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What should you look for in a business partner?

Choosing the right business partner can be every bit as crucial in some ways as finding the right spouse. After all, both are people with whom you'll forge a legal bond that you hope will last a long time. You'll go through ups and downs with a business partner, just as you will with a spouse. Your college roommate or best friend at work may seem like a good person to start a business with, but they may not be the right fit -- and you may not be the right fit for them.

Let's look at some crucial things to look for when choosing a business partner:

Do they complement your skills and experience?

If you're great with numbers but not so good with people, you likely want to partner with someone who can make up for your shortcomings. You may have an idea for a unique product, but if you can't convince anyone to invest in it, you won't go far.

Do they share your vision and values?

You don't have to be on the same page about everything, but you need to essentially have the same goals for the company and similar views about what is ethical. If you have a "win at all costs" partner, you could end up in a lot of trouble legally -- or at least burn some bridges in your field that can't be rebuilt. In a worst-case scenario, they could end up stealing from you and the company.

What can they bring to the business?

Besides individual skills and experience, it's often helpful to partner with someone who has financial resources and industry connections. That's particularly true if you're lacking them.

Do they have financial and/or personal baggage?

If your potential partner has suffered a string of financial setbacks -- such as filing for bankruptcy or being involved with other businesses that have gone under, it's wise to be concerned about their financial decision-making skills. Likewise, if their personal life is constantly in tumult, they may not be able to focus as they need to on building a business.

Even when partners enter a business venture with strong mutual respect, it's essential to have the appropriate legal agreements in place. An experienced attorney can help you draw those up so that your business starts out with a strong legal foundation.

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