Q: I have a great idea for a business, but I'm young and I don't have a business background. I'd like to find a business partner who can bring that knowledge to my business so I can be the idea/visionary guy. Where do I start looking for a business partner?
A: You get brownie points right off the bat for realizing that you can benefit from experience. In order to persuade someone to sign on and share their experience, you'll need to meet them, get them to trust you and demonstrate your willingness to listen, learn and make good on your commitments.
There are a million places to meet business partners, but you want the ones most likely to bear fruit, so think from the end forward.
- Where do you already have trust and credibility that you could parlay into contacts?
- Do you have hobbies or nonbusiness interests where you have credibility and could ask people for an introduction?
Networking through people you have a relationship with is one of the best ways to find potential partners. Personal introductions carry a certain level of trust, so start searching for introductions to likely partners. Let people close to you know that you're looking for a partner. Ask for introductions. People are often willing to share their networks when it seems like a "win-win" for everyone involved.
Part of building trust is treating others with respect. So when someone opens his or her card file to introduce you, make sure to follow up with the introducer. Send a thank-you card the next day, preferably handwritten on expensive paper. Then jot a note in your calendar to call back a few weeks later and let your introducer know the results of the contact.
Your personal network is a good source of introductions, but the local business community also has resources to offer. Your local business paper will have a calendar of networking events. Check them out and start searching for your prospective partner. A Chamber of Commerce can be a good place to meet businesspeople, as can specialized networking groups. For example, the Center for Women and Enterprise is a great group in Boston where women can network and find mentors.
If you identify someone specific you'd like as your partner, ask your network for introductions. You would be surprised how often you're just a couple of introductions away from almost anyone. One entrepreneur wanted to meet one of the richest men in the world to fund his company. It took eight months of nurturing relationships and asking for introductions, but he got the meeting, made the sale and now has a board member so prominent that he can attract virtually anyone else to his venture.
If you don't already have a business network that knows you're credible, consider networking through volunteer organizations. Nonprofits and trade organizations are eager for competent volunteers. Show up, do good work and you'll establish credibility with the other volunteers and with the organization's board. When people experience your results firsthand, it's a powerful relationship-builder. While I highly recommend getting involved in nonprofits you're passionate about, for the purposes of meeting a prospective partner, volunteer for organizations likely to give you contact with the kind of people who can help with your venture. This is a relationship-building initiative and should be treated as part of your business efforts.
Once you've found a prospective partner, it's time to shift into romance mode. Find out what's important to that person and begin getting them psyched about your venture. Demonstrate that you produce results, respond to them quickly and listen to their advice. Once you've found them, help them meet their own goals through going into business with you. It may take awhile to find the perfect person, but there's no substitute for having strong experience on your team from its day of conception.
Stever Robbins is the founder and President of LeadershipDecisionworks Inc., a national training and consulting firm that helps companies develop the leadership and organizational strategies to sustain growth and productivity over time. His web site is http://LeadershipDecisionworks.com.
Stever Robbins is a venture coach, helping entrepreneurs and early-stage companies develop the attitudes, skills and capabilities needed to succeed. He brings to bear skills as an entrepreneur, teacher and technologist in helping others create successful ventures.