The Ultimate Guide to Vetting a Business Partner

After surviving several tumultuous business partnerships, Susan Nilon has learned to be more skeptical and cautious. In the past, she admits she was so excited about business possibilities that she “didn’t pay attention to red flags.”

She and her current business partner in a legal research firm, De Novo Law Services, not only have a formal partnership agreement, they’ve taken it one step further. She created an addendum to the agreement “writing out 10 steps on how to survive our partnership,” she says. This document spells out the things that are not normally called out in a contract, like how to handle disputes and what to do when the other partner is not pulling their weight.

Business partnerships can bring together individuals whose complementary skills and experience can help the venture succeed. And sometimes a partner can contribute valuable resources — including money — to help fund the business. But these arrangements can also result in headaches or heartache.

Here are nine ways to vet a potential business partner and (hopefully) avoid those headaches: 

Do Your Own Recon

Spend some time researching your prospective partner online. Review their social media accounts. Do their tweets or Facebook posts jive with the person you think you’ll be working with? Do you want to be professionally associated with them? Be sure to go back a while in their timeline: there may be older information they forgot about that provides valuable insight into their thinking and character. And don’t overlook a social media platform just because you don’t use it yourself. 

Similarly, when you conduct your online search into their background, don’t stick to one search engine. Dig a little deeper. “Different articles will be highlighted on different search engines,” says Nilon.

Listen To Your Gut

“First thing is don’t ignore the little voice that says hold off or slow down,” warns Garrett Sutton, a small business attorney who is the author of numerous books including, Start Your Own Corporation. He’s seen many partnerships sour and even sink businesses. “Too many people, when they are getting into a business deal they are all excited, but maybe there are nagging thoughts that maybe this isn’t right.”

Nilon suggests meeting your prospective partner for lunch and treating it as a “quiet” interview. Watch carefully how he or she treats the waitstaff and others you may encounter while you are together, she advises.

She remembers visiting a business she and her former partner planned to purchase. She watched him dig a three-ring binder out of the trash and grill the receptionist about why she had thrown it away. (It was broken.) In hindsight it was a warning sign, she admits: he turned out to be a micromanager who often focused on minutia.

Have ‘The Talk’

“What do you really want out of this relationship?” It’s that awkward question that often comes up when dating. That question, along with “What do you really want out of this business?” can be just as awkward. But it’s essential you have that conversation.

It’s “truly like a marriage,” Nilon points out. Avoiding these difficult conversations can have long-term consequences. She compares it to a relationship where “you don’t talk about wanting children before you get married. If you find out your partner doesn’t want kids and you do, the relationship might not survive.” She adds: “Knowing how you see the future and communicating that to the other is a key step to avoiding disappointments.”

With more than twenty years of experience in human resources, Ben Martinez knows as well as anyone how crucial it is to find the right people to work with. But even he learned the hard way how challenging that can be. He runs two very different businesses — STS Talent (an HR and recruiting firm for high tech businesses) and Sumato Coffee Company.

When he founded Sumato Coffee, he brought in a business partner he had worked with in the past. She was smart and capable, but he discovered she was in a different phase of her life than he. It was soon apparent that she wanted to devote more time to building her corporate career. “We had to part ways,” he says. In hindsight, he wishes he had asked more questions about what she wanted out of the business and her life.

Another partner he brought in later loved the product but he discovered she wasn’t as excited about all the work that goes into building a business. “She was mainly in it for the money,” he observed. “She was passionate about coffee and ecommerce but the work ethic wasn’t there.” He parted ways with her, too. 

Have a Money Talk

Figure out how to handle money up front. What do each of you bring the the table and how do you value that? How much do each of you get paid, and how long can each of you go without receiving a steady paycheck?

“In an LLC you can provide profits based not on the percentage of ownership but on the amount of time spent in the business,” explains Sutton. “And even with an S corp you could have a salary or bonus based on the amount of hours put in. The person that doesn’t contribute wouldn’t receive as much compensation. Then buy sell agreement could allow a partner to buy back the shares at low value” if one partner wants to get out.

Check Credit

You can check business credit on any business, so if your future partner is an entrepreneur, consider at least running a commercial credit check on their businesses. (This guide explains how to check business credit on another business.)

