How to Maintain a Healthy Business Partnership
“With this operating agreement, I thee wed.”
Let’s face it, bringing on a business partner is pretty much the equivalent of taking on what I lovingly refer to as my “work wifey.” From a legal and financial standpoint, a failed business partnership can be even more complicated and devastating than a divorce. It’s a decision not to be made lightly, requiring careful thought and deliberate transparency at every turn. Your professional soul mate may in fact see you more than your spouse or partner, so it’s important to recognize the complexities of navigating this relationship in a healthy manner for both your professional and personal wellness.
The Dating Game
When is it time to consider moving forward with a business partner? A variety of circumstances can prompt you to move away from the single life into a dynamic pairing meant to last a lifetime. Have you ever found yourself saying the following?
- Administrative Overwhelm – There’s just too much to do by myself.
- Financial Underwhelm – I can’t finance this business venture alone.
- Strategic Paralysis – I’ve taken this idea as far as I can go alone and I need help.
- Professional Stopgap – I’m really just getting by here and I don’t know what I’m doing.
- Creative Stagnation – I need a fresh new pair of eyes to move this company forward.
- Operational Hiccup – I’m weak in this area and need an expert to get this done well.
Remember that old Paula Abdul song “Opposites Attract”? How do you think that applies to business? When considering a potential partnership, a couple of factors come into play. In many regards, your business partner must be very much like you. Alternatively, it’s important to bring someone into your business that counters your weaknesses and fills those crucial gaps.
- Work ethic
- Long-term vision
- Financial management
- Moral compass
- Standard of living
- Professional and personal priorities
- Level of commitment
- Transparent belief in the greater good
- Varied personalities
- Organic creativity
- Complementing strengths that counter your weaknesses
- Broad circles of influence
Many business owners are quick to leap into a professional partnership as a result of either panic or excitement. Panic causes hasty decisions by applying a Band-Aid instead of a long-term recovery plan. Excitement motivates spontaneous decisions by allowing emotions to rule where deliberate logic should reign.
You would not marry someone you happened to have one great conversation with (well…in today’s society…but that’s another tale). You choose your spouse or partner wisely, considering how you complement each other, how you navigate difficult conversations, and their vision for life, money and all else. You must be intrinsically in tune with each other, selfless and willing to put in the work that marks a healthy, long-standing relationship. Similarly, your business partner must be so much more than a checkbook, a spontaneous idea or a signature on a dotted line. Both parties must share the same long-term goal, knowing that means navigating both the good AND the bad.
‘Til Death Do Us Part
You’ve decided the time is right for you to take on a business partner. You’ve done your homework and have identified someone that fits the bill, both personally and professionally. They’re interested in moving forward. What’s next?
Rule number one in life, marriage and business is to keep communication open. Stay in the know. No secrets or hidden agendas. You are a team and both of you must loyally hold true to your commitment to intertwine your professional and personal lives. This is the real deal.
When it comes time to make it official, transparently work together to make sure all legal and financial implications are explicitly defined and agreed upon. Consider visiting an accountant, both individually and together. Engage legal aid when drafting an operating agreement, considering all angles, future selling opportunities, exit strategies and expectations.
Did you know there are therapists available that work exclusively with professional relationships? Marriage counseling does not exist only to navigate crisis. The most successful marriages acknowledge the need to proactively work to build a solid foundation that will last a lifetime. How might that type of proactivity in your business partnership help secure your present and future professional success?
There are two types of crisis in any relationship: internal and external. Just as in marriage, you and your business partner must be committed and equipped to navigate both. Together.
What might an internal crisis look like?
- Cash flow/profitability problems
- Legal accusations
- Personal loss
- Relocation of a partner
What might an external crisis look like?
- Market fallout/declining economy
- Acts of war or political unrest
- New taxes or legislation
- Popular opinion
Stress and anxiety are natural reactions to any crisis. Likewise, we often project the consequences of those emotions onto our spouses or partners – short temper, isolation, bitterness, poor attitude, disconnect, fear – just to name a few.
Managing crisis effectively starts with the first step. “We are committed to this partnership and each other. Together we will navigate this situation successfully.”
Leaving the partnership is not on the table. Acknowledging that “flight” is not an option sets the stage for effective work. Agreeing to not use the “D word” as ammunition during a crisis can remove a huge obstacle in the journey to resolution.
Have a plan in place when it comes to difficult conversations. Set healthy boundaries for how you communicate; you are proactively developing the rules of engagement that will keep emotions in check when a crisis strikes and you are most likely to speak first and think later. Remember, managing a crisis is not a matter of “if.” It’s a matter of “when.”
Keeping the Love Alive
As a relationship passes the year mark, 5 year mark, 10 year mark…well, we all get a bit lazy. We take our
spouses and partners for granted, and slack off on those courtesies and special behaviors we exhibited during the honeymoon period. The busyness of life, work and all else can have us moving through the motions and acting as ships passing on the sea instead of two partners on the same boat.
Take the time to stay connected in your business partnership. A healthy professional relationship has to be mostly work, but also some very important play! Whether you plan retreats, social events outside of the office, have kids that play together, hit the golf course…make sure you carve out time where business is set aside and you revisit the personalities that sparked the relationship in the first place.
The Golden Years
If you’ve played your cards right, the Golden Years should mark that beautiful season of business life where you and your partner are enjoying the fruits of your labor and thinking of the legacy that will follow your departure. It’s quite an accomplishment! Take pride in celebrating what you’ve built together. You’ve made it where many others have failed!
This is that point in the business partnership where you can clearly look back and see the benefit to proactive planning, open communication and rock solid commitment.
Your exit strategies should already be financially and legally in place, your company is operating on a shared vision and profitable design that you both crafted together over the course of your relationship, and you’ve navigated obstacles and crises along the way, coming out on the other side stronger than ever. You did it!
Cherishing your business partner as you would your spouse is not fluff.
It’s deliberate, hard work that you decide to do every, single day over the course of your relationship. Acknowledging the emotional impact of a professional partnership is good business. Focusing on the importance of that personal connection is great business.
Embracing how your business can flourish when your business partnership is attentively managed can be the keystone that allows your business to survive and thrive where other businesses have broken down.
Image attribution: Copyright: ‘http://www.123rf.com/profile_rawpixel‘ / 123RF Stock Photo
2nd image: multiple sources – original unknown
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