How to Choose the Wrong Business Partner -- Just the Way I Did
Business partners are more like spouses than you think. You get the benefit of their good qualities and talents, but that benefit comes at the cost of their idiosyncrasies. Same as marriage. That’s why it’s prudent to know your partner well before you commit, so that you can make an educated bet about your future together by asking the following questions:
- Will this partner take ownership and invest as much as you do?
- Will he or she push you to be more successful?
- Will this partner flake out when the pressure hits?
All of these questions can, and must, be answered before you dive into a partnershp. Otherwise, you'll likely lose the time and money you put in. Personally? I found this out the hard way. Here's what happened ...
Falling in love with the wrong business partner
I hired Lydia to design a website for a new business of mine. I saw an opening in the market for new products and services designed for people who wanted to master singlehood and break the toxic relationship cycle, which so many of us get caught up in.
Good idea, right? Well, Lydia thought so too. After I paid her a few grand for the site and she saw the sales potential, Lydia offered to take over several facets of the business as a partner: marketing, social media, continued web development and the design and sales of my product. How could I resist?
This new arrangement sounded great: It would save me about $4,000 per month, not to mention helping me avoid the hassle of contracting with several people for different jobs. I thought I was the luckiest guy in the world ... just as so many unhappily married or divorced guys do before they marry.
In fact, I fell head-over-heels for this new partnership with Lydia. She had everything I lacked, so it seemed; and she loved doing everything I hated. Match made in heaven, right? We went through the first two weeks with unbridled enthusiasm for each other and the work we were doing: the telltale honeymoon phase.
I envisioned the future we had together, and the future looked bright. So when she started getting fuzzy on communication, I let it slide -- rationalizing that nobody is perfect all the time. She’d done some really great work for me, after all.
Then a month went by and her communication habits degraded to the point that my blood pressure literally spiked ten points -- this at the tender age of 27. But I couldn't leave ... I’d invested a lot in her, and was counting on her for the product launch. So, I had your standard come-to-Jesus meeting with Lydia: telling her what I couldn’t accept and what I needed from her if she was to continue as my partner (Translation: “Just act like a freaking partner!) We got back on track with the site and product.
The s**t hits the fan
By then, I'd shifted 100 percent of my energy from my other business in anticipation of the first sales for this business. I'd calculated the man-hours and objectives needed for a full-time income, so I was fully confident about my time frame. But then another month went by.
And at that point, my my confidence in Lydia had become bankrupt. She was avoiding all the meetings I scheduled and was about a month behind all of my projections. I tried calling -- no answer. I tried pulling my hair out -- no use, just pain. And I was experiencing a lot of pain, physical and financial.
The reason was that for the previous three months, I'd stopped funneling sales to my other business, and realized that my "partner" was a fraud and that I was on the verge of bankruptcy. My new site wouldn't produce any income for at least another three months. And I still needed the product to be developed and produced. I still needed to drive sales through daily marketing campaigns -- which still hadn't happened. What's more, my income was drying up fast.
I finally got hold of her, and she cried about not being able to schedule hours for a project that didn't "pay,” when she had to make rent. I told her that this project would pay when she put in the work, and that she had signed up knowing this fact. This was her last chance. And of course she blew this one, too.
But how could I be surprised? I'd only known Lydia superficially before she signed on as a partner. She was a marketing manager for some company I’d done freelance writing for, and we’d gone to a couple of lunches together. But even this minimal contact had smoked out some red flags: Her communication had been inconsistent, and she'd committed to some things she never even planned on doing.
A year had gone by since those lunches and since I'd hired her to design my site. She did a good job with that, so I figured she had grown as a person. But I didn’t know that for sure. And because I didn’t know her capability as a partner, I paid for it -- heavily.
Not only did I go through a financial crisis, but I was mired in a three-month-long funk, where all of my creative energy normally reserved for work went into worrying about my flaky partner and how to stage the next intervention just to get her to do her job. She was immature. She didn’t conduct herself like an adult. She didn’t keep her word.
And all those handicaps were actually my fault.
Had I gotten to know her better as a friend before committing to a partnership -- and gotten other opinions about her from friends and my professional circle -- I would’ve seen the writing on the wall. Ours was tantamount to a romantic relationship, and I crossed home plate with her on the first date.
I then felt starry-eyed and committed despite her incapability of being a partner; and when it unraveled, I realized that I had wasted months of my life and foregone tens of thousands of dollars in new business ... all because I didn’t actually know my partner.
Thank God I had a stream of clients bail me out at the last moment. I’ve been fortunate to pivot back to my original business without any catastrophic losses -- just two extra gray hairs. But I’ve learned my lesson: I’m not going into any other partnerships based on a wild bet.
For the future, I will need reasonable assurances that any potential partner has the character, fortitude and values that spell out success for our future. And I’ll find that out by actually getting to know that candidate first.