While there are dozens of places you can check your own credit for free, it’s not as easy to check someone else’s personal credit, and you’ll first need to get permission from your future business partner. In fact, unless your run a business that already obtains credit reports on job applicants, they will likely have to get their own report and share it with you.

Run a Background Check

Your local courthouse can be a source of information about lawsuits or other public record information. However, keep in mind this information will be limited to actions taken in that jurisdiction. And it may even be inaccurate. It’s not unusual for people with similar names to be mistaken for one another for example. (Millions of court judgments have been removed from credit reports recently because they couldn’t be thoroughly matched to the right person.) “Courts do not conduct criminal background checks,” warns the National Center for State Courts on its website.

For those reasons, purchasing a full background check that you both agree to review together may be a better bet. A background check that includes credit, criminal proceedings and other details will likely require the permission of the person on whom you request the report so be upfront with your request.

Every business owner interviewed for this article agreed that background checks can be useful. “Certain crimes could prevent you from raising money or obtaining government licenses,” points out Caton Hanson, cofounder and chief legal officer of Nav. And “IRS or states taxing authority problems could get you entangled with their problems,” he warns.

If you’re serious about the business and willing to spend the money, you may even want to hire a private investigator who can dig up more than you can likely find out on your own.

Do a Compatibility Check

Even if your partner is squeaky clean that doesn’t mean the two of you will work well together. Different personal and working styles can quickly drive a wedge in the relationship.

One big wedge driver: a partner who feels entitled because they came up with the idea for the business. “People put too much value on whose idea it was,” says Hanson. “Ideas are a dime a dozen. There are two things that matter: money and work. You can’t have a successful business without them.”

Hanson’s business partner Levi King and he have developed something they call the “St. George test.” It basically means asking themselves to imagine a 3-4 hour drive from Salt Lake City, where Nav’s primary office is based, to St. George, Utah with that person. “Could you do it and not go crazy?” Hanson laughs. “You need to really like your business partner.”

You can also use more formal assessments such as personality or work style tests. Consider springing to get them professionally administered and reviewed by an HR professional or someone trained to analyze and help interpret the results.

Hanson says King had him take a sales aptitude test and a personality quiz to “make sure we didn’t clash.” Martinez says these types of tools can be helpful to raise awareness of your partner’s styles or to find complementary work styles but it’s important to “get clear on what you are using it for.”

Try a Practice Run

If one of you has an existing business, consider hiring the other person for a project or limited period of time to see whether you work well together. It’s not foolproof, though, as Martinez learned. It’s probably more like dating than marriage — with both partners trying to make a good impression — but you will be able to get a better sense of how you might work together.

That’s what Hanson and King did. King hired him to work for him in a different company before they founded Nav together. “The work we did was almost like working together like business partners,” Hanson says. It gave them confidence that they could indeed succeed as partners.

Get it in Writing

If you’ve decided to proceed with a partnership, spring for a formal partnership agreement written by an attorney. Hanson shared the story of a business he knows that won an award that earned them a lot of attention, and eventually they were able to raise venture capital. The partners had no written partnership agreement, however.

“One of the partners was sitting at home playing video games,” he says. But because he owned shares in the company, the partners had to buy him out.

Even though you may still be in the starry-eyed stage, think through some worse case scenarios.

What happens if the partner dies, becomes incapacitated or needs to get a full-time job to support themselves or their family, for example. “You can create a buy sell agreement that says if one person abandons the projects they lose all their shares,” explains Sutton. “If they commit fraud they are out of the business. If they get divorced, only the person you entered the deal with can be an owner — the spouse can’t be granted those shares. A good attorney can prepare a buy sell agreement that can cover all these contingencies,” he advises.

This article originally appeared on


March 14th – Frequently Asked LEGAL Questions Workshop

Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Inc (ABLE) will be presenting a series of workshops to address some of the most common legal questions faced by low-income entrepreneurs and small businesses.  The first workshop will be held from 8:30 am to 10:30 am at The Entrepreneurs Center,  714 E. Monument Ave.

What will you learn throughout this series?

  • The basics of business formation
  • Whether your business should be an LLC, S-Corp, C-Corp, partnership, or non-profit
  • Basic tax issues related to your business entity
  • How to start an immigrant-owned business
  • How to protect your personal assets
  • The risks of oral contracts and why a lawyer should review your contracts
  • Laws about hiring and firing employees and contractors, and what you can be fired for as an employee
  • Zoning and permitting for your business location… and much more!



