Tag Archives: Partners

Should you have a Business Partner?

Ben and Jerry Business Partners

Business Partners – Ben and Jerry

Running a business is a lot easier when you have a business partner to share the highs and lows, as well as all the work.

You may of course have all the skills needed for your business, but have you the time? Or are there some areas that you love doing and excel at, but would rather have someone who is an expert doing those areas you don’t enjoy?

 

Then you need a business partner.

Hang on, why not just hire someone, surely that’s faster and there is less commitment? Well yes, in many established businesses taking on an employee is the right thing to do, but if you are starting out or a small business, then having a Business Partner that can share the burdens, rather than just an employee that needs paying every month is the way to go.

Business Partner advantages:

  • Fully motivated
  • Someone to bounce ideas off
  • May bring additional funding into the business
  • Their payment can be linked to the business profitability
  • Can shoulder issues and share the responsibilities
  • Will bring skill-sets that you may not have
  • More will get done – having a Business Partner will more than double your efforts as each drives and encourages the other forward

When taking on a Business Partner it’s best to put together a Business Partner agreement (see Business Partner Agreements ).

Running a business by yourself is tough, almost all successful businesses had 2 or more Business Partners, even if one of them took on the role of media frontman.

 

 

Business Partner pitfalls and how to avoid!

Business Partners TalkingHaving a Business Partner can be a great benefit. They bring additional skills and resources, you also have someone to bounce ideas off and to share the stress & risk.

But in some cases the partnership can go wrong. Occasionally it is because there was not enough due-diligence in checking the background of the potential partner. Simple Companies House checks will reveal past company directorships and you can ask for references.

However most times where a business partnership ends it is because the partners no longer get along. This can result from incompatible personalities, differences in the direction that the business should be taking, or conflicting work styles. In many cases this can be avoided by:

  1. At the beginning of a partnership you should establish that you share the same vision for the business.
  2. Talk about how you and your partners wish to work on the business. Is the way of working compatible? Can you foresee any issues; for example one partner may be happy working late, whereas the other may prefer to finish at regular times. Resentment or guilt can build up from such differences.
  3. Have clearly defined individual responsibilities. Ideally fitting complementary skills.
  4. Ensure that the partners have common values and ethics.
  5. Maintain respect for each other and trust that each is doing their best for the business.
  6. Communicate. Lack of communication can generate misunderstanding, relationship difficulties and concern. Rarely is it possible to over-communicate.

Don’t let the pressures of running day to day operations prevent talking regularly to your partners, not just on immediate activity. Take time each month to review progress against targets and discuss how each is doing, checking if support is needed by one partner. Is the vision and direction still being maintained and shared?

Finally build trust with each other by doing what you say you will do. If you can’t for some reason, let your partner know ahead of the deadline.

 

 

Make your business scalable – the Investor holy grail

Investors ideal business

Investors look for business growth

Firstly let me say what I mean by scalable. That each new customer produces additional revenue for very little addition cost.

Think of software for example, once the costs of developing and producing the first copy are met, each additional sale of the software has minimal costs.  Whereas a service orientated business such as consulting is limited by the number of consultants available and each one has a significant additional cost attached.

 

A scalable business can grow large and produce high profits, every Investors dream.

If you are starting from scratch and have a choice of the type of business to run, think about fixed cost Vs variable costs for that business.  Fixed cost will be that which you need regardless of the number of orders you receive – office or factory rent, insurance and basic salaries for example.

The variable costs are those associated with each order, such as the cost of making that product or supplying the service. It can be materials that you have to buy in for each order, assembling or manufacturing the item, or the cost of hiring and paying the wages of an additional service person to fulfil the order.

There is of course going to be some additional (variable) costs associated even with a scalable business. You’ll need more marketing or sales staff if you are growing and other additional expenses, but it’s not the main cost of each new order.

