Starting your own business is an enormous undertaking. One of the most critical, strategic decisions you will make is whether to take a partner. Horror stories abound about the partner from hell and about partnerships gone wrong. Deciding whether to take a partner and choosing the right one is a strategic imperative, and if given proper focus and consideration, you can make the right choice, one that can have a profoundly beneficial impact on your business.
Do You Need a Partner?
First of all, assess your situation and decide if you need a partner. Statistically speaking, businesses started by partners do better than businesses started by individuals, but that doesn’t mean your situation warrants or will be benefitted by a partnership.
Sometimes going it alone is the right course of action.
Going it alone has many benefits. First, it certainly is simpler. As president and CEO, you have the authority to make crucial decisions and shape the future of your company without having to reach agreement with others. Of course, this can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on whether you work better as a consensus builder or as a maverick. As a sole proprietor you can brainstorm with employees and advisers, but ultimately company decisions and responsibilities rest on your shoulders.
Second, without a partner, you own it all. You won’t have to share the wealth, rewards or achievements. You get complete control and complete recognition. Third, you won’t have any messy emotional ties, conflicts or issues (personal or professional) to resolve with a partner. If you have the resources, the experience and the wherewithal, you should seriously consider going it alone.
On the other hand, there are many benefits to forming a partnership, including sharing the financial burden, the responsibilities and work load; benefitting from your partner’s experience, skill set and network; and added capital contributions. With a partner, you share the risk and the rewards, the breaks and the burden.
A partner can also provide valuable psychological, motivational and emotional support during tough business times. You can help each other out, lean on each other and work together to reach a shared goal. Two heads can be better than one.
It’s Like a Marriage, Only with a Bottom Line
In many ways, a business partnership is like a marriage. As with a spouse, you and your business partner are throwing your lots together and working toward a common goal. The qualities of a good marriage are quite similar to those in a good, productive business partnership. A good partnership requires:
• A shared vision and goal
• Mutual hard work
• Open communication
• Mutual respect
• A balance of power
• Effective conflict resolution
Like a marriage, a business partnership is not a decision to take lightly. There is a lot at stake here – money, time, effort, and emotions. In addition, you’ll be spending many of your waking hours working with this person, so you’ll have to develop an effective working relationship. Choose well.
How to Choose a Partner
The goal is to choose a partner who complements your skills, not duplicates them. Too often we choose people either too much like ourselves or we choose people who are so different than ourselves that we are in constant conflict.
Think about the personality traits you can and can't work with. This requires being really honest about who you are and what you bring to the table. Are you a control freak? If so, be honest about it and pick someone who isn’t a control freak! Two control freaks may not work well together. Similarly, are you a big picture/pie-in-the-sky type? Then you might want to pick somebody more detail-oriented and grounded. Are you a fast decision maker or do you like to think, think, think? Picking someone who is a slow decision maker might be a good thing or it might drive you crazy.
Most importantly, pick someone who is as excited and driven as you are to make this business a success. And pick someone whose work ethic matches your own. Find out early on whether your partner thinks a six-day workweek is too short or likes to punch out on Thursday and breeze back in on Monday.
You don’t have to be best friends with your partner, but you do have to like them enough to work with them. If that person sort of bugs you right now, just wait until you’re in business together. It won’t be pretty.
Remember, a partnership can be the foundation of your business or it can be your complete undoing. If you assess strategically, choose wisely, and manage effectively, your partnership can be the cornerstone of your business, and of your success.
Mary Abbajay and Karen Bedell, co-founders of Careerstone Group LLC, deliver leading edge professional and organizational development solutions to business and government. Careerstone Group’s consulting, facilitation, training, and coaching services help clients create effective, productive and positive workplaces where high-engagement meets high performance. They are committed to helping both the organization and the individual create lasting and sustainable success.
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