you need to be on the same page from the very beginning.

Here are five things every successful business partnership needs:

1. Trust

It's become a clich in corporate team-building, but trusting your potential partner is crucial if you're going to lead an honest, transparent, and successful company. When my partners and I started our own venture, we were already familiar with each other's working styles and values. Our business was founded on trust we developed naturally over time, which made for a fairly pain-free partnership.

2. Complementary Skill Sets

Before you decide to partner up, make sure you know exactly which skills you each bring to the business. The best partners have skills you lack, so be open about your own weaknesses and areas of expertise.

Take Apple's founding team, for example. Steve Wozniak built a great product, and Steve Jobs had the vision to bring it to life. This partnership worked so well because each was an expert in his role.

3. Drive

Though it's a great idea to create a balance of different skill sets when you form your partnership, there's one thing that you should both have in abundance: drive. Even if one partner is more of a financial contributor and the other is the idea person, drive will keep the impetus for success alive and help your venture thrive.

4. Goal Alignment

For your company to succeed, both partners need to have similar outcomes and ambitions in mind. Aligning and realigning your goals should always be a priority. By regularly checking in on your goals and responsibilities and setting new goals, your partnership will remain intact--even as your venture evolves.

5. Continuous Self-Evaluation

To create a good balance of skills, motivation, and personality types, you need to scrutinize yourself as closely as you scrutinize your potential partner. If you know you have a tendency to be stubborn, write your partner a blank check to call you on it. If you've got the tech side of things covered but struggle with managing people, be honest about it.

My partners and I go through a self-evaluation exercise every year, and we also evaluate each other. Then, we have an open discussion in which we each give constructive feedback and pinpoint areas for growth.

A strong business partnership can be a wonderful thing. A good partner can offer additional skills and perspective and be your support system when things get tough. A good partner is someone you trust enough to be honest with you and who will always act with the company's best interests in mind. If he or she fulfills all the criteria above, the two of you are in for a long and happy business relationship.

This post was co-written by Luba Tolkachyov, co-founder and New Media Development at Gravity Media.

Published on: Oct 13, 2014
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