14 Hidden Office Costs You Can Cut Right Now

If you run a small business, you already know that there is more than one way to put your budget at ease. You can increase earnings, but it’s sometimes much easier to cut costs. This list of often-overlooked opportunities will allow even the nimblest of businesses to squeeze some extra from the bottom line. Try one – or all – and see real savings right away.  

1. Go Virtual

Despite projections that global business travel will grow to $1.6 trillion by 2020, small businesses struggle to justify spending on flight, hotel, and meal per diem – when much of the work can be done via Skype or another professional web conferencing tool. Determining whether an “in person” meeting has an appropriate ROI is key; more business can (and should) be done virtually when it makes money sense – especially since as much as 50% of meetings have been determined to be a complete waste of time.

2. Nix Long Lunch Breaks

If you’ve been having issues with tardy employees who just seem to linger a bit too long over the noon meal, consider ways that you encourage in-office eating. There’s no need for them to fight traffic or deal with poor restaurant service when all they need is waiting in the break room. Consider low-cost, healthy catering a few times a month (or even once a week), where employees can pitch in for the bill. Keeping workers on campus for even an additional 15 productive minutes a week can add up, and the morale-boosting benefits of eating with co-workers are valuable beyond measure.

3. Ditch the Paper

With more and more business services moving entirely to the cloud, it’s not necessary (or desirable) to print out communications, presentations, or even office memos. Gartner reports that paper usage increases 25% year over year during the of a business, but what if you could digitize most everything you create? Not only will this cut the cost of paper, toner, and printer rentals/maintenance, but other hard costs (staples, paperclips, file folders, highlighters, etc.) will dramatically drop when paper is phased out.

4. Embrace Telecommuting

The old fear that employees working from home won’t be as productive has been widely debunked, and yet this is still one of the largest opportunities for businesses to cut costs. Not only will you save on the overhead of providing office space, bathroom supplies, and breakroom goodies for these workers, but you may also be able to negotiate a lower salary for those who appreciate the flexibility of working from home. Employees may be more than happy to trade money saved on the morning commute for a slightly less hourly (and taxable) wage.

5. Rent When It Makes Sense

Many small business owners make the mistake of thinking they must buy all their business assets outright in the beginning. But if you plan on experiencing rapid growth in the next five years, it may be best to have a more flexible (and affordable) plan in renting office space, equipment, and even the plants you put in your lobby. Since renting also comes with the reassurance of maintenance plan, you can save some serious cash if anything goes wrong.

6. Contract Out

A solid employee base is a part of what makes a corporate culture last the generations, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for independent contractors in your business. In fact, this flexible service provides can provide highly-specialized support to your existing teams, without the need to commit to long-term employment contracts or expensive benefits packages. And with new studies showing that even the smallest companies can benefit from gig workers, there’s no reason to hold back from tapping into this skilled segment of the workforce.

7. Choose Your Credit Wisely

Not all business credit cards are created equal, and there are bigger and better offers popping up all the time. Savvy business owners should check their business credit score regularly, and ensure that they are paying fair rates for credit utilization, being prepared to refinance, as needed. It’s also a prime time to check out new travel rewards cards or other accounts that give you back something valuable for your business; pick the card that appreciates your spending goals and pays you back on everyday expenses.

8. Ask Employees What They Want

Management can be funny about keeping their “pet projects” – even to the point of spending money on stuff that doesn’t matter. Annual employee events or costly team-building traditions may not be necessary in a time of budget-tightening, and workers may not even miss them. Take time each year to get feedback from your team on the types of rewards they value most; their answers may be far more affordable than what you’re currently offering.

9. Lock it Up

We wish it weren’t so. Even with your best intentions to hire only the best and the brightest, people steal, and loss prevention is a valid use of your time and energy. If your employees don’t bother with the supply closet, off-site contractors or service professionals might. It’s best to keep the temptation to take home sugar packets and staples at zero by storing your supplies out of reach of anyone but janitorial and the office management teams.

10. Comparison Shop Online

While it’s popular for companies to have a contract with suppliers and lock in pricing for a year or more, it can benefit the smaller business to be free to shop online for the lowest price at any time. Train your purchasing team well, and give them permission to browse the big supply sites – as well as retailers like – to get the rock bottom price on those items you use most.

