My business is still fairly new. As such, I’m currently in the process of building out my collection of business partners. For me, this means identifying those folks (consultants, contractors, etc.) who will become what I think of as my team. What criteria do I have for these people? Well, first, my partners need to provide a needed service or otherwise be of value to my daily operations. Simple enough, right? Then second, these folks need to reflect or at least advance the values I hold for my own work. For me, this includes at the core, supporting minority-owned, particularly Black-owned, small businesses. Importantly, these criteria aren’t an either/or proposition. The people I’m looking to work with ideally would meet both criteria for me to consider them as partners. If you’re reading this, you likely have a similar commitment in your own work. Whether you provide a service or more importantly, contract for services to fill a business need. I’ve learned that satisfying the first criteria, is much easier than the second. Also, I know that to commit to using such values-based criteria, I contribute in a meaningful way to creating more opportunity, and support for business people like myself.
First, prioritize what you need
The first criteria requires that business partners provide value by satisfying basic business needs. This sounds pretty obvious but the key is the word is need. When it comes to business services, there’s a lot of nice to haves and want to haves out there but we shouldn’t confuse these with real need to haves. The most important partner at this stage in the growth of my business was finding someone who would help make sure I get my money right, and stay correct in regards to my tax-related obligations. I needed to find the right tax advisor for me. For someone starting their first business, your first priority might be a legal advisor to help ensure you select the correct business form, i.e. sole proprietor, partnership, corporation, etc. Each case is different so be sure to prioritize the partner you need most. But wherever you start, I’d suggest that the first step is to prioritize staying away now from making decisions that will get you into trouble later. Start with what you need to sustain your business, and help it along the way on the path to success. Remember, while filling a need isn’t everything, it is the first step to creating a business capable of sustaining itself.
Then, focus on your values
The second criteria is concerned with living into your business values. I’ve found meeting this criteria quite a bit more challenging than addressing my basic business needs. This is because this second criteria isn’t about what a partner does but how what they do helps you lean into your stated values. In my case, applying my business values as criteria for selecting business partners was, and remains, complicated. For example, the unfortunate reality in my field is that finding local businesses for many of the services I need, particularly technical services like engineering (structural, mechanical, electrical, etc.), is virtually impossible. Thus, for these needs, I focus on trying to find business partners that at least demonstrate a commitment to advancing diversity, and opportunity through their own practices as evidenced by who they choose to work with, who they choose to employ and promote, and how they talk about their work. Despite the many challenges, the commitment must remain. Then, ultimately, you do the best you can.
Why this is important
My point in all this is to say that who you choose to work with matters. It matters to you, and it matters to me. The values that you and I apply to creating and supporting opportunity for others to thrive is directly related to the presence and availability of those partners when we go looking for them. I’m only one business, and alone I can’t support a community of practice that is similarly committed to diversifying my field. But together, the real promise in choosing partners that reflect and/or advance our shared business values is that doing so becomes the basis for building a community of values-driven business owners with the collective power to effect change.