All about collaborating with a partner

Are you looking for a (fellow) freelancer so you can carry out large assignments together? Or do you want to further develop and market your invention together with others, in co-creation? Read how to find a partner that suits you and how to build a strong collaboration with each other.

1. Who are you looking for and why?

Decide what you want to do and what you are good at. Then think of the entrepreneurial skills (in Dutch) that are necessary for success, but that you do not master well enough yourself. For example, are you good at sales? Then the monthly VAT return might not be your biggest hobby. Or maybe you have 1001 ideas, but you can't manage to make money with them.

Find a business partner who complements you and is strong where you are weaker. That way, you can master all aspects of entrepreneurship together. Test (in Dutch) your entrepreneurial skills. If necessary, take an assessment or personality test.

2. What do you bring?

For successful entrepreneurship, you need a number of things. Such as a network with potential customers, a lot of money, or specific knowledge. For example, about the healthcare market, nitrogen emissions, or artificial intelligence. Describe this clearly in a profile, similar to a job vacancy text or dating profile. Include in your description, for example:

You and your partner

  • What roles do each of you have toward your common goal? Are you the creator, implementer, seller, upscaler, or connector?
  • What type of personality are you looking for: someone with guts who takes risks, someone who prefers to follow the rules, someone who makes quick decisions, someone who carefully weighs all the pros and cons, etc.
  • What are conditions that are absolutely needed? Expertise? Access to new distribution channels? Storage space for distribution? In short: what do you bring? And what should your partner bring?

How you want to organise it

  • How do you divide the tasks: who does what? And who will take the lead?
  • How do you see your role in a year's time? And the more distant future: do you want to work intensively for a few years and then sell the company? Or do you want to continue running it until you retire?
  • Which culture suits your company or new market? An innovative 'startup-like' culture? A people-oriented culture that puts the recruitment of sustainable talent first? Or a sustainable company culture?
  • How much time can you put into the company?

Inside or outside your industry, chain, region, or industry?

  • Are you looking for someone local, from a certain region, or a completely different country?
  • Is it useful for your partner to come from a specific industry?
  • Do you want to help solve large, complex problems? For example, do you want to help the police track down criminal money or reduce nitrogen emissions in construction? Then you may move faster if you work with an entrepreneur from another sector and who has specifically relevant experiences or ideas (crossover).
  • Do you need a partner from the production or logistics chain? If so, where should they be within the chain? Are you looking for a supplier? Or does your partner need to have a network of sales locations?

3. The best places to look

You may also find your new collaboration partner in your own network. Or in the network of family, customers, or suppliers. So, check your own network. Usually, contacts will prefer to connect you with a personal introduction. Have you still mot found the right match? Continue your search in these places:

Digital platforms and databases

  • LinkedIn makes it easy to search and get in touch with each other's network.
  • Through social media such as Twitter with #daretoask (or #durftevragen, #dtv) or #zzpmatch. Or on websites such as the entrepreneurship forum Higherlevel.nl. Or in groups on LinkedIn or Facebook. There are also specific professional platforms and forums, such as the platform for 3D Printing (in Dutch) or the platform for circular entrepreneurship circulairondernemen.nl.
  • Online services such as teamventure.nl (in Dutch).

Networking

  • Trade fairs, business cafés, meetings of trade or business associations, and other network meetings. There are many events on the Meetup website.
  • Incubators, multi-company buildings, (co)workspaces.
  • Innofest offers the opportunity to test your sustainable innovation during a festival with a large audience. Who knows, you might meet people who will help you to the next phase of your company.

Government and education

Via the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce KVK

For partners abroad

4. Check out your business partner

Avoid problems, such as your partner not being who they claim to be, and check their background. This can be done via the internet or in your network. Further tips:

  • View a registration in the KVK Business Register. There you can check whether a company exists, is bankrupt, is in suspension of payment, or is undergoing debt restructuring. For private limited companies (bv), annual accounts are often also available in addition to the statutory data.
  • Request a certified extract from KVK. This way you have proof that a company is legally registered, and you know who is officially the owner and authorised to sign.
  • You can request Business Register information about companies in other European countries via the European Business Register.
  • The UBO register makes it more transparent who is in charge at Dutch organisations. This is to fight money laundering and terrorist financing.
  • Want to know more? Engage a financial specialist who can advise you.

