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Business Partners: 5 Tips for Finding the Ying to Your Yang Start-up expert Rebekah Iliff says the key to finding an ideal partner or co-founder is first understanding your own strengths and future desires.

By Rebekah Iliff Edited by Dan Bova


Q: What's the best way to find quality business partners?

- Allyson Klein
Oakland, Calif.

A: Business partners, like diamonds, are a girl's best friend. And much like diamonds, they are hard to come by and must be vetted, chosen, cut up and polished.

In my experience, finding quality business partners is simply not enough. Rather, you must first fully understand your own strengths, wants and desires for the future of your business. And, you should make certain that prospective partners will support your vision, even when the going gets rough.

Related: 7 Steps for Choosing a Top-Notch Business Partner

When I founded my tech PR firm talkTECH several years ago, I spent nearly two years on my own before searching for a partner. The dividends from that experience of honing my own areas of expertise proved monumental. Kristen Tischhauser, who ultimately became my "partner in crime," had a complementary skill set and acted as the executor and stabilizer to my strategic vision and entrepreneurial spirit.

The dirtiest little secret of all: "K-Train" and I had known each other for nearly a decade and had worked together for three years at a previous company. Plus, we actually liked each other, had fun together and trusted each other fully.

Related: What to Do When Friends Want to Be Co-Founders

From my experience, here are five tips for finding the right business partner for you:

1. Treat the process like dating. Whether you are looking for a female or male business partner (note: I would generally avoid thinking about gender as a pre-qualifier), jumping in too quickly is not recommended. Much like the initial excitement that wears off after the first few encounters of a romantic interlude, a business partnership that commences too quickly (during the honeymoon phase) has a higher risk of ultimately failing…epically.

2. Work those networks. There is a good reason many partnerships grow out of university and co-working experiences. When you have the opportunity to spend time with someone, observe how he works on a daily basis and grow to respect him over time, bringing him on as a partner becomes less risky. While someone may have not been in a position two years ago to join your business, circumstances may have changed. Looking to your past and present networks (much like my experience with Kristen) for potential business partners is a good place to start.

3. Look for complementary skill sets. In terms of a partnership, having similar skills sometimes makes it easier to reach agreements about certain things. But my fundamental belief is that the best partnerships are forged in the heat of battle. You don't want a "yes man" as a partner.

4. Play, work, play. Owning a business is no joke. You're facing long hours, constant frustration, loads of decision-making and a multitude of sacrifices. The thing I value most in my partners, both past and present, is our ability to be silly and laugh. If it ain't fun, then it's not worth doing. And people are what ultimately make things miserable, tolerable or a downright blast.

At 11 on a Friday night, during a code sprint or after the forty-fifth edit round of a proposal, you had better be able to turn to your partner, tell them you just farted from eating too many Red Vines, and laugh until your guts fall out (true story).

5. Go with your gut. Trust, loyalty, friendship. In that order, period. If, after feeling someone out for a few months you don't intrinsically sense these three things, move on. As mentioned previously, you are in for a long haul and if you don't 100 percent have these qualities within your working relationship you'll most likely end up frustrated and resentful.

Remember, diamonds are worth the wait and ultimately set the tone for a lasting relationship. When you find the right fit, your world and your business will be the better for it.

Related: Oh, Brother! Tips for Sibling Collaboration in Your Business

Have a question for YE's experts? Submit your questions in the comments section below and those with the most likes from other readers will be answered. On Twitter, use the hashtag #YEask. Include your first and last name, your location (city and state) and the name of your business.

Rebekah Iliff

Chief Strategy Officer for AirPR

Rebekah Iliff is the chief strategy officer for AirPR, a technology platform to increase public-relations performance that serves Fortune 500 and fast growing technology companies. Previously, she was the CEO of talkTECH Communications, where she created an industry-first methodology for emerging technology companies which positioned talkTECH as one of the fastest growing, launch-only PR firms in the U.S. Iliff holds a B.A. in philosophy from Loyola University Chicago, and an M.A. in organizational management and applied community psychology from Antioch University at Los Angeles (AULA).

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