In our Tuesday blog post this week my business partner, Tony outlined ten steps to help get a business idea off the ground. He talks about the long hours of toil and epic planning sessions that preceded them. But what about that corporate buzz word, ‘synergy?’ How do we make the partnership work? In short, we just do. However, I’ve outlined a few tips that we’ve found helpful as we’ve built our professional partnership.
- Find someone as committed as you are
- Find someone who’s skill sets compliment your own, not conflict with them
- Don’t be scared to pitch something new
- Trust is good. Getting something down in writing is great.
- A common problem with Collaboration – two people means double the excuses
- Keeping the lines of communication alive.
- All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy
- Blame is a Terrible Thing
- Working with Family
As a mediator, one of the most common points of friction that I’ve seen in partnerships is inequity of workload. If one partner engages in the planning stages and doesn’t contribute to implementation as much, they’re not an equal partner. Remember, ideas aren’t worth a lot. Yes, having a good idea is key to starting a good business, but if you’re capable of producing one, you’re capable of producing more, as is your business partner. Good entrepreneurs will have a host of different ideas that they’ll be excited about over the course of their careers. So, as well as coming up with ideas, they should also love to sit and explore their sparks of thought, developing them into fully hatched plans. But then, they need to be willing to act on them. One of the biggest barriers to business is actually getting up and starting it. If you’re the kind of person who gets things done, try to find someone else like you to double the amount of, ‘things,’ that get done. Look at investors. They look at the business to make sure it’s viable, but they also look at the person they are investing in. So, you need more than just a partner that can come up with great ideas. That’s the baseline. You need people who can act on those ideas, and match your energy with their own.
Finding business partners who are as excited as you are about the process of getting a business started is difficult however. Drive and motivation are not common attributes. Yes, exploring new ideas and projects are fun, and ideas won’t flow on an equal basis from all of you, but the amount of energy invested into your projects needs to be the same. If you’re lucky, you’ll find people as reliable as you, who will invest as much time into the business as you do. But, don’t trust to luck. If you don’t already have a partner and you’re looking for one, go to networking events, enrol onto a university masters programme, attend conferences, and actively look for people.
So, you’ve found somebody of equal commitment and drive. That’s not the end of the story. You also need to ensure that their skill sets compliment your own. By this I don’t mean that you must find someone from a different professional field, I mean the meta skills: time management, presentation, project management, and many others.
It shouldn’t matter if you and your business partner(s) are all from the same university course, company, or group of friends. The things that matters are finding people that you can trust to deliver on work, that you are comfortable around, and who inspire you without passing judgement. Now, feedback and having more than one brain working on ideas or problems is great but you need to make sure that you each bring something to the table, and are comfortable contributing to the group dynamic.
If work is going well, don’t be afraid to build on it with something new. If you can develop the trust to throw random ideas out and discuss them without fear of losing face or worse, you’ll have a strong indication that you’ve found the right partner(s). Some of the very best ideas seem hair-brained at the time. When talking about crazy ideas, I’m always reminded of the following exchange in, ‘The Graduate:’
Mr Braddock: Ben, this whole idea sounds pretty half-baked.
Benjamin: Oh, it’s not. It’s completely baked.
If you can support your business partners in their, ‘completely baked,’ ideas, and have the skill to actually pull them off together, then you’re probably too busy running your string of successful businesses and don’t have the time to read this post.
There’s plenty of reasons to get things down on paper. First and foremost, it protects you in the event of things going wrong. Now, if you start a limited company you’ve got more options for codifying your association and dividing ownership, but even if you’re starting a small venture from a living room, having a written document and a log of the time and money you’ve all put into the venture, and that you’ve all signed can help you in the event of a problem.
It also helps you remember. That initial conversation contains information that you may well forget as time goes on and new projects are added. Having a written document that outlines your first plan helps you to refocus attention on the core ideas that got you excited should these be lost along the way.
Finally, it can help you plan for the unexpected. There will always be problems along the road. Dealing with them is part and parcel of running a business. But, should things get too much for you, having a written exit plan for all parties involved can provide a structure to work from when emotions run high and you’ll need a structure the most. Agreeing in advance how you will handle a dissolution of the partnership may be useful.
One person has plenty of excuses to procrastinate. As Arthur C Clarke wrote about his collaboration with Gentry Lee,
Even a solitary writer can think of endless excuses for not working; with two, the possibilities are at least squared.
For some, being a solitary creature is natural habit. However, if you’re a social person, you may find it enjoyable to share the process with a partner. If you do, consider the following scenario: You’re looking back at the end of a working day and realise that you’ve not achieved much. How disheartened are you? I’d recommend investing the time in drawing up a hit list of tasks that need to be completed at the start of the day (or prior to it.)
Also, don’t double up the work involved, you’ll only get in each other’s way. Divide up the work into equal chunks. The key here is to trust each other to deliver on work. If you’re working on the same project, pass it between yourselves like a tennis ball, firing back different versions and ideas as you progress. But, when you’re working through a draft, I’d caution against doing so on the same draft, at the same time.
Finally, keep your momentum up. This isn’t easy. I’d suggest having two or more individuals involved helps though. Whether you’re keeping each other on task with deadlines and progress reports, or bouncing ideas off of one another and spurring each other forward, you’re keeping your team moment built up. If you think that you have self-motivation perfected, then you may not feel you’ll benefit from having a partner. But, no matter how well you think you’ve conquered self-motivation, I’d suggest you will be surprised by the impetus a good business partner can provide for getting work done.
Setting boundaries should not be an issue. It’s important to remember that everyone needs a work/life balance. A business has the potential of consuming one’s life, and setting time-limits for all-out work can be useful. But, keeping channels of communication alive can be a life-saver. With instant, unobtrusive communications, you and your partner(s) can keep each other up do date with issues and developments using your smartphones. Tony and I use WhatsApp. We keep group channels up with third parties and have a constant open channel of between ourselves.
It’s a fact of life that people have spouses, children, and social lives. Even if they don’t, everyone needs time to recharge. I’d recommend the following tips in keeping yourself and your partners energised:
Be understanding of people’s lives. Things change, problems develop, and on occasion, work is superseded by more important considerations. Stepping up and picking up the slack, while not piling pressure upon your partner(s) in difficult times can help cement personal relationships. If appropriate, offering help can also be of benefit.
Try to have some social time together. Plan nights out, hold non-work related conversations during drives or at the pub, and otherwise make an effort to spend time getting to know your business partner(s) on a personal level. Having a purely professional relationship can have its draws, but consider: If someone isn’t worth getting to know in your personal time, are you in the right partnership for work?
Take an honest look at yourself. Are you the kind of person who can readily and quickly admit blame? Most people aren’t. As Dale Carnegie wrote in his seminal book, people don’t blame themselves. So, how do you deal with this. The answer is simple: Don’t fret. Things will go wrong. When people are involved, things will go wrong because of people. It is unavoidable and has been a rule of human existence from our African cradle in pre-history. But, as the Dalai Lama said,
When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.
This is especially true if you lost because of a partner’s error. Learn to pick each other up and help each other learn. Remember, you’re as invested in each other as you are in the business itself. Analyse the error, find a way to avoid it in future, and don’t let it become an issue. After all, you’re also guaranteed to mess something up at some point down the road.
I’m a mediator who works with businesses. I have far too many things to say about working within a family business and the issues that arise from doing so. I couldn’t keep myself contained to a few short paragraphs on the subject. Thus, I’ll be writing a whole post on it next month.
The post above is not intended to be an exhaustive list. There are other matters that need careful though. But, if you’ve found the tips above useful, or if you have something you’d like to add, then do comment below.