4 Tricks To Figure Out If A Potential Business Partner Is The Right Fit

  • 5 min read

I met a current business partner, Brian Evans, on an online forum for internet marketers.

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All I knew about him was what I’d learned through forum posts and a few direct messages, but we took the leap and decided to do a small campaign together. I’d never met the guy, never talked to him on the phone. The campaign went well, and when we finally had a call afterward, something just clicked. I could tell we had the same mindset and the same interests—and I knew it could be something great.

That was over a decade ago.

I’m happy to say that was the start of both a long partnership and a long friendship. But that’s not the only person I’ve mixed friendship and business with. In fact, I’m a big proponent of being friends with your partners.

picking a business partner

Photo credit: Don’t Pick Your Business Partner Before Considering These 10 Things (Yellow Co.)

I know there’s a whole spiel about separating business from your personal life, and I can see why people in the corporate world may feel that way. Not every business relationship needs to be a friendship. But when you’re an entrepreneur, it’s more difficult to untangle the two. You’re certainly going to want to build strong relationships with your partners.

Here’s how to figure out if you can be friends with business benefits:

1. Get to know a potential business partner’s values and interests.

It’s important to know if you click with someone before partnering with them. The first thing you should ask yourself is, “Does this person share some of my values?”

Personally, I don’t want someone out there representing my company if they’re going to rub people the wrong way. I look for collaborative, positive thinkers—glass-half-full types who focus on opportunities and solutions rather than problems. I want to work with people who can inspire me in different areas of life, whether that’s through the wisdom they bring or the experiences they’ve had.

There are some people I know I don’t want to do business with, regardless of how well-known they are because we don’t see eye to eye on how the world should look.

And that’s fine. You’re not going to click with everyone. The important part is that you take time to get to know this person before diving into the deep end together.

2. Ask about their dog.

It’s not impossible to start a business with someone and say, “Okay, let’s make money together. That’s all we’re going to do. I don’t care about your wife or your kids or your dog. I only care about the performance and the money.”

finding a business partner: ask about their personal life

You can be very successful that way, but it’s not for everyone. It’s certainly not for me.

I always try to talk about personal topics with potential business partners because that’s how I relate to them and build a relationship. I’m interested in how their kids are doing, where they went on vacation, if their dog is still tearing up the flower beds.

In my mind, it boils down to that old adage: people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

When you start evaluating the level of connection you have with someone, ask yourself if you could go out and have a celebratory drink or dinner and feel at ease with them. You want to be able to hold a normal conversation, instead of thinking, “I have no idea who this person is, but they sure sell a lot.”

3. Meet in an unfussy place.

If I don’t really know the person I’m considering a business partnership with, then I like to get together with them a few times. Drinks, coffee, lunch, dinner—it doesn’t matter. I simply want to get to know them better before we start working together.

It’s like dating. The first step is figuring out if the person is a serial killer or not.

There’s a psychological trick I sometimes use when I’m meeting someone with a spectacular track record for the first time. I take them somewhere for a meal that isn’t very fancy. Not a McDonalds by any means, but somewhere without all the frills. And then I see how they treat the waiter or waitress.

Anybody can be nice in a fancy restaurant. The environment is set up so that everyone’s being polite, trying to impress the person they’re meeting. But if someone is snooty and can’t be decent to the person serving them at a regular lunch spot, that’s a red flag.

To be clear, this isn’t a one-off formula that works for everyone, but I’ve found it to be a good indicator of how well I’ll click with a potential business partner.

4. Figure out how you both handle emotional situations.

Now, to be fair, there’s a good reason why some people keep business and friendship separate. Things can get emotional, and you have to be ready to make hard discussions.

I’ve been in situations with friends who were also business partners where things just weren’t working out. I had to tell them, “Look, it’s not working. I’m going to buy you out.” And I’m still friends with them to this day, but I won’t lie and say that’s an easy discussion to have.

If a situation gets emotional, you might have a couple of months (or even years) where things are a little awkward. But the silver lining is that this is where a friend will show you their true colors. If they’re a real friend, you’ll be able to come up with a solution together—something that works for everyone. They’ll understand what’s happening is for the best, and you’ll both get over that awkward phase.

But if they flip out and burn you or deceive you in some way, then they’ve shown you their true colors. They weren’t worthy of being a friend or business partner anyway.

As an entrepreneur, you’re going to be spending a ton of time with your business partners. Do yourself a favor and make sure they’re the type of person you can build a friendship with before you start investing time and money you can’t get back.

Sami Rusani is a serial entrepreneur with several multi-million dollar businesses. Under the capacity of his media group, he has served as a marketing, branding, and growth consultant for various startup companies and global brands, such as VISA, Heineken, Mercedes, Sony, Virgin, and many more. He is currently serving as Chief Revenue Officer for ShipChain and is heavily involved in the blockchain and cryptocurrency space in both advisor and fundraising roles.

  • Originally published March 6, 2019, updated April 26, 2023