Tips for a scalable business

  1. Build it into your business model. Make being scalable an essential part of what you do and how you operate. Don’t undertake activity that can’t be scaled even if it seems like additional revenue, if you are not able to scale it, don’t do it.
  2. Decide what your core expertise is and outsource the rest as much as possible, that way you are not restricted on growth. You can also form partnerships with others to allow faster growth.
  3. Automate, automate, automate. Think through the whole sales/supply chain, cheap computing power now days can make business processes for each new order very little additional cost.
  4. Being scalable by itself is not of use unless you can take advantage of it by getting lots of new business. You will need to market yourself as heavily as you can afford. This is where Investor funds can help (if you have a compelling business model and show you know the market). Use indirect marketing to give scalability to your marketing. PR, news items, Facebook/Twitter and brand recognition all have far reaching effects.
  5. Use the web. The most obvious scalable companies are web based social media sites, but even if you are a product orientated business you can get very scalable using the internet. Amazon are a product company, but they outsource their products and sell and fulfil using the web.
  6. If the business is not easily transferred to the web, perhaps because it is a very hands-on service, look at franchising or licensing your product or business model. There are all kinds of businesses successful this way from fast food to grass cutting companies. The example chart on this page is for a Mexican restaurant!

Not every business will want Investment, or to grow large and that is fine, but even those can benefit from looking at the way that scalable businesses make life easier for themselves by automating and using the scalability techniques now available.

 

The difference between a Business Partner and an Investor

2 Business Partners

2 Business Partners – Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard

Company Partners provide access to both Business Partners and Investors so what is the difference and when would you have one but not the other?

Certainly an Investor is a business partner of sorts and can bring many of the benefits of a business partner. A Business Partner could in some circumstances end up investing in the business, so here is my take on the similarities and difference:

 

 

Business Partner

  • Hands-on
  • Brings additional, complementary skills
  • Sometimes useful contacts
  • Will share in the profits of the business
  • Likely to own some share of the business, or be given the opportunity to buy or earn shares
  • More commitment and “skin in the game” than just an employee
  • Primarily brought in for their expertise and ability to add value when working in the company

Investor

  • May be hands-on, but often not.
  •  Skill set frequently is in business planning, finance and strategic direction
  • Normally valuable contacts are available
  • Will share in the profits of the business
  • Injection of funds (to be used to grow the business) in exchange for equity in that business
  • Doesn’t want to run the company, but will expect involvement in major decisions and report on progress
  • Primarily brought in to provide funds, advice and contacts

If you need another pair of hands with essential expertise go for a Business Partner, if you primarily require funds and contacts, go for a Investor. Both will provide a sounding board and be able to provide advice.

 

Don’t make this mistake in your first conversation with a potential business partner or Investor

Investor listeningYou don’t know when you might bump into or be talking to a useful contact, business partner or even potential Investor. This first conversation is your best chance to impress and could determine whether you get a second more detailed conversation or meeting.

So grab the chance to explain your business, or idea, in a way that is clear and compelling.

Sounds easy, yet this is where otherwise excellent entrepreneurs make a big mistake. They are not prepared and simply ramble on in every direction. Think about it, can you tell me about your concept in a way that I will really understand and allow me to be excited about joining you as a business partner or Investor?

Some entrepreneurs are very good at this and you may be one of them, but the majority of people I talk to make a terrible hash of it. When they finish I am none the wiser and couldn’t honestly recommend them to the business partners and Investors I meet.

You’ve heard of the now clichéd Elevator Pitch where you describe your business in the time it takes to travel up in an elevator to a prospective customer/Investor. Well that concept came about because it was a useful way of visualising what was needed. So don’t be too quick in dismissing it as old hat.

Here are my top tips for engaging interest in your business when you first talk to a potential business partner or Investor. This is not an investment pitch or a presentation, but simply an opportunity for a quick conversation with a potential ally in growing your business.

1. Think about the situation and how much detail you need to go into. Is it a chance encounter with someone at an event, or a telephone call with a business angel where you have time to prepare?

2. Don’t start spouting words at machine gun pace, never giving pause for questions, or even noticing that you’re on entirely the wrong track of what was asked. Use your empathy and listen. Use the feedback you are getting, visually or by asking “is that what you meant”, “does that make sense” (if on the telephone).

3. Prepare an explanation of your business. Write it down and then practice saying it out loud. Writing the explanation down forces you to think about it and ensures it flows logically. After you have talked to someone about your business, reflect on how that went and make adjustments. You’d be surprised how many people don’t.

4. Have 2 versions – one that may take just 30 seconds which gives the whole concept in a nutshell and a second version that allows a bit more detail taking a few minutes.

