#24: How do you find business partners?

In my last article we looked at what a successful practice looks like, which followed on nicely from the “wish list” we covered in my previous article on value drivers in a consultancy. Now I want to move on from this and concentrate on your next stage of business: partnership.

This is so very difficult, and on so many levels. The only advice I can give you is “if you have an ounce of doubt, then don’t do it”. Based on my own bitter experience, and that of others around me, I have come up with a checklist which I have been using with some of my consulting clients, which we have found works quite well. Please feel free to make use of it, and adapt it to suit your circumstances.

The 10 criteria we look for when sounding out potential business partners are:


1 Demonstrable integrity/trustworthy  
2 Established track record as independent  
3 Capable of sourcing work (not needy)  
4 Communication skills  
5 Seizing the initiative  
6 Putting the client first  
7 Confidence and courage  
8 Business acumen  
9 Authentic  
10 Technical excellence  

A quick comment on each of these:

      • It’s really important that whoever you take on operates off the same or a very similar code of conduct to yourself. The acid test for me is “would I let this person go to see my best client unaccompanied by myself, safe in the knowledge that he or she would take the relationship forward, as opposed to sending it backwards?”.
      • Is there evidence that they are capable of both selling and delivering consultancy work, making clients happy, and winning repeat business?
      • The last thing you need is someone who is dependent on you to provide them with work. A genuine partner can source work for themselves, you, and anyone else in the business. They are looking out for the firm, not just themselves.
      • Can they communicate with others in a way that establishes and develops relationships? Sometimes technical excellence comes at a price, often in the shape of interpersonal skills!
      • Are they good at spotting opportunities and capitalising on them?
      • It’s all about the client, and the client’s experience. Do they give any evidence that they believe this and genuinely try to live it out?
      • Do they give off an area of confidence and self-assuredness, without being arrogant? In addition do they have the courage to walk away, in a professional manner, from assignments and clients if they believe they are being compromised or conflicted in some way?
      • Do they display business acumen? In other words are they capable of taking a holistic view of the business and its context in the marketplace, and then reach and implement sound commercial decisions for the benefit of the firm?
      • Authenticity is exceptionally important. Do they “walk the talk”? Do they live up to who they purport to be and what they stand for? Is their on-line image coherent with the carbon-based life-form in front of you? There is a direct correlation between their authenticity and the reputation of the firm.

Finally, their technical excellence is sometimes taken as a given, which could potentially be a mistake. Do they have material, either in the form of intellectual property of intellectual capital, that other people will be prepared to pay for? In other words, do they have technical know-how, expertise, experience, that can demonstrably add value?

I think you should be looking for a score of 70, with no scores below 5, if you are seriously thinking of engaging with someone. In addition, I would strongly recommend that you run some kind of trial period to see if you can collaborate efficiently and effectively, before you enter into any form of agreement.

And one final word, make sure that any agreement provides for an orderly dissolution if a parting of the ways becomes necessary at a later date…

If you want to discuss this more with me, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Posted in: Growing Businesses

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