Business partnerships are fantastic things. A good partnership offers all the same benefits of being self-employed but with a built in colleague to weather it all with. Like all relationships, though, business partnerships require careful tending to ensure they remain positive.
I am a big believer in the value of taking time to establish a positive grounding before you start. If you’re going into business in partnership with another person, whether they’re a spouse, friend, family member or former colleague, part of that grounding will include ensuring that the partnership is going to be sustainable over time.
Though business partnerships often work extremely well… many don’t. This is shown in the rate of divorce in couples who work together as it’s much higher than the norm. It’s far from unusual for partnerships to hit a metaphorical wall two or three years into their business because the two parties just aren’t compatible to be in business together long term.
There are ways to avoid this very common issue. I believe the most effective one is to invest the time before you start to ensure your partnership is up to the challenge. The best case scenario would be that this extra groundwork makes your partnership strong enough to succeed. The worst case is that it makes you realise the partnership isn’t going to work in business: which will save you time, money and heartache in the future.
At the beginning of a business partnership it’s really important to be able to honestly answer the following questions together:
The point of this conversation isn’t necessarily to both come out with the same answers. Rather, it’s designed to flag up any potential frustrations before they become an issue. If these initial honest answers help you to discover that you have very different working styles, you’ll be able to make provision now, right at the beginning of your business, to find a way to accommodate them both.
- What are your individual strengths?
- Do your strengths compliment each other?
- What are your personal values… and do they sit well with each other?
- Do you have a similar working style?
- Will you be able to happily work to the same routine, or two complimentary routines?
- What are your long term goals?
- What do you see as the perfect life/work balance?
- How do you approach finances?
- How ambitious are you?
These conversations can often be difficult to have, especially if you’re not really sure where to start. You may wish to address this by bringing in a third party to facilitate discussion. Working with a professional mediator could be an excellent way to dig down into your partnership, unearth any as-yet-undiscovered problems and find a solution before they begin to weaken your business.
A mediator would also be a great way forward if your initial discussions have brought up concerns and you and your business partner are unsure about how to proceed.
If you think a mediator might be beneficial to your business partnership, I’d be very happy to chat to you about how I could fill that role. Why not give me a call or send me an email?
Being in business with someone is a big commitment. This is true whether you’re in business with your spouse, a family member, a friend or a professional colleague. When you decide to go in on a venture with another person, it’s important to make sure you do ongoing checks to ensure you’re both still pushing forwards in the same direction.
I call these ongoing checks partner audits. These are serious conversations that are best done at regular intervals. Many of the sets of business partners I’ve worked with have found that it works well to formalise these checks to distinguish them from their other everyday conversations. This works particularly well for business partners who are particularly close in other spheres of life such as spouses, siblings or best friends.
Do you do a regular partner audit in your business? If not, I would definitely recommend it as something to think about. Here are five questions you may want to ask your business partner.
One: Are we still moving in the same direction?
Sometimes an unprofitable period can be explained by business partners who didn’t know they were actually working towards different goals. The best progress happens when you work together!
Two: Have your priorities shifted?
This relates to both your business partner’s priorities within the business and out of it. Depending on your relationship with your business partner, you may not know about any personal challenges they’re currently facing. Concerns at home or with their health could take their focus away from the business, so it can be really helpful to ask this question regularly.
Three: Do we still want the same things from the business?
Just because you wanted the same things when you started out doesn’t mean you will further down the line. Changing personal commitments might mean that the ideal work/life balance when you started out doesn’t work for you anymore. Equally, you may find that interests and passions shift over time and that one of you now wants to work towards slightly different goals.
Four: Is there anything that isn’t working for you at the moment?
Have you ever had a small niggling issue with someone you work closely with that has grown into a much bigger problem over time? Asking this question regularly can help you both to address those small niggles before they start to cause real resentment.
Five: Are you satisfied with where we are?
Dissatisfaction can be a dangerous thing, especially when it isn’t addressed. If your business partner isn’t feeling good about where you are in your business right now, you’ll want to know about it. There may be something you can do to address that dissatisfaction… or they may find that just saying it out loud makes them feel more in control.
Some business partners are great at communicating, even when it comes to big questions like these. Others find probing questions more difficult to manage, especially when they suspect they may not get the answer they were hoping for.
There’s often no correlation between how close business partners are and how good they are at managing a partners audit. In fact, I’ve worked with many sets of business partners who double up as married couples and still find it tricky to start these conversations!
If you and your business partner fall into this category, please don’t use that as an excuse for skipping important conversations altogether. Big picture communication is really important when it comes to growing your business and preparing for the future. Instead of avoiding the issue, why not bring in a facilitator? An impartial third party could help to facilitate productive partner audits that really have an impact.
Need advice on where to start or looking for someone you can trust to be that third party facilitator? I’d love to help. Why not get in touch?
These days many of us business owners are communicating with our audience more than ever before. A lot of us write blog posts, send out regular newsletters, tweet, send Facebook updates and publish LinkedIn articles all as part of our regular marketing activity.
All these communication methods are effective and I speak to many clients who’ve had great success doing these things. However, I do think there’s a risk of getting so caught up in these digital conversational opportunities that we forget the value of direct two-way communication.
Let me ask you a question: when was the last time you picked up the phone to talk to a client? Many of us have become much more comfortable communicating from behind our computer screens and have forgotten the benefits of a quick phone conversation. Phone calls are more personal, often quicker for sorting out details and offer much more opportunity for ‘reading’ the person you’re talking to.
In fact, it’s not just phone calls that many of us are forgetting the value of. Business owners invest so much time sending out content to mailing lists, blog followers and Facebook fans that we sometimes miss out on the benefits of pro-active direct communications. A quick personalised email to a previous client – just to check in – could result in a new opportunity. This type of direct two-way conversation often reminds previous clients how much they have valued your work in the past and may inspire them to commission you again now or to recommend you to a contact.
I was reminded of how beneficial direct communication can be just before Christmas when I got in touch with a client I hadn’t heard from in a while. I’d thought of them earlier that week and wondered how they were getting on in their business, so when I had a spare fifteen minutes between appointments I decided to pick up the phone and catch up with them. It turned out to be a very serendipitous phone call: the client had just come up against a challenge she wasn’t sure how to deal with and my call prompted her to book a coaching session.
This kind of direct communication doesn’t have to be ‘salesy’ or uncomfortable. If there are some clients you haven’t heard from in a while, why not check in with them? You could:
- Give them a call jus to ask how they are
- Offer them a complimentary review
- Compliment them on some recent work or an article they’ve shared online
- Share a glowing review you’ve heard from one of their customers
- Let them know about a service or event you think they’d benefit from
- Tell them about an event or promotion you’re running
- Share a link to an article you’ve read
Of course, none of this is to say there’s anything wrong with social media communication. I think it’s brilliant, and the results often speak for themselves. My point here is that simple direct communications can also have huge value – especially when it comes to keeping in touch with clients you’ve worked with in the past.
Oh, and a final reminder… two way communication does work two ways. If you’re lucky enough to receive a direct communication from a client or potential client: make sure you remember to reply!