5. This is what potential business partners and Investors want to hear:

  • Who you are, your experience and your knowledge relevant to making the business a success.
  • The market area that you are in and the size & potential of that market.
  • What your company/business/project/idea does. Clearly – so that there is no misunderstanding or confusion. This needs trying out on people who have never heard of your activity.
  • What problem does your business solve for clients/customers? What advantage does it give them? What desire or aspiration does it allow?
  • What is your uniqueness, how do you compare to your competition?

The listener should now have a initial understanding of you, your business potential and the market, if it is appropriate you should also add what you are looking for in order to grow that business. A Partner, a Mentor, an Investor, contacts, sales help or whichever you need.

Remember, experienced business people and especially Investors have heard it all before, don’t boast, don’t over-hype, be professional and have a couple statistics in mind to throw in that supports your claims – it will impress.

With good planning and thought you can make a favourable impression with whoever you meet – you never know where it may lead.

 

1000 Business Ideas you can start

How to find business ideasI’m always saying that ideas are 10 a penny, it’s getting off your backside and doing it (and doing it well) that counts.

But are there really that many new business ideas about? I decided to have a look. Not all of them would in fact prove commercial and some when you examine them, are actually old ideas brought up-to-date, but there are thousands of business ideas laying around waiting for someone to pick them up.

 A few words of advice when looking at business ideas:

  • Never pay anyone for a get rich quick scheme – If it’s too good to be true….
  • Watch out for “work from home” businesses that will cost up front for samples or products but never make you enough money to live on
  • A lot of ideas that are talked about have never been tested and might not work

However, you may get inspiration and your own business idea from looking through the lists. Once you’ve got the idea you must then of course think through the market and how it will in practice work. See why ideas don’t work or get investment.

Finally, do it. Yes, actually do it.

 5 Places to get Business Ideas:

  1. Palo Alto provide 500+ sample business plans. There may be one there that you could make your own.
  2. Scott Barlow’s ideas are very interesting and with some modification could lead you to an innovative business.
  3. Franchises – these provide not only a ready-made source of proven businesses to get in to (for a fee to the Franchisor) but if you look through the listings you may think that there are a few there that you could start yourself from scratch.
  4. You could buy an established business of course, but since we are focusing on getting ideas for a business, you could use the listings of businesses for sale to trigger ideas
  5. Use our own site, Company Partners, and team up with a business partner to develop ideas for a business. There are as well a lot of people who have already done the initial hard work of getting a good business idea and are looking for a partner to join with them.

You can also generate your own business ideas. I like to start from first identifying a market need. This is a good way of forming a business that is likely to work. Having said that, who would ever think there was a need for Twitter, so there are exceptions!

 

 

 

The 5 key things you must do before revealing your great idea

Business secretI often get calls from members who are looking for a Business Partner or Investor but are concerned about how much they can reveal of their business idea.

It is a conundrum; because on one hand you need to tell something of your business idea in order to attract a partner or funding, but too much and surely the idea will just be stolen. In my experience this is the 5 actions you must do before telling all:

  1. Determine if your idea is patentable. Generally patents relate to new inventions that are not obvious to anyone with knowledge of the subject and can be used in some sort of industry.

    You may need to employ a patent agent in order to see if your idea is patentable. We have more about patent agents in our resource pages.

    If it is patentable, you should not tell anyone about it until you have applied for the patent, otherwise the idea could be considered in the public domain.

  2. If it is not patentable, can the design of your product or brand be registered?

    Design registration applies to the shape, colour and style of products that aren’t in themselves new ideas but protect your particular design.Again we have an article on our resource pages on this, see Design Registration.

  3. Think about protecting your brand. This is your logo, product names or packaging and any distinguishing ways you have of representing yourself. See How Trademarks Work and this resource has information on Copyrights.
  4. Spotted a gap in the market? Have a novel way of doing business?

    Unfortunately there’s no registration that will protect ways of doing business or addressing a new market area.

    If you are concerned about discussing your original idea for a business with a potential partner or Investor you could ask them to sign a Non-disclosure Agreement. You can see a NDA example here.

  5. Finally, get first mover advantage. If your great business idea really is good, eventually others will start to copy you. This is inevitable, but by being the first to market you will already have captured some customer’s loyalty and will be ahead of the competition in terms of understanding the market and developing your product or service.

    To grab that first mover advantage you must move fast and when you have launched keep innovating, don’t rest on your laurels.

