How Do Entrepreneurs Identify Great Partners?

Great partners can help grow your business!Great partners can help grow your business!

Last week we talked about seizing opportunities. I got several notes saying it sounds simple to seize opportunities when you’re sitting in your great corporate job. How hard can it be to choose great partners when you’re able to attract the best the world has to offer? How can I as an entrepreneur decide who to partner with before my business takes off?

I thought this was a great Money Monday question. I’ll share how I chose my partners today and give you several ideas later this week to take what you learn and put it into action faster.

The first person you must be able to sell on opportunities is yourself. If you can’t see the opportunities you have to offer to someone else, they will never see it either. I picked up my most well-known client in 1986 when I was selling vacuums door to door.  I picked up my most influential partner right after I moved to Columbus in 1998. I knew no one in information technology at the time. The first was Berkshire Hathaway and the second was Microsoft.  The rest is history. Just kidding, but I believe I have many great clients because I know several things they don’t teach in business schools. After all, I have a BA degree in Photography and Design.

The first value you should look for in a partner is a clearly defined passion and purpose. It should be similar to your own. You should not be willing to compromise your values to seize a new opportunity.  All of my best partners have clearly defines values and purpose. It’s not hanging on the wall of their headquarters; it’s who they are and how they do business every day. It’s critical to learn not to believe everything you’re told, you must make your decisions based on facts and first hand observations.

The second value you should look for is they allow you to create value in your partnership. Sounds easy, but it can be very challenging. My early clients accepted that I was great at recruiting talent for their organizations. They accepted the way I did it because I knew it created unique value in their market places. Most of my best clients shared their challenges and then challenged my way of doing things.  I was willing to advocate my position when I started with them and over time they began seeing the results I promised. We had bumps along the road, but I was the first to share my concerns along the partnership path. Over time, I was given the freedom to do what I did best and learned to enjoy their unique strengths and capabilities.

The third value you should look for is they allow smaller organizations to leverage their larger reputation in the market.  We learned how they did things and then made suggestions to improve their effectiveness. I saw opportunities and leverage as two key components of our successful partnership. When they said it was bragging, when I said it was in context.  If you can learn to leverage others strengths, you will always be in demand. I’ve never claimed to have the largest business they worked with, but the one that can leverage my clients’ brand.

The final value you should look for is understanding mistakes aren’t fatal.  They are learning experiences that we can grow from together. I wish I can tell you all of my partnerships started and stayed perfect over time. They aren’t and don’t.  It’s how the relationship recovers that matters. My bosses and partners both understand it takes time and resources to meet growth challenges head on.  If you want to develop a strong partnership you must be willing to be weak and strong, when needed. Many of my early clients got calls at home at night to discuss strategies for achieving our shared goals.  When things didn’t go well, I would get a call at home, as well.  We expected to succeed and we did everything we could to succeed. Sometimes we failed. We cried in our beers together and then got back to work.

So now you know the values I look for in a partner or opportunity. Tomorrow, I’ll share how to create a successful business strategy at Developing Serving Leaders, our sister online journal. See you tomorrow.

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