It seems like every article you read about forming business partnerships kicks off with some kind of metaphor related to marriage. There’s a good enough reason for this, I suppose. It’s an apt analogy in many ways. However, I find it a little bit trite and corny, so I’m going to spare you my attempt at it.
What I would like to do instead is dive right into some startup advice that will give you the raw nuts-and-bolts information on forming mutually beneficial business partnerships.
Finding “the one”
Professionalism is something that most entrepreneurs must, by necessity, take a certain amount of pride in. And professionalism is a term that can mean many things. One of them, for example, is that we put our personal differences aside when it comes to the people we do business with. Results are the important thing, so that’s what we focus on.
However, when it comes to business partnerships, that kind of professionalism may not always be the best policy. You can set aside personal differences and form a partnership with someone that you wouldn’t necessarily want to hang out with on the weekend. You may even have some success along the way. But here’s an important business startup tip: You are always going to form the most effective partnership with someone that you genuinely hit it off with.
Partnerships are like (I’m not going to say marriages!) chemical reactions. They burn the hottest when there is tremendous synergy and all of the elements feed off of each other. Innovative ideas and new ways forward are always crackling through the air when you and your partner see things in fundamentally the same way. These are the business relationships that can carry both parties to building something great. So always be on the lookout for “the one”.
Communication is one of those nebulous terms that always seems come up when relationship business buzzwords start getting tossed around. The word even gets a little bit of a bad rap nowadays as being totally devoid of practical meaning.
Just to be clear, though, I’m not talking about the touchy-feeling pop therapy style of communication. I mean the difficult job of effective and honest communication—from the moment of your first proposal, until the day you’re zipping up the Fortune 500.
Often in business we must try to paint as rosy a picture as possible. We do this with clients when we make sales presentations. We do this with the public when we market our brand … with shareholders in annual reports. We even reflexively tell our friends and family that things are “great” when they ask how business is going. This kind of positive spinning has its place, but an important tip for entrepreneurs is that you have to be careful that it doesn’t become a habit you fall into.
Communicating with partners is going to require that you shift gears. I take the approach that every time I fail to be blunt in communicating with my partner I am tearing down my business a little bit. By giving a false impression, I am diminishing my partner’s ability to make effective decisions. When I sugarcoat things, I am affecting my partner’s capacity to help grow our business!
I don’t care if you’re going into business with your best friend from when you were six years old, or someone you’ve never met on the other side of the globe, you need to have a legal partnership agreement. There are so many benefits to this. To begin with, everyone’s obligations and responsibilities are spelled out clearly. Also you are protected, as much as possible, legally.
A good partnership agreement just simplifies matters tremendously. It shouldn’t be viewed as a negative thing, or as a lack of trust. And you’re not putting it into place because you’re expecting failure. It functions to free up everyone so they can focus on their jobs. Management structure, duties, financial terms, etc. are settled beforehand. Now all everyone needs to do is just go execute and make things happen!
Another good startup business tip is that when you take the time to go through the rigors of creating a legal business partnership, it helps you to really examine the nature of the undertaking you are about to embark upon. You may even take a step back and realize … maybe this isn’t actually as good of a deal as I thought it was. You could also find that your potential partner is suddenly not the same guy when it comes to putting everything in writing.
Sometimes it’s just not working. Was it you? Was it your partner? Was it just never meant to be? Who knows, but some critical startup advice is to recognize when you’ve reached the point. That means you’re not experiencing growing pains anymore … this deal just isn’t working. When you get there, you’re going to have to find the courage to walk away.
Do it the right way, though. I understand that sometimes feathers get ruffled in business. I can tell you from experience, though, that even if your soon-to-be-former partner is someone you don’t particularly care, those are exactly the kind of people who tend to resurface later in your professional life. They might even be a key decision-maker for an important potential client. Regardless of the industry, you’re in, it’s a small world. Don’t limit your future business because you let frustration get the better of you in the heat of an unsuccessful partnership.
There is no exact science to finding a great business partner, although there is quite a bit of chemistry involved. Just always remember that you may have some ups and downs before you find the right person. And even when you do, keep in mind that it only means the hard work has just begun. It’s the only way to make it last and to be successful as possible!