The Ups and Downs of Business Partnerships

Business-Partners-150x150It seems to me that business partnerships offer the same exciting potential as romantic ones – and all the risks too. Just like life, each side of the coin has something to recommend it.

Like attracts like and opposites also attract. If you are drawn to someone just like you, your business will be top heavy; you have effectively doubled-up on a resource you already own. If you work with someone who is your opposite, you might drive each other mad and what initially attracted could ultimately repel.

But working alone is not for the faint-hearted. There’s no-one to keep you accountable so you have to go outside your business for that. Look at how having a gym buddy or a personal trainer gets you to the gym and you’ll see how this works. Despite the fact that logic dictates pursuing our dreams and goals should be easy, it is much easier if someone else notices whether or not you show up. We are used to a boss, and a partner can replace that accountability in self-employment.

Working solo can be more or less efficient depending on how much time you spend procrastinating rather than getting the real work done and no-one will notice, so you can fudge your results for as long as you are prepared to kid yourself. You can please yourself, you can be selfish and you can be sure of always getting your own way. But there are only so many hours in a day which is a limit on how productive you can be alone so a successful solopreneur is going to have to learn the art of delegation and decide when to buy in other skills or learn them. And that might be costly in different ways.

How about partnering up with someone who feeds your creativity and appears to have those skills you lack? This is when the push-me pull-you begins and the scales start to fall from your eyes, just like a romance. We are all on our best behaviour while getting to know each other, but later we can tend to take for granted what our partners are good at and just focus on our points of disagreement.

What’s the solution? It’s really about how far you want to travel. Working in partnership is creative with the added adventure and possibility of it allowing for father and faster. Working solo is free of relationship stress but much slower.

Even when you find the right partner(s) there are still compromises to be made. Most consider those compromises are preferable to going it alone which, again, just like relationships, can be defensive play.  I liken this to politics. When MPs are initially voted in they are full of (relative) innocence and burning with idealism for all the good they can do in the world. They soon learn they have to compromise on what is less important to them, and to their constituents, in order to win votes to push through what they consider vital. Business partnership works like this too.

The key to good relationships is communication, a relatively easy word to say but not so easy to do. Often conversations must begin with “There’s something important we need to talk about” which causes the other to go “Uh oh” and worry about what’s coming. But once out in the open and each have said their piece, then the majority of differences eventually evaporate especially when tempered with compromise for the good of the project.

What to do in the event of a serious, potentially terminal disagreement, one that rankles and festers unresolved? One of the best things I learned in business was for someone to ask me once, as their accountant, to hold the casting vote in their business where they owned it 50/50. With a 50% split, if there are two of you, you cannot make anything happen unless you are both agreed. But what happens if you disagree? Neither can have their own way, you are effectively blocked from moving forward.

If you pick someone both partners trust and respect and ask them to hold 2 nominee shares and use them to vote in such circumstances, then this can break the deadlock. I never had to use my casting vote and I suspect if it was ever called upon then, likely as not, the partnership would suffer anyway but at least the business need not.

The ideal solution for me is to work alongside others in joint ventures but to be able to keep my autonomy too. And to have a choice of creative types and virtual pals I can bounce ideas off for the best of both worlds.

Are you in a business partnership that works; can you share why that is, if it bears scrutiny and doesn’t break any confidentiality? Or do you know you function best without a co-pilot?

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