5. Communicate

Can you both see possibilities for a collaboration? The Collaboration Checker (Samenwerkingschecker, in Dutch) helps you to find out how you both think about certain topics you will be dealing with. Discuss your differences of opinion and include your compromises in the agreement.

Have you started your business? Regular contact moments ensure that you are aware of what the other is doing and what worries you share. And it gives you the opportunity to make decisions together. Entrepreneurs sometimes say that they hold an 'annual tune-up' together. They then take a moment to review whether, and how, they want to continue their collaboration.

6. Agreements in writing

A collaboration agreement, such as a shareholders' agreement, is not mandatory. But to prevent conflicts or unclarity, it may be smart to draw up such an agreement together. Before you get started, think about things like:

  • Each one’s investment in time and money;
  • What to do with the results (profit, dividend) and how to divide them among the partners;
  • Settlement of costs;
  • Who is responsible for loss and debt;
  • Who owns products and knowledge;
  • Confidentiality;
  • Non-competition and/or non-solicitation clause;
  • Period of the collaboration;
  • Who is allowed to make which decisions. Can each do this independently or only with the consent of the other? And up to what maximum amount of costs or financial interest?;
  • Who is/are authorised to sign?;
  • How do you want to communicate, consult, and report (verbally or in writing)?;
  • Who ensures compliance with the agreements;
  • Can partners join or withdraw?;
  • Dispute settlement: how to deal with differences of opinion and how to resolve them;
  • Possibility to change your agreements or end your collaboration.

Consult a lawyer if you want to be sure that your agreement is correct, complete, and up-to-date. If necessary, take out a business partner insurance policy. If your partner dies, their inheritors can claim part of the company. The business partner insurance pays a sum of money to the inheritors, effectively buying the part of the company belonging to the deceased partner. This way the company can continue its operations uninterrupted.

Please note: it is not allowed to make mutual agreements with other companies about prices or to divide customers between companies. This is called a cartel agreement and is prohibited because it hinders competition. Violation of the Competition Act (Mededingingswet) results in fines.

Suppose your romantic partner, or that of your business partner, will also work at your company. How do you arrange the remuneration and which compensation is the most favourable? There are various possibilities (in Dutch).

7. Who owns the patent, model, brand, or idea?

Who will be the owner of the invention later on? You or (also) your business partner? Or maybe even a competitor? Think about intellectual property in time. Intellectual property is a collective name for legal protection options for your product, brand, or model. You can apply for a patent if your product is new, inventive, and industrially applicable. It also needs to be unknown to the public.

Want to know more about patents? Get information from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) or hire a patent attorney. For advice on protecting ideas, trademarks, or designs, you can contact the Benelux Office for Intellectual Property (BOIP).

Tip: did you know that all patents are published in a database accessible to everyone? One such database is Espacenet. These databases can provide you with a lot of important information. For example, which companies are active with a certain technology, who your (future) competitors are, or potential new cooperation partners.

8. Choose or change a legal form

If you decide to start a company together, you will have to choose a legal form at some point. It is also possible that something has to change in the legal form of another existing company of yours or your partner’s. After using this tool, you can more easily make the right choice for a business structure. A new company can have consequences for your liability, risks, and what you have to pay to the Tax and Customs Administration. Get information about this from a tax specialist or your accountant.

9. A good idea, but no product yet?

Do you have a good idea, but are you still looking for a way to quickly develop innovative products and services? Then consider the lean startup method (in Dutch) which startups use to grow quickly. It does not matter whether you develop ideas together behind 'closed doors', in open innovation with other technical experts, or in co-creation (in Dutch) with customers or users. With the lean start-up method you quickly learn what does and does not work. Through this method, you quickly achieve concrete results together.

10. Revenue model not ready yet?

A ‘million-dollar idea’ is one thing, but who will buy it from you? The answer to this not always straightforward. The Business Model Canvas is a practical tool for arriving at a working revenue model. It covers all aspects of your business, such as the value proposition, customers, suppliers, costs, and revenues. And you can easily adjust it if anything changes.

11. Cash flow

Good ideas alone do not (instantly) make you any money. Make sure that you can fall back on a reliable cash flow and have some reserves for paying your tax return and fixed costs. For example, by getting or creating assignments that generate a steady stream of work. Think of maintenance of delivered products, service contracts, offering updates of new ICT knowledge, and asking a small(er) fee for this. That way, you lower the threshold for customers once they do have larger orders.

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