What I Learnt From Having A Business Partner
Here’s what I learnt from having a business partner. In 2015 I launched a business that created a splash in a very niche industry. And in doing so, I went from being a solo business owner, to business partner and co-founder, and then very quickly back to being a solo business owner. It was a whirlwind, and extremely stressful experience, but what I learnt from that experience is that having a business partner is not necessarily easy.
The business was the outcome of my years of dreaming, mixed with 6 months prior preparation of estimates, mind maps and rough planning. Being a solo business owner (and still side-hustling at the time), the project had always presented too large a task to take on solo, and was constantly being sidelined in the ‘keep dreaming’ basket.
But when I met someone who shared the same vision as I did, things began to take shape in my mind and the project workflow looked attainable. Being a solo business owner can sometimes be overwhelming and lonely, so I was excited at the idea of having a business partner to share the journey and make our dream a reality.
I’m the kind of person who likes to share and discuss my options before I make my final decision, and who better to help guide you in the process than your fellow co-founder?
We jumped headfirst into the joint project, spurred on by a shared vision and a desire to make it happen. We were hustling big time. In hindsight, jumping headlong was my mistake. It wasn’t long into my business partnership that I began to encounter problems.
“Whilst the benefit of having a business partner is that you share the responsibility, vision, workload and rewards – and you no longer have to make sometimes life changing decisions on your own – the downside is that suddenly you have the burden of two invested parties. For the right person, and with strategic selection, this can be a wise business move. For others, it creates more drama than progress.”
The most important thing to consider when having a business partner is that you need to enter into the arrangement for the right reasons, and both parties need to bring certain qualities to the table.
Here’s what I learnt from having a business partner, and how you can avoid my mistakes.
1 // Your business partner must be skilled and equipped for the job
This would seem like a no brainer, but given the nature of my industry and the project we were starting, sourcing an appropriately skilled partner had been hard. Once into this partnership journey however, I very quickly realised that a shared vision and a desire to see the project happen was not going to be enough to carry out the required tasks. The project required a level of skill and experience that my business partner did not possess, and given the time frame of the project, was not able to up-skill.
If your business partner doesn’t have the skills, and they’re not willing to learn, then you have a block affecting the outcome.
2 // You must share the same perspective to productivity
It’s not enough to assume that because your colleague also wants to see the project come to life, that they will be as dedicated to it as you are. If your partner is not willing to commit to tasks and time commitments so that the project can maintain its projected timeline, you will find the balance in labour disproportionate. The challenges to reach goals will increase, instead of decrease.
3 // Clearly defined roles and division of tasks are essential
I readily admit that I’m not a good leader, or at least, I don’t like to be a ‘boss’. I like to have a utilitarian approach to the division of labour, and like to let my team work to their strengths within their own time frame. But in a startup with an unskilled partner, this results in chaos. I learnt from having a business partner that it’s best to assign roles and duties and align these with your project management outline from the outset.
Note: defining roles and assigning tasks can still allow for your team to work within their zone of genius.
4 // Put your contracts and agreements in place
Before you do anything else, get your paperwork in order and make sure your business partner and yourself have signed on the dotted line. Especially when it comes to financial commitments. Yes it’s nice to play happy families and think that you’ll never run into any problems, and this happens when passion and excitement come into play. But it is imperative to take off those rose coloured glasses. Even best friends can go south when it comes to business, especially when there’s egos on the line. A clearly written contract, services agreement, and defined roles will lay the foundation and give you substantive backing to refer to when needed.
5 // Be clear on your brand values
My business partner emailed clients contradicting what we had agreed upon, and contradicting what I had already said to the client. It created chaos and I had to scramble to keep the clients. I learnt from having a business partner that opinions, perspectives, ethics, values and aesthetics are crucial in business.
Your brand values shape the way your business is received and how your audience engages. You can’t afford to blur your message, or worse still, send conflicting messages, by not being on the same page as your business partner.
6 // Someone will need to be the boss
Just like when it comes to defining roles and assigning duties, there may come a time when one of you will need to step up and be the boss. When and where will depend on the why. In a healthy business relationship, you will both respect and recognise when either of you is more appropriate to take a leading role. But when there is conflict, your percentage of investment in the business and the situation at hand will likely determine who becomes the boss.
7 // Communication is key
Good communication skills are the key to success, and form the basis of connection between two parties (especially if working remotely). Remember also that a very important part of communication is hearing what isn’t said. Be open to acknowledging and validating the feelings, thoughts, ideas, needs, wants and expectations of your business partner. Be mindful to keep the communication aligned with your business needs, and ensure that whenever possible your communication is a constructive two-way dialogue.
8 // Be open to dissolving the partnership
Of course it goes without saying that whenever possible, you should do everything you can to resolve any issues or a conflict situation mutually. All sorts of skills may need to be called upon to do so. However, as with all relationships, that relies on both parties being committed to solving the problem. If you can see no light at the end of the tunnel and you’re deeply concerned for your business with your business partner at the helm, be open to the idea that it may be best to dissolve the partnership.
So be prepared to call it quits if things are going sour and a resolution does not appear possible. Cutting your losses may be important to avoid further damaging the business, your relationship with your business partner, and your own wellbeing.
When the thought of being an “I” instead of a “we” makes your shoulders loosen and you breathe easier, it’s time to take action.
Don’t take a dissolved business partnership as failure!
9 // And lastly, the first step is the most crucial – choose carefully
Choosing the right business partner is just as important and takes as much thought and planning as choosing a life partner. Much like a personal relationship, resist the urge to jump in too quickly, so as to prevent the honeymoon period ending in conflict, financial losses and legal proceedings. It’s best to make sure you know as much as possible about your prospective business partner, including how their family life and finances might affect the business, before entering into agreements.
Business doesn’t have to be stressful, and having a business partner certainly shouldn’t mean that you’re in a constant state of stress. For this business venture, I let my passion cloud my wisdom, and I entered into a partnership with good intentions but with not enough care.
If you’re facing any of the problems I encountered, you may just find yourself reaching for the wine and a tub of ice cream each night. Be careful about the process, your involvement with each other, and be intentional about the methods you take to resolve your issues.
>>> What have you learnt from having a business partner?