11. Account for Time

Employees don’t like to be told how to use their computer time, and most companies have firewalls to protect against viruses or harmful malware. Beyond that, however, it’s wise to let your workers use their own discretion on how long is too long to spend browsing the web. Tools that track time spent on each site (without revealing personal tracking info) are valuable in giving feedback and offering insight into the time sucks that most workers aren’t even aware of. Managers can use these personalized reports to then discuss how productivity can be improved through wiser and more accountable browsing habits.  

12. Structure in Breaks

Keep employees from sneaking in 5 minutes here and 10 minutes there throughout the day by scheduling in frequent, sanctioned breaks that keep them feeling like part of a productive team while also allowing some healthy downtime. Whether you pay for the breaks is up to you; simply communicating that you expect them to take a brisk walk around the office or grab a coffee can help. Lead by example and watch the productivity between breaks increase.

13. Audit Tools and Subscriptions Regularly

Software tools, magazine subscriptions, organizational dues, and monthly service charges can eat away at an already-strained small business budget. Get a handle on runaway (and unnecessary) costs by auditing these expenses at least quarterly. What might have been a must-have tool may be outdated by end of year. Be ready to axe any fee or charge that doesn’t fit your goals or feels like an obligation with diminishing returns.

14. Share Numbers with Your Team

Employees make hundreds of decisions in their daily work lives that can cost or save the company money. These are often done without the oversight of a manager, and added up over time, can be the difference between a bust or boon. Share the company financial goals regularly with your workers, emphasizing their role in creating stability and growth, and tying it back to how it affects them personally. Remind them of the benefits that exist when the business is doing well, whether that be in the form of a bonus or more job security in the coming year.

Many businesses are already doing some form of many of these tactics, but not at a consistent rate. Remember that best practices take practice – they are never a one-and-done option for continued success. When is the last time you looked at your day-to-day spending and saving habits and how they can be improved from the members of your front-line? Start today to get a handle on a better financial statement at the end of this fiscal year.

This article originally appeared on


Why You Should Wait 30 Days to Apply for a Loan

You ran through an analysis and decided it’s time to borrow to boost your business. You paid off your old credit card balances and took steps to shore up your credit score. You scrubbed through your financial statements to make sure they are accurate and professional. Is it time to apply for the loan? Probably not just yet. Follow along to learn why you should wait 30 days to apply for a loan.

What happens when you apply for a loan?

The loan application process requires data from many sources to make a decision. Depending on where and how you apply, you may get an instant online decision or have to wait weeks for a reply from a traditional bank.

Regardless of where you apply for a business loan, the lender will review your loan application, financial information, and credit history before making a lending decision. If you have perfect credit, no balances, and strong finances, you shouldn’t have a problem getting approved. But it doesn’t always work like that.

Many businesses need a loan at exactly the wrong time. When you have high credit card balances, are strapped for cash, and need a little more working capital to get through the season, a loan may be just what you need. But in that situation, you might not come off as a great, low-risk applicant to the bank. This is where waiting to apply for a loan may increase your approval odds.

A zero balance doesn’t mean your credit score says zero.

Both personal and business credit scores factor in current balances on credit cards, lines of credit, and other loans. If you max out your credit card, the impact is even bigger. Armed with this information, you may think that you can simply pay off your credit card and apply for the loan right away. But the lender might still see your old, high credit card balance even though you paid it off.

This isn’t because your credit report is wrong, per say, it is because of delays in credit reporting. Each time you have activity on a credit card or other loan, your bank systems usually update within a day or so. But your credit report does not update as quickly or frequently as your account balances.

The credit bureaus track credit report data for over a hundred million Americans. Considering that many people have multiple accounts, it wouldn’t be feasible to update everyone’s credit reports on the fly.

Here’s how the credit reporting system works.

Considering the scale of it, the credit reporting system in the United States is quite impressive. Three companies, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, collect data from hundreds of millions of accounts and data sources for consumer credit scores. For business credit scoring, Experian, Dun & Bradstreet, and FICO are leaders in credit scoring and reporting. But a lot happens behind the scenes to calculate those credit scores.

