What Jerry Maguire teaches us about business partners

choosing a business partner

They say that opposites attract, but the truth is deeper and more important than that simple observation.

See if you remember this Tom Cruise line from the movie Jerry Maguire: “You complete me.”

He was talking to Dorothy Boyd (played by Renée Zellwiger) and before he delivers the line he talks about how rough and cynical the world of sports representation is. Dorothy Boyd has a simple, straightforward, authenticity that Jerry Maguire yearns for.

Together, in love, they complete each other. (By the way, just after that famous line, Zellwiger says, “You had me at hello.” How often do two quotable lines come from the same scene in a single movie?)

When a small business partnership is needed

Often it takes a partnership to make a small business “complete” and ultimately successful. Sometimes your spouse might be the ideal partner in your small business. For the right couple, this can be a very rewarding relationship. There are, however, risks that stretch beyond the risks unrelated business partners typically face.

The first step in deciding if you need a partner, is to have a good understanding of:

  • Your business knowledge and skills, and
  • Your personality.

If you don’t have the knowledge and skills to drive the success of your small business, you need to go out and get them. An advisory board can help in some areas and hiring can help in others. But sometimes, you may feel you need someone else “with skin in the game” to really provide the dedicated horsepower necessary to grow your small business to the heights you envision it.

However, if you decide to go this route, you need to choose wisely. If you don’t, you can end up in a situation worse than where you began. We know that delegation is critical for the successful growth of a small business, but if you don’t partner up with someone who can handle his or her own “turf,” you aren’t doing yourself any favors by creating a partnership.

The best small business partner

Ideally, your partner should “complete you” – at least in terms of the knowledge, skills, and personality required to manage and grow your small business. There are two critical parts of “completing you.” The first is all about the business skills you each bring to the table, while the second involves the nature or disposition of you and your partner.

What are the strengths you bring to your small business? Are you a sales and marketing rock star? Do you know how to make systems run efficiently for maximum ROI? Are you a technical guru who can do all the coding you need for a killer web presence?

Sit down and honestly assess your strengths. I have a short skills assessment form you can use if you want some help. After you do this, you need to consider the areas where you are weakest; those will help point you to the right partner. If you hire someone with essentially the same skill set as yours, you’ll always be butting heads over both the big issues and the minutia of growing a small business.

In terms of skills, they usually divide between general sales skills and the general technical and operational skills required to run a business. Consider the original partnership between Steve Wozniak (technical) and Steve Jobs (sales, marketing, growth). Here’s a graph that represents the way this often plays out:

skills graph

The personalities or temperament of partners is also important. It’s rare that partners never clash, so you need to expect some of that. And honestly, some successful partners can clash quite often…if they are they kind of people who refuse to harbor resentment and can separate everything “business” from everything “personal.” However, those are rare interpersonal skills!

Let me add one thing to this way of assessing your business strengths. Also consider the things you love to do and the things you hate to do. If you can team up with a partner who is competent and enjoys doing the things you abhor, that can be beneficial to the long-term success of your small business.

Get the partnerhips personality fit right

If you’ve been able to find partner candidates that allow you to define clear areas of responsibility in terms of operations and marketing, then you need to consider the personalities involved. Are you a rambunctious go-getter whose personal slogan might be “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”? Or are you a believer in the adage that “slow and steady wins the race”?

Try to look for a personality type that is unlike yours. Two cautious leaders will often fall behind in the marketplace, while two overly aggressive leaders are likely to make too many rash decisions and end up wasting time and money. Here’s the way these matchups tend to work out:

personality graph

Finally, don’t get me wrong: Selecting a partner with complementary skills and personality traits, doesn’t mean you won’t have some rocky roads to travel together. On the personal level, you’ll still have work to do adjusting to one another and giving one another the latitude to make decisions. However, these kinds of blends will be better for your business in the long run.

Working together, you will have the ability to “complete” your business vision.

Want to enjoy that classic scene from Jerry Maguire? Check it out on YouTube.