More insidious than Dave Ramsey’s obsession with debt, is his admonishing small business owners to not have partners. Let me say upfront that I completely understand what he is trying to accomplish with people, and I’ve certainly experienced my share of bad partnerships, but abstaining from all business partnerships is frankly a little goofy.

Let’s start by defining a partnership. Although most people would confine that definition to just someone with whom you owned part of a business, in reality, a business partner has a much broader definition. In a very real sense, everyone that has an economic stake in your business AND with which you can negotiate is a partner. Aren’t your vendors partners? Your bank? How about your employees, or your spouse? The truth is that there are a lot of people that want your business to succeed.

So why expand the definition to potentially include vendors and employees? Because Ramsey’s definition is predicated on keeping things simple and in control. Well, the real world isn’t that easy. In listening to Big Dave, it appears that he is trying to keep you from having a potentially troublesome relationship with someone over which you have no control. We’ve all heard the horror stories of business relationships gone bad. Partner steals money and leaves. Partner doesn’t pay payroll taxes and leaves. Partner steals customer and leaves. Partner doesn’t do what you expected them to do, etc, etc.

Wow, you mean to tell me that we’re doing business with actual people? Then you better expect to have problems. The trick is to foresee the potential speedbumps, or flat-out disagreements, and plan accordingly. But what do you receive in return for the headaches of dealing with partners? The answer is “Everything!” With the right partner, there is a synergy that causes 1 plus 1 to equal 3 or 4. With the right combination of talents, you can propel your company to unthinkable heights.

So how do you choose your partners? It depends on what you want them to do. Some very basic screening tools are critical to setting up a team framework. How about performing some personality testing to see how you complement each other? Look at Kolbe.com, they have lots of great team building tools for either employees or actual partners. Another option is a more traditional personality test such as the one we provide here at Core. These screen for basic compatibility, and help you decide who is good at what tasks. You can’t have all sales people as partners!

After you’ve screened your partners, date them. Try them out, whether its employees, vendors, or actual partners. Instinctively we do this a lot of times anyway. But unlike dating a person for a personal relationship, we really need to have an agenda. We need to identify specific questions that must be answered, a time frame in which to answer them, and the specific tasks or methods that we will use to assess our partners. All of this should be communicated up front, and not be hidden. Simply explain the situation to your prospective partner, and explain the process, and the reasons. In the end, it is much better for someone to know why you ditched them than being dumped without explanation or communication.

Sure, you can choose to never have business partners (not likely), and take the safe course. You will miss out on a lot of living, and not just in business. What is that they say? Tis better to have loved and lost…

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