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Partnerships

10 Questions to Ask Before Committing to a Business Partner

Like a marriage, a business partnership often begins with enthusiasm and high expectations – only to end in acrimony and legal proceedings.

Lisa Girard

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It’s important to know as much as possible about a potential partner, including how his or her finances and family life may affect the business, before signing on the dotted line.

Here are some questions to ask before deciding if partnering is a good idea:

1. What do I need from a business partner?

You should look for a business partner who brings something different to the table than you do. If you’re creative, maybe you need a more detail-oriented partner. If you have money to invest in the business, you may want to look for a partner with access to a market, or with great connections.

Or if you’re shy, you might need a good “people person” to balance the equation. “If they’re similar to you, it might be more comfortable, but it may not be what you need,” says William M. Moore, founder of the Moore Firm in San Diego, a law firm that serves entrepreneurs. “You need someone who complements your skills and personality.”

2. What is your potential partner’s financial situation?

It is important to have an understanding of someone’s financial status and commitments before getting into a venture together. “It is tough to ask what they are currently spending on a house or in payments to an ex-spouse, but someone’s prior financial commitments shape the decisions they will make in the short term,” says Gregory Kratofil, an attorney and shareholder with the law firm Polsinelli Shughart in Kansas City, Missouri, who specialises in small business interests. “If he has large outstanding obligations, but says he can get by on R140 000 salary, it is a red flag.”

3. What are the potential partner’s expectations on the time involved?

Partners don’t have to spend the same amount of time, but it is important that they are on the same page as to each other’s expected time commitments. How many hours a day does your partner expect to put into the venture, and do his expectations meet yours?

“It is equally important to level set your partner’s expectations on your time commitments,” Kratofil says. “The age old adage that it’s better to under-promise and over-deliver applies here.”

4. Is your potential partner’s commitment to the business as strong as yours?

“I don’t care if it’s a coffee house or a design firm, the business partner’s commitment has to equal yours,” says Bob Phibbs, consultant and CEO of The Retail Doctor, a site that provides information to small and medium-sized businesses. A partnership – especially one between friends – can start off with fun and excitement, but within a short time, the slog of every day catches up with you. If they’re not as committed to the business as you, they may lose their enthusiasm and may actually be damaging the brand every time you open your doors.

5. Is there something in your potential partner’s family life that might make the business a secondary interest?

If your potential partner has a pregnant wife or is taking care of an elderly parent, he may be distracted from the business. That’s why you have to be brutally honest when thinking of forming a partnership. “The partner can say, ‘My wife is behind me 100 percent.’ But I want to talk to the wife,” Phibbs says. “If they’re too distracted by a family issue or their family isn’t behind them, the business may be doomed from the start.”

6. How would he or she handle a tough situation?

It’s important to know what your potential business partner will do if he has his back up against the wall – and it will happen, Phibbs says. The best way to discover this is to look at what he’s done in past business ventures. If he couldn’t meet payroll, for example:

Did he do the right thing and dip into savings or borrow from a credit card or a friend? Or did he pay employees late, or not at all? Or worse, did he skip paying payroll taxes? It all comes down to character issue, Phibbs says, adding, “Payroll taxes are a federal obligation. If that’s negotiable, you can bet your partnership is also negotiable.”

7. What questions do they have for me?

If a potential employee doesn’t ask any questions in a job interview, you might be less likely to hire him because of a perceived lack of interest. The same applies to a potential business partner, who should want to know about your character, reliability and expectations.

“I want them to ask me the same tough questions I ask them. If they say it doesn’t really matter, it could mean two things: their expectations are too high or they might be kind of flighty,” Phibbs says. “Things may be fine now, but in a month or two, they may want to change things or even get out of the deal.”

8. What is the potential partner’s standing in the community?

A lot of people seem good at first, but that may be their skill – seeming good at first, Moore says. Once they get their foot in the door, it may be difficult to get them out. Talk to former employees to see what they were like to work with, or for. If you’re looking for someone with money connections, verify that they have money.

If they say they have great connections, see if those connections go beyond just being recognised and given a slap on the back. “A business partnership is not a marriage, but there should be some sort of courtship process that you can verify that they are who they say they are,” Moore says.

9. Are they willing to put everything in writing?

Many partnerships are cemented with a handshake, but this can be a recipe for disaster. It’s crucial to put it on paper – not only what is expected of each partner, but the consequences if expectations aren’t met. “There’s something about actually putting it in writing that exposes the potential problem areas in the partnership,” Moore says.

If someone has a family emergency and disappears the first six months of the business – even though it may not be through any fault of his own – are you still expected to give that person a certain percentage of the business?

“If someone simply isn’t pulling his or her weight, you need to be able to get them out without destroying the business,” he adds. “And if it’s in writing, there’s no arguing it.”

10. Do I really need a partner?

If you can get someone to do something without giving them a stake in your business, it’s always better, Moore says. People get wrapped up in the idea of needing to work with someone, but it’s not always a good idea. Sometimes you need somebody to show up from 9-5, work hard and go home, he says, adding.