In most cases, every credit account you open is reported to at least one of the big three consumer credit bureaus. Every time you have activity on your account, your bank tracks that activity. Then, typically once every month, the banks will send updated information for each account to the credit bureaus. Because of this timing, it is possible for you to pay off a balance and have to wait a full month before your credit report is updated.

The timing might work out that your credit is updated the next day, but there is no guarantee. Also keep in mind that each lender reports on its own schedule, and might not report all accounts on the same day. If you pay off multiple credit cards, your credit report will likely change a few times before the final payoff is accounted for and your credit report and score jump.

Debt utilization makes up 30 percent of your personal credit score, which makes it the second largest factor in your score after payment history. Don’t underestimate the power it has to influence your score. If you can pay off all revolving credit accounts and wait for your credit report to refresh, you will be in much better standing for a new loan, assuming nothing else goes wrong with your credit in the meantime.

Wait for a 30 day cycle before applying for a loan.

Each time you apply for new credit, that credit application shows up as an inquiry on your credit report, which can lower your credit score. Don’t apply for a loan and get rejected. Pay off your debt, patiently wait a month for your credit report to update, then apply for the loan.

If you want to know for sure that your credit report is updated before applying for a loan, Nav is for you! A free account gives you both a personal and business credit score for free, and premium accounts give you scores from multiple credit reporting bureaus. Sign up and check your credit before the bank so you don’t end up with a surprise rejection of your loan application. It takes just a few minutes to get your free credit score and tips on improving your credit. You have nothing to lose, give it a try today!

This article originally appeared on


How to Keep Your Holiday Customers

The holidays are over, and for most businesses, that often signifies a big sigh of relief. October through to the new year represents a major marketing effort, the likes of which often feel like a never-ending marathon. But if the goal of that marathon is to hit the finish line with an increased customer bases, and subsequently higher revenue, then what can you do to retain that prize? How do you keep all those customers and continue to reap the rewards of all that hard work.

There are a variety of tools that you probably already have in place for customer retention purposes, but to ride out the wave of new holiday customers, consider some of these strategies.

Show Gratitude

Over the holidays, a friend of mine ordered some pet supplies from There’s a fair amount of pet supplies companies out there, and though he only ordered from Chewy on a whim, their order follow-up converted him to a loyal customer. How? A simple handwritten thank you card.

Customers are largely driven by prices and promotions, but what keeps them coming back is the service they receive after they submit an order. While that experience includes things like shipping efficiency and packaging, in the case of our holiday customers (which already ordered and received a product or service), a “thank you” can go a long way.

Does it have to be a hand-written note? Not necessarily, though a well-crafted, handwritten note does resonate, especially with small business customers. Your “thank you” can be as simple as a carefully worded email thanking the new customer for their business, inquiring about their experience, and perhaps even offering them a sweet deal on their next purchase.

Aside from letting a new customer know they aren’t just another order, a thank you (particularly a hand-written one) can help boost brand perception as customer’s receiving those cards share their experiences with other potential customers.

Show Your Value

A huge part of customer retention is adding value to the equation. Do you have great prices? Quality services or products? Are you exceptionally reliable? Offering new or hard to find products? Whatever it is that you do different or better than the competition, make sure your you convey that information to new customers.

Don’t forget that what proves to be valuable to one customer isn’t necessarily valuable to others. Take time to dig into customer analytics to determine what drives their purchases, identifying trends as you go. Target your efforts based on customer segments to make the most of your efforts.

Stay in Touch

If you don’t have a holiday follow-up campaign on the calendar, it’s time to get one in place. The longer you wait to reach out, the smaller your retention window becomes. Thank them for their order, offer them a new deal, keep your social media networks up-to-date, or, if the situation merits it, give them a call. 

By staying in touch (and not waiting too long to do so), you can stay relevant in their mind, their feeds, and their inboxes.

Create & Distribute Relevant Content

Creating content to be used on your social sites, blogs, and in emails can show new customers the depth of your offerings, going beyond products and services. The content you create will add to that “value” statement above.

What type of content? Similar to your efforts to determine and define value, to establish what type of content you need, you’ll need to determine “who” your customers are and what drives them. Create content that addresses their specific needs. 

Beyond that don’t forget the timeliness of post-holiday retention campaigns, specifically the resolution driven desires of the general populace. Consumers are looking to get healthier, stay organized, and start the year off on the right foot. Show your customers how your company can help them do that.