To give a bit of reassurance, in all the time that I have been advising and helping  people with business plans and bringing business partners and Investors together I’ve seen no cases where an idea has been stolen.

Generally it is the implementation of the business idea rather than the idea itself which counts. There are a lot of good ideas, but most never get off the drawing board and the ones that are successful are those that are not only acted upon, but are executed brilliantly.

 

Avoid Business Partner melt down

Business Partners TalkingI had a call from a director of a business that I occasionally provide with mentoring to ask me to come round asap. Over the Xmas break he had been having second thoughts about carrying the activity on, even though it was profitable.

There was too much stress and he wasn’t getting on with his business partner. I was a bit surprised because they both contributed well to the company and had good complimentary skills, both were also quite reasonable people.

Delving into the cause of this crisis, it looked a matter of miscommunication between them.   Or to be exact it was one sided communication. The director I was with sent emails explaining his activity, making suggestions for the business and never got any response from his business partner.

His partner just didn’t see the need to respond, he was busy getting on with the job.

Because they worked in different offices there was no day-to-day chats round the coffee machine and because they had distinct responsibilities they had felt it was only required to meet monthly.

This wasn’t enough interaction to run a business together. Businesses can take all of your time, fire-fighting, dealing with customers and suppliers, so that there doesn’t appear to be the time to “needlessly” be communicating with others in your own business.

But regular physical meetings and prompt electronic communication to each other is vital. It helps team spirit, reduces stress and avoids misunderstandings. The interaction can also generate new ideas that often pop out of the woodwork seemingly just by magic.

Some large companies learnt this early on. I remember going to HP’s office “beer-busts” and Cray’s picnics. IT companies seem to have latched on to ways of informal employee interaction, as well as creating regular occasions for directors to met up.

This can apply also to smaller companies where it may seem that there is no need to plan such activity, since their small size should mean that there are plenty of opportunities to talk. However as was seen, demands on an individual’s time can make that difficult.

Additionally, there can be differing attitudes to communication. One being too verbose, the other too cryptic.

What we did in this case was to meet and thrash out a common attitude and business culture for communication. All agreed that any emails sent should be answered by return if possible, to schedule weekly Skype video calls and fortnightly get-togethers. Some of which could just be an opportunity to brainstorm ideas and ensure all were going in the same direction.

Having an open and friendly approach to internal communication, sharing issues in a no-blame, constructive way has to start at the top.

In small companies there should be far less politics involved than in larger organisations and this good communication and teamwork is an advantage that smaller businesses should have over some of their larger competitors.

 

Who needs a business partner?

Spot Bill GatesThere’s a common misconception of the typical entrepreneur being a charismatic individual business person, not needing or wanting a partner’s help in driving forward his all conquering venture.

Think Richard Branson, Bill Gates, or the latest film idol, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame.

Yes they were the front men and there’s no doubt that they steered the ship, but each started their businesses with partners that had complimentary skills.

Branson always had a partner for each business he began. In the earliest years it was Jonny Gems (Student magazine), then Nik Powell (Student magazine and Virgin) adding Simon Draper (Virgin) for his music knowledge. These were share holding partners, not employees, although Branson certainly surrounded himself with a very capable workforce.

Bill Gates and Paul Allen started Microsoft together, while Zuckerberg’s Facebook was founded with his original partner Eduardo Saverin (now the subject of a film – The Social Network).

There must be exceptions, anyone aware of one; I’d be interested to know? As far as I can find out, almost every successful company had a partner helping it to grow.

Why? Well, it is almost impossible for one person to have all the capabilities and characteristics needed to develop a business. One may have the technical skills, the other the sales or business knowledge.

Between them they start to handle the PR and soon it’s clear that one is more comfortable in that environment and they agree that he will act as the front man.

Taking on the world yourself, with no one to bounce ideas off and to give mutual motivation is quite daunting. A strong team of employees will help fill out any skills or experience that the business needs and a mentor can be very helpful in acting as a sounding board, but there’s nothing as good as having a partner with the same skin and commitment in the game as you.

Of course choosing a partner must be done with open eyes and it is absolutely important to get the right legal and partnership agreements in place. See my guide to healthy partnerships: Business Partnerships .

It was to provide a “dating site” for people to find business partners that we started Company Partners, so I guess I am a bit prejudiced in favour of not going it alone. But it’s a hard old world by yourself.