What to Do When Someone Wants to Partner with Your Design Business


Web designers seem to get a lot of unsolicited business offers. Over the years, I’ve received notes from people who wanted to either buy my business or partner with it in some way.

Truth be told, I disregard a lot of it as spam. It’s often fairly easy to figure out what’s legitimate and what’s not (if you spell my name wrong or mention a service I don’t actually provide, that’s a clue).

Still, there are occasions when a sincere offer comes through. When that happens, it may be tempting to jump right in. Not so fast! It’s always a good idea to slow your roll and take some time to rationally think things through.

Not all opportunities are created equally. Therefore, consider the following before signing on with anyone:

What’s Involved?

Partnerships come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it’s a front-end designer who needs your development expertise for one or more projects. Or perhaps it’s someone with an idea for a business and is willing to share a cut of any profits. There really aren’t any limits when it comes to the types of offers you might receive.

Regardless of the offer (and how good it may sound), it’s important to clarify exactly what role you would play in the arrangement. To get a more complete picture, ask a lot of questions, such as:

  • Why are you reaching out to me, specifically?
  • What responsibilities would I have?
  • Would I be considered an equal partner?
  • Would I have autonomy to make decisions?
  • What’s the ultimate goal?

Depending on what’s being discussed, you may have other pertinent questions to ask. Be as direct and specific as possible – it’s the only way to find out exactly what the other party is thinking.

A group of people having a discussion.

How Will It Affect My Business?

Once you have a firmer grasp of your potential role, the next item to consider is the overall effect this joint venture would have on your business. What you determine here may be the main factor in whether or not to move forward.

The top considerations in this area are money and time:

Your Bottom Line

A partnership that brings you a steady flow of work had better offer a steady income, as well. These, of course, are the kinds of deals you’d rather be a part of. Adding to your bottom line without having to scrape up new clients can be very beneficial. However, in these cases you’ll want to set some ground rules regarding your availability – which we’ll get to in a bit.

On the other hand, potential deals that promise you a certain percentage of profits (a.k.a. “a piece of the game”) aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be. Yes, there is some possibility that things explode (in a good way) and riches rain down on you. But it’s also quite possible that the person on the other end has no money, or is not willing to spend anything for your services.

In all honesty, I’ve received a number of proposals that offered profits over a simple payment for services. I’ve never taken anyone up on it. Whether you do so or not should depend on:

  • Your comfort level in potentially doing a lot of work that you’ll never be paid for;
  • Your judgement as to the other party’s character and sincerity;
  • Your belief (or lack thereof) in whatever type of arrangement is being proposed;

If you feel that the arrangement can grow your income, then it may be worth further exploration.

Business charts in a notebook.

Your Workload

Another major consideration is how much of your time would be required to partake in this proposed partnership. If you have lots of free time, perhaps this fills a gap. But if you’re already crazy busy, you might risk setting yourself up for a highly-stressful situation.

This is also a good reason to fully understand your role before signing on that dotted line. When you have an idea of what type of work is involved, you can better determine how it will affect your schedule. Large, complex projects will require a lot of focus. But even simple tasks can frequently interrupt your workflow.

Then, there is also the potential impact this would have on your existing clients. If you would no longer have enough time to properly serve them, it could prove costly for your business.

A desktop with a calendar, clock and laptop.

Making the Right Decision

Coming to a final determination of whether or not to move forward can be difficult. This is especially so in cases where you genuinely like an offer and believe in its potential.

In the end, it all comes down to where you are and where you want to go. If you’re happy with where your career is at, you’ll want to seriously think about the implications of disrupting it by saying “yes”.

But, if you do think it’s time for a change in direction, it’s worth studying up on what you believe to be a good opportunity. Either way, make sure to do your homework and think about the consequences involved.

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