“If you’re cash poor, or it’s a start-up and you don’t expect to make money right away, taking on a partner might be the better option. But if you can just pay somebody to show up and work, it’s generally a better option than giving them a stake in the company.”

And now a bonus question….

What happens if we can’t work it out?

Most people don’t envision the rough times ahead for a new venture, so this question is probably the hardest to remember to ask and the beginning. Yet, the best time to address potential problems with your partner is at the beginning before emotions run high.

“You can’t predict every potential problem, but a good start-up lawyer can help you work through some of the common problems and put a framework in place to help address unforeseen circumstances,” Kratofil says.

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The Essential Elements of Working With a Partner. Don’t Miss These Tips

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Lisa Girard is a freelance writer who covers topics as diverse as golf fashion, health and beauty, the hardware industry and small business interests. She also has been Senior Apparel Editor for PGA Magazine for more than a decade. Lisa lives in New Jersey with her four children and two dogs.

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Partnerships

What To Do When Partnerships Go Bad… Very Bad

What do you when the honeymoon is over and you discover that you’ve gone into business with a snake?

Alan Knott-Craig

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Q: My business partner is trying to screw me out of my business. I approached him a month ago to say I wanted to chase a different path, and sell my minority stake. It’s worth R1 million, but the shareholder agreement says that if I resign he has a call option to buy the shares for nil. His response to my request to exit was that he would exercise his option and pay me nil. What should I do? Should I stay? Should I walk away from the shares with no money? Should I fight for what he owes me? I’m not happy in the company, but I can’t bring myself to write-off the value of my shareholding. — Anonymous

Know who you’re partnering with

I have bad news for you. You’ve lost your money. Kaput. Gone. Minority shareholdings in unlisted companies are worthless, unless you’re in bed with honourable people.

If your majority shareholder is a crook, you’re screwed. You can’t sell to someone else, and a crook won’t do a fair deal to buy you out. If you stay, you’re delaying the inevitable.

You will be screwed. Rather leave now than later. Rather be happy than hang onto the promise of a pot of gold that never materialises.

Focus on creating new wealth

You’re an entrepreneur, so you have the instinct to fight. To never give up. To persevere. This is one of those times where your instinct is wrong. If you fight, you’ll end up in the mud with a pig. Pigs love the mud. He’ll enjoy it, you won’t. Worst of all, you’ll invest energy in trying to regain what you had rather than creating new wealth.

It’s a bit like trying to win back the girlfriend who cheated on you, rather than going out and finding a new girl. Rather find a new girl.

Don’t seek revenge or short term satisfaction

Once you’ve accepted that staying is not an option, and nor is fighting, the next reaction is revenge. “Damn it, I’m going to punch him in the head!” Short-term satisfaction. Long-term, it makes you look bad. And maybe you go to jail.

The best outcome you can hope for is that your story gets traction in your industry/circle of friends/town before his story. Believe me, he has already told everyone he knows that you’re unethical and screwed him. That’s what crooks do.

Related: 7 Ways To Quickly Spot The Wrong Partner (And 3 Tips To Get It Right)

Good luck fighting the war of whispers. Rather don’t. It’s bad energy. Who cares what people think. The people who care don’t matter, the people who matter don’t care.

Let your reputation define your achievements

In the end your reputation will be defined by your life’s achievements, not by the words of a crook. If you are a nothing, no one will care about his words. If you make it big, no one will care about his words.

If you want revenge, be successful. Success is the ultimate revenge. The rule for partners is this: Make it easy for them to screw you early. That way you don’t waste a whole lot of time with the wrong partners.

Whatever happens, remember this: Life is an adventure. It’s your choice how you describe your story. Is it a sad drama (‘Oh woe is me’), or is it a funny story with some speed-bumps and a happy ending? Frame your story as the latter. You hit a speed-bump, not fun. But not the end. The truth is that business is rough and tumble. So toughen up.

Don’t lose faith in your abilities

This is where it’s useful to have a loving spouse. With him or her at your back you can withstand anything. Whatever happens, don’t lose your self-belief. You have the magic.

You’ve had a bad experience in business. So what? You trusted someone. That’s not such a bad thing. You just got a bit unlucky that he was a crook. Next time lucky. But there is no next time if you lose your self-belief.

Winston Churchill lost all his savings to financial con-men in 1929. He said he was faced with two choices: Fight to get back what he lost, or make more money. He decided to make more money. Keep moving forward. Don’t look backwards.

PS: The best way to deal with a crook is to play dead. Cut him loose. Don’t engage at all. Just play dead.

Related: 5 Things to Do Before Saying ‘I Do’ to a Business Partner

Listen to this

Alan’s audible book Be a Hero: Make Life an Adventure is now available on amazon.com and Audible.com

Read by Alan himself, Be a Hero is a collection of stories on how to make your life an adventure but also changing your mind-set and tackling adversity.

Ask Alan
Do you have a burning start-up question? Email: alan@herotel.com


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Make Absa Your First Business Partner

Thinking of starting your own business? We’ll help you think further with a start-up plan, funding, payroll guidance and Enterprise and Supplier Development solutions for your business.

Absa

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Thinking of starting your own business? We’ll help you think further with a start-up plan, funding, payroll guidance and Enterprise and Supplier Development solutions for your business.