Give them VIP Treatment

Treat them to a great offer or discounted service, send them a gift (trial products, swag, etc.), or come up with a creative way to make them feel like they are an important part of your business. Similar to a handwritten thank you card, that little bit of extra goes a long way in showcasing your brand as one they can rely on for a quality experience. In a world where we’re all just another cart conversion, feeling like a VIP can quickly take a first-time experience to a long-term loyal relationship.

As much as it may feel like it, the end of Q4 isn’t the end of the race, it’s the beginning of a new one, and how you treat newly acquired customers will determine what kind of road lies ahead. To finish strong, make sure that new customers feel valued and see value in your business.

This article originally appeared on


Why Your Business Needs a Content Marketing Strategy in 2018

When it comes to marketing advice, it’s easy to get lost in all the shoulds, shouldn’ts, musts and must nots. Professionals the world over can debate on the most effective marketing methods, but in 2017, those seeking the sage advice of others would have a difficult time avoiding a healthy endorsement for content marketing. In fact, 86% of B2Cs and 88% of B2Bs employ some content marketing strategy, according to the Content Marketing Institute.

Not only are businesses utilizing content as part of their overarching strategy, but they’re seeing results. In fact, when asked to rate the success of their content marketing efforts (from extremely effective to not effective), 97% of both B2Cs and B2Bs reported some level of success. Do you have a solid content marketing strategy in place? Looking to really increase brand awareness in the new year? Here are three reasons why you should include content in your 2018 efforts.

Your Brand Becomes a Resource

In case you haven’t noticed, the internet is a cramped locale. If you can think it, you can search for, and find, it. Beyond that, businesses that want to survive in today’s overwhelmingly competitive landscape need to be online, only adding to the flooded nature of the internet as we know it. But how does one business standout? How do you convince customers to buy in?

When it comes to making a purchase or an investment, many customers are driven by price points, but your pricing structure can only take you so far. Instead, companies that want to remain relevant today must prove that they are knowledgeable about their products, their customer’s needs, and the industry to which they belong.

When done right (quality, not quantity), content – be it tutorials, webinars, blogs, infographics, etc. – makes your brand synonymous with knowledge.

Connect Throughout the Purchase Funnel

Engaging with potential customers right before they are about to make a purchase or sign a contract is great, and content marketing can help you do that. But the real value starts far before that at the very first level of the purchasing funnel – awareness.

By developing and circulating quality content, companies can insert their brand into the minds of potential customers far before they ever dream of completing a purchase. 

Take for example Restaurant Stuff, a fictitious company that specializes in restaurant supplies and equipment. One of their primary goals it to increase sales through content marketing. In order to do this, they start publishing service industry articles and videos that can help new and existing restaurateurs do everything from improve back of the house efficiently to create a welcoming atmosphere for guests.

Enter Joe, a restaurant owner who is searching for ways to improve his restaurant. He starts googling things like “improve speed of service” or “create a better restaurant environment,” and lo and behold, our aforementioned supplier’s blog shows up in his search results. In the words of Emeril, “BAM!” Now Joe’s following Restaurant Stuff and regularly checking out their website, blog and social media accounts.

A few months down the road, Joe needs to replace some equipment and find a new paper product vendor. Who do you think he’ll check with first? Restaurant Stuff, of course – the company that used that knowledge to reach him far before he needed to make a purchase. That’s the value of a quality content strategy.

Build Relationships

Back in the “good ol’ days,” relationships were forged through one-on-one engagements, be they in-store, over-the-phone, or during sales engagements. Today, while sales professionals still play a vital role in taking that potential relationship to the next level, the relationship start much sooner than that. 

For many businesses, their website or social media profiles take on the onus of “the first encounter,” and often times that experience can make or break the relationship before it really had the opportunity to gain human interaction.

Your website, specifically the content displayed, is your first line of sales. Visitors will develop positive or negative opinions of it fairly quickly – seconds, to be exact. In other words, good content can close a deal. Bad, or non-existent content can close the door.

Content isn’t a passing phase in the long history of marketing tactics. It’s here to stay. Businesses that want to set themselves apart from their competition need to make content a focal point of their short- and long-term marketing strategies.

This article originally appeared on