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Your own business: Taking on a partner

You’ve gone out on your own and a few month later you find that you have more work than you can handle. This is not an uncommon occurrence for an IT Pro who is good at what they do. Word gets around that you are a person that gets things fixed and suddenly the phone won’t stop ringing.


You don’t want to knock work back so you decide to take on a partner so that you can expand the number of clients you have and hopefully increase the profits that you are making.


However, bringing someone else onboard, especially without significant planning, can destroy what you had.


Unless your partner is as good as you technically and on the customer service front, your existing clients are not going to be thrilled when they call you with a problem and someone else comes to fix it. Almost all small businesses have been burnt by an IT cowboy. The IT cowboy says that they can fix a problem with a server, but leave more of a mess than where they started. There are a lot more IT cowboys around than there are true IT Pros so if you have proven yourself competent, they aren’t going to want to go through that same process with a substitute.


Now you might say to yourself “I wouldn’t bring on a cowboy as a partner.” This is all well and good except you are already run off your feet, so how are you going to recruit someone who can be, with a little training and experience, as good as you are now? Unless you have some experience with it, recruitment is a lottery. Even experienced recruiters have trouble sorting IT Pros from IT cowboys, so your chances aren’t going to be that great. A final bit of advice on the recruitment front is never think to yourself “well I can train them to do that” because you most likely will never have the time.


Another problem when you take on a partner is that you instantly halve the amount of work. If you were billing 50 hours a week, taking on a partner is going to reduce your take home pay greatly. You need to allow your partner enough work that it is worth it for them to work with you, but not so much that you both can’t make a living. Going from 50 to 30 hours a week is going to take some adjustment and even with new clients, it is going to take some time before your income recovers.


You can get around both of these problems if you plan well. Of course, the catch-22 is that you need a partner because you are so run off your feet which makes that sort of planning difficult. If you can’t do that sort of serious planning, consider the following options:


Raise your rates. The first thing to consider is that if you have more work than you can handle, you’re either pretty good at what you do or you are charging lower than the market rate. My general observation is that most small to medium sized businesses have been “burnt” by IT cowboys and are more than happy to pay a premium if the person they get knows their stuff and has good communication skills. Before you consider a partner, consider a rise in your rates. If you raise them too high it may backfire, but small rises may let you find out what you are really worth.


The second is to ask around other people or companies doing the same job as you and see if they would be willing to pay you a referral fee for any new clients that you push their way.


If you’ve got any career questions that you’d like answered, email [email protected]


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