Firstly, consider opening an Absa Business Banking Account by choosing from our range of tailored transactional account options online. You’ll be able to make and receive payments through multiple channels that make your banking as hassle-free as possible with our cash handling solutions and merchant services.

Plus, if you are a new business owner you can open any of the business accounts we offer online, register your new company with the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) and get a South African Revenue Service (SARS) tax number in one go.

Related: Business Partners Limited Explain What It Takes To Have The X (Fundable) Factor

A business plan is also essential for every entrepreneur, as it forms the roadmap of how your business will achieve its goals and should include its operational, financial and marketing strategies. Our team of experts will always be available to give you all the assistance you need with your business plan.

Once you’ve drafted a comprehensive business plan and you are ready to venture into the world of business, your next step is to register your business as mentioned. SwiftReg assists with checking existing company names and registering your company’s name, B-BBEE certificates, clearance certificates and more.

We also offer advice to franchisees, whether you’re thinking about buying a franchise or want to turn your existing business into a franchise network. And, if it’s funding you need, we’ll work with you to find the right solution. Our business funding solutions cater for start-ups and existing small, medium and micro enterprises (SMEs) with working capital or expansion finance needs.

Related: 10 Questions to Ask Before Committing to a Business Partner

Lastly, when you need help moving your fully-formed business plan in the right direction, you can visit any of our Enterprise Development Centres across South Africa to build and grow it from inception until maturity through unlocking access to financing, markets and business development support services.

For more information or to open an Absa Business Banking Account online, visit our website.

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Partnerships

7 Ways To Quickly Spot The Wrong Partner (And 3 Tips To Get It Right)

Finding the right partners is the path to happiness, good memories and success. On the other hand, finding the wrong partners is the path to conflict, angst and failure.

Alan Knott-Craig

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Business without partners is hard. And it’s no fun. No one to share memories with. No one to celebrate with. No one to commiserate with.

No one to hand over the reins to when you have a personal crisis. So how do you find the right partner?

Related: Getting Partnerships Right: Lucid Holdings

First, make sure you avoid the wrong partner:

1. Birds of a feather flock together

The best crooks are natural salesmen. They talk a good game. Penetrating the façade is impossible, so rather look at who she hangs out with. Are they your kind of people? If not, take a pass. Birds of a feather flock together, always.

2. Live a simple life

A flashy lifestyle attracts bugs. Money attracts leeches. Living the high life attracts the wrong kinds of people. Don’t stick out for having a fancy car. Keep your life simple and you’ll find that bad people will ignore you.

3. Ask your spouse

No one knows you like your spouse. Sometimes she can’t verbalise why someone is a bad match for you, but her gut is saying, “Stay clear.” Listen to her gut.

4. Make yourself vulnerable

If you want to know whether she is going to screw you, make yourself vulnerable. Build in an ‘engagement’ period during which you can break-off the relationship easily, and then make it easy for her to screw you.

5. Watch how she treats other people

Watch how she interacts with people when she doesn’t think you’re watching. If she treats the cleaner differently to how she treats you, stay clear.

6. Play golf

Competitive sport brings out the best and worst in people.

  • Does he lose his temper if the ball bounces badly? He can’t handle adversity.
  • Does he move his ball in the rough? He’s a cheat.
  • Does he throw in the towel before the hole is finished? He lacks perseverance.
  • Does he not care about losing? He doesn’t care about winning.

7. Turn up the temperature

Don’t be afraid to crank up the pressure. The only fool-proof method of finding out who people really are is to turn up the heat to the point where they crack.

Related: Getting the Most from Marketing Partnerships

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The right stuff

Okay, so you can filter out the wrong people. Now to find the right people.

Tinder may work for casual sex, but doesn’t work for long-term business partners. In general, the best way to find the right people is to make it easy for them to find you.

How do they find you?

1. Know thyself

If you don’t know who you are, you can’t be who you are. If you can’t be who you are, you can’t be authentic. If you’re not authentic, the right people won’t be attracted to you.

Find mentors, meditate, travel, read books, take risks, reflect on your experiences, do everything you can to maximise your self-awareness.

And then be yourself.

2. Tell everyone

She won’t knock on your door unless she knows you’re looking. Tell your family and friends that you’re looking for a partner. They will naturally filter people based on your personality.

3. Hold up a flag

She can’t knock on your door if she can’t find your door. Make it easy for people to learn about you and your mission, and to contact you. The Internet is the simplest tool for raising a flag. Start a blog, start opening up, start putting yourself out there.

You might think you have nothing of interest to say, but maybe someone else has been waiting their whole life to read what you have to say. You’ll never know unless you try.

Related: The Power of Partnerships

Formalising the partnership

Let’s assume you’ve found the business partner of your dreams. Now you need to put your partnership in writing, usually in the form of a shareholder agreement.

A shareholder agreement is not for marriage, it’s for divorce. You’ll never look at that document again until the day you have to break-up, especially if it’s an acrimonious break-up.

Pay attention to the provisions for exit and dispute resolution, the rest is gumph. Partnership is like the mafia. Hard getting into, much harder getting out.


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