How to find a potential business partner

I have always wanted to run my own business, but I haven’t yet actually done it. One of the reasons not to is that I’m a bit risk-averse, and I know myself well enough to admit I have some characteristics unsuitable to independent business ownership (detail oriented, easily stress myself out). One thing that might offset that is to start with a partner with equal or complementary skills. I know of a number of engineering consultants in my area who have partnerships or have incorporated with multiple founders.

I have a variety of friends, colleagues, and business contacts, built up over 20 years. There are a lot of names “in my rolodex” but how would I evaluate if any of them would be good prospects as partners? More to the point: How can I figure out if they would be interested in partnering with me?

I have spoken candidly to some close friends and they are not in a position to strike out on their own, not even with a partner. They certainly have a lot to say about my ideas to start my own business; mostly supportive. Those that have already had businesses (and either retired or sold out) are not going back to doing that. Now I’m thinking about other engineers I know. Some that have already set up independent practices, and some that haven’t but aren’t happy with their employers.

I can think of inviting people out for meetings over lunch and talking about matters general and specific. Even without popping the question, an hour of talking with some people may be enough for me to figure out if I can trust them. Some other people are not so easy to figure out, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t complement by abilities.

At some point I have to admit to a number of people that I’m considering setting up a consulting firm, what I would do, who I would have as clients. I have actually written enough of a business plan that I could talk to those subjects fairly well in a conversation. There would have to be enough definition to give a potential partner confidence that I’m setting something up that would work.

What else should I consider in a candidate?
What else should I prepare if I wanted to have this conversation with a business acquaintance that I view as a candidate?

Just an aside: I like to listen to podcasts where business founders talk about how they set up their companies and made their ideas into reality. (recommendation: How I Built That, on NPR).

It seems like a universal story that future partners meet when they work together as employees of the same company, come up with a new idea together, then go off and found the new company themselves.

In my situation I always seem to be around employees, content enough to remain employees. This is a good point to recognize that luck plays a part in many things. All meetings are chances, all opportunities are risks.

I can tell you what is not working for me, building a business “on the side.”

For me, sales is the difficult aspect of being a business owner. I only have so many connections and they only have so much work at any given time. I wish I would have partnered with a sales person.

Because I don’t have a steady income, I need to continue to work full time to pay my mortgage. That means I’m limiting my pool of potential clients, because I need to find those that will work with my part-time evening schedule. You can’t build a business if you’re not working when your clients are.

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That’s something I’ve done before, but only as singular projects. I can see what you mean - the work to keep a business going, not to mention the extra energy needed to get it off the ground, is a job in itself. I have not considered that a realistic approach.

What I have considered as a practical intermediate solution, is to convert my full-time job into a contract position and accept work based on a more narrowly defined set of tasks. As a contractor my hourly remuneration would increase but my hours could stretch and shrink rather than be fixed. If shrinking hours at job #1 cause a shortfall, it motivates me to work on my other services.

These considerations are little harder to frame within my original question, about the benefit of having a business partner, and finding a suitable one. I don’t mind if we don’t get into the work-life balance related to my question. It is an important factor, always in the background when anyone considers changes to their employment. If there’s a way that the right business partner also helps with the work-life balance, then I’m all ears!