Traits to avoid in a business partner

There are a ton of articles on what to look for in a business partner. For a change of pace, let’s talk about traits to avoid in looking for a business partner.

In my last entry I talked about whether a person has co-founder/partnership traits. Specifically, are there things in one’s personality that make collaborating with a person challenging? I did not cover everything but by pointing out main issues I often encounter I hope I started people to think outside of the box and look for the non-obvious. That leaves the question: if one finds they have partnership qualities, what does one look for in a business partner? I’m going to talk about the things you normally don’t see anywhere else so…let’s talk about some things to avoid. The real deal.

Honestly, start with the last article

It would be wise to avoid people with the traits in the last article:

  • Unable to make a deadline
  • Does not work consistently
  • Lacking in communication skills
  • Untrustworthy
  • Lacks relationships skills

No one is perfect so don’t try to hold people to impossible standards. However, if you know someone does not make deadlines your business will suffer because you will be spending time and energy trying to get that person to change. If you don’t know if a person consistently makes deadlines, you should find out.

One common method used to try to get around the deadline problem is not giving the person a deadline. Billy will tell George something like, “I’m not in a rush so whenever you have a chance…” and George will say, “Yeah, cool, I’m on it!” What ends up happening? George still doesn’t come through because he “really” didn’t want to do it in the first place. People who don’t make deadlines usually have two other traits: lack of discipline which causes the inability to make deadlines which causes inconsistency in working on their own, and they avoid confrontation. You see where this is going right? Because George makes promises he is unable to keep (by choice), Billy can’t trust what he says. That’s why George says yes when his actions says no. George “could” make those deadlines, could communicate, could step up…he opts not to.

Find someone else.

Bad marriages = more headaches

Let’s talk about this a minute. When you enter a business relationship with someone it is like a marriage and together, the team is creating a child – the business. A business can be as demanding (and expensive) as a child. There might be times when work comes in the way of holidays or long hours are necessary. It’s part of starting a business. Doing it right means hard work.

Your perspective business partners need to have spouses that understand and support this. If the spouse doesn’t support this, then that person is not quality partnership material. I can hear you saying, “Tyme, their marriage is none of my business!” and to that, I say…bull. I strongly suggest meeting with both of them to make sure everyone is on the same page as far as expectations and goals.

What you want to avoid is Danny’s wife’s feelings/needs/desires/goals injecting their way into your business. You aren’t in business with Danny’s wife; you are in business with Danny. It is up to Danny to balance both aspects of his life properly. Family is important, don’t get me wrong, but let’s be clear here. If Danny worked for someone else, if Danny’s wife had problems with his job there are two options: deal with it or quit. When it comes to partnerships often, a third option is presented: tell my partners and make my problems theirs. The third option is unprofessional and unfair. If Danny’s wife feels their family needs more money, get a job or Danny should quit. The partners should not be drawn into trying to make more money so Danny’s wife will be happy. If the other partners are working overtime or making financial contributions the partners shouldn’t have to hear from Danny, “My wife said we have to go to X” or “My wife said I can’t spend the money on that until we achieve X goal”.

Luckily, the age of social media makes it easier to spot bad marriages if you open your eyes. Don’t jump to conclusions but people who are happily married show it (especially if they are the geeky type). You’ll also get hints if you meet them both, which I strongly suggest. Remember, entering a business partnership is easy. Getting out – not so much.

A person in an unhappy marriage is not going to get the long-term support they need from their spouse.

The spouse doesn’t like you

You would not believe how often I deal with the issue above and this one: Danny’s spouse doesn’t like Billy. Or just as bad: Billy’s spouse doesn’t like Billy’s business partner Amanda. If you’re paying attention, you’ll realize that the issue above leads to the spouse not liking the business partners. People happy and secure in their marriage will be supportive of the venture (if it is not too risky of course). People in insecure unhappy marriages will either say yes to appease the spouse and flip the switch later or blatantly say no and the spouse enters the partnership anyway.

If the spouse doesn’t like Billy she will begin to work against Billy’s efforts. Danny’s spouse will put him in a position of picking the business or her. It’s ridiculously immature but that is what happens. There are only two cures for this situation:

  • Danny gets rid of his wife.
  • Billy gets rid of Danny.

It’s just best to let Danny go or not bring him on board in the first place.

Let’s put this in perspective. An example…

Ken and Dale are business partners. They create software. Ken is the programmer and Dale handles the business management responsibilities. Dale has some programming experience but his strength is in business and marketing. Ken and Dale set the deadline of August 18 for the first iteration to be complete. On August 16, Ken tells Dale he is on target. On August 18, the deadline is missed. Dale asks when Ken will be done. Ken says August 26 for sure. Ken forgot that his wife’s birthday is on the 22nd and she made plans for them to go out of town, cutting into his programming time. Ken figures he’ll still make the deadline, but he doesn’t because when he gets online, he starts surfing the web and talking on GTalk and Twitter. Dale is starting to get upset because their marketing plans depend on the final product being done on time and the first iteration isn’t done yet, let alone beta testing. To make the deadline, Dale decides to put on his programming shoes and looks at the code, which Ken did not want to give up. Dale, looking at the code, begins to realize how far behind they are. He calls Ken, but ends up talking briefly to the wife, who sent Ken on an errand because this week is “Work Around the House” week. Ken promised to do these chores and never finished them because he’s been programming all day but not making enough money for the effort. She’s not pleased (okay, she’s pissed) because that was not the way Ken said things would be. Dale, knowing Ken lied and they aren’t making money because Ken missed the deadlines, says nothing. Do you think Ken and Dale make good business partners?

I know, this won’t happen to you right? I deal with a mix of these issues with my clients all the time (last week actually) and rarely can I fix them without removing the offending person from the equation. Why? The person needs to make some serious changes in their life. For change to be successful it takes time, patience, serious dedication and the support of all of those involved. Notice the problems are personal ones that will end up bleeding into the business. People do change…most don’t and you can spot those easily. Recognize and encourage those who are changing to continue to do so because it is rare.

How do you avoid these issues?

Skill is only one component to having a strong business team. Finding the right people and placing them in the areas where they are strong helps build the foundation needed to build a healthy business. Don’t enter into business foolishly. Take the time to get to know your business partners, whom you cannot fire like employees if it is the wrong fit. Use the tools available to you to find the right people.

Social media is a wonderful tool to get to “really” know people because people expose more about themselves than they realize. Why? Because they don’t think of the long-term outcomes of what they say online. Embrace Twitter, Facebook, text and video programs, etc. as a way to interact and get to know the people you are entering into business with. If they are not sharing their lives or thoughts online, go meet them a couple of times.

A good example…

I’ve talked about “bad” examples. Let’s look at two people I think have the traits of a good business partner. If Billy wanted to make videos or music, the vlog brothers are a good example of the traits needed.

  • They consistently make videos.
  • They consistently make the deadlines they set for their videos.
  • They interact well with their community.
  • They are happily married and balance their spouse’s wants/needs with their own. Note one wife stays out of the camera, the other embraces it but both are supportive (for example).
  • They communicate well and when things go wrong, quickly rectify the situation.
  • They seem trustworthy because of the items listed above.

They aren’t perfect, people don’t always agree with them, but they have the skill and the discipline to get the job done. These are the types of people you want on your team. Of course, that doesn’t mean team dynamics are easy with the right people. Tomorrow we’ll talk about that.

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