12 Illuminating Questions To Ask Potential Business Partners

Taking the time to carefully vet business partners decreases the chances of something going wrong down the line. 

Newsweek Expert Forum members share industry insights.
Newsweek Expert Forum members share industry insights.

A partnership with another person or company can increase your chances of successfully bringing your ideas alive. After all, a partner will be able to offer additional information and resources, and the combined effort means more work will get accomplished.

However, one must carefully vet every collaboration before signing on the dotted line. Though a business partnership may look good on paper, asking key questions beforehand can help ensure your prospective partner actually ticks all of the right boxes. Below, a panel of Newsweek Expert Forum members each share one question to ask a potential business partner before officially joining forces.

1. "What are you passionate about?"

When connecting with new people—whether there's a partnership opportunity or someone simply thought we should meet—I love to ask this question: What are you most passionate about right now? They can talk about work, home life, personal goals, TV shows they are binging or books they are reading. It's a lovely, unexpected, open-ended question, and how folks answer it can tell you a lot about them. - Maria Ross, Red Slice, LLC

2. "What would make you reject a partnership?"

I often like to see what makes the potential partner tick. I would ask, "What are the reasons you would not want to be in a partnership with someone?" The answer to this question might help me gauge what this person's thought process is and what their sensibilities are to help me understand if we have the needed compatibility. - Juda Engelmayer, HeraldPR

3. "What did you learn from a past partnership that failed?"

The one question I always ask is this: Tell me of a time a partnership didn't work, and what would you do differently? You will learn a lot. Is the person humble about their role in the partnership? Is everything they say about how the other party didn't fulfill their end? Listen closely and you will see your future. - Brendan P. Keegan, Merchants Fleet

4. "Why do you do what you do?"

While basic and straightforward, this is a great question to kick off an exploratory conversation where you can learn more about their business practices, values, how they communicate and their style. All of these elements are crucial to see if you want to move forward. Also, pay attention to any negative talk around current or past clients as this could be revealing. - Chris Tompkins, The Go! Agency

5. "Can you tell me about yourself?"

Ask them to tell you about themself and their life. Then, listen very carefully. Their response will reveal whether they take responsibility for their actions and results, whether they are a learner and adaptable and how they will treat you and others. People have patterns. Unless they are very introspective and dedicated to growing, those patterns repeat. Any red flag only gets bigger with time! - Karen Valencic, Spiral Impact

6. "Can you tell me about past conflicts you resolved?"

I would have them tell me about conflicts they've had to deal with in their prior jobs and relationships. Ask what they think caused them and how they were resolved. Conflicts are inevitable, but poorly handled conflicts or conflict avoidance can bring productivity to a halt. What you're looking for is whether other people will take responsibility for their part and also how they view the best way to handle them. - Mark Goulston, Mark Goulston, M.D., Inc.

7. "What is your 'win' in this situation?"

Every partnership has to be a win-win for both parties. If there's no win-win, there's no business and no partnership. So, I try to understand what the "win" is for the other party. Once I know that, I evaluate if it is also a "win" for me. If so, I then proceed. - Roshani Pandey, True Root Financial

8. "What has been your professional journey?"

Developing any relationship requires personal investment from both sides. I often ask potential colleagues how they came to their current job after I share parts of my own journey. If that feels too direct, I ask what they love about their home or community. My goals are to truly understand who they are, what is important to them and what synergies we share. - Jacob Kupietzky, HCT Executive Interim Management & Consulting

9. "What is your 'why?'"

When talking with a potential partner, I always want to know their "why." What is the reason behind why they are doing the work? If someone is in it for the money, the partnership may come to an impasse if you are doing something for a personal or moral cause. It's critical to make sure you are aligned with your partner and understand their strengths and weaknesses and how well you can work together. - Brian Meert, AdvertiseMint

10. "What are your short- and long-term company goals?"

I'd like to know what their company's goals are. What do they want to have completed in two, five and even 10 years down the line? Who knows, our businesses might be able to help each other to attain one another's goals. - Christopher Davenport, AutoParts4Less

11. "What do you value?"

What do they value both personally and professionally? I look to partner with people who have a shared vision of how we can help each other delight a customer in a way that both of us can reflect on and say, "That was great." I also look for a like-minded, personal connection. If your values don't align, then the partnership will not be great. - Matt Domo, FifthVantage

12. "Have you done this before?"

Ask potential partners whether they have done what you're trying to do or if they have experience guiding a client like you on a similar path. How did that work out? Too many partners aren't suitable for a business's unique circumstances. You need to drill down deeply to discover a suitable partner. My favorite quote is "Never take advice from someone who hasn't done what you're trying to do." - Kim Estep, Branig Capital Markets

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