Business partnership? Date first!

When I worked in the non-profit sector, I had a reputation for bringing people together to collaborate on a project. Agencies didn’t always do so willingly, sometimes there was resistance — mainly because of territorial issues. But, bottom line, we were able to find common ground that made it work. Usually it was because of the clients and we would pool our resources to better the outcome for them.

I can’t say I have had the same level of success since running my own business. People are suspicious — always wanting to know what’s in it for them and questioning why you would want to partner. Are you going to get more out of it than they are? And when I have partnered, it hasn’t always worked out the way I expected.

Shared values

When I reflect back on my non-profit days, I realize that in addition to wanting the best for our clients, we also shared the same values. We tended to be working in the non-profit sector because we wanted to make a difference. Earning lots of money was never a draw, which was just as well as it was never there. So when I look at the partnerships that haven’t worked, I can see now that part of the reason why was we didn’t share the same values. We hadn’t taken the time to really get to know one another — to reveal our values, to discuss our vision or to agree on goals and the desired outcome. If one of you wants to make thousands, for example, and the other is happy with a lot less, then problems are bound to arise. Mutual respect is also crucial. You have to value and respect your partner’s contribution to the whole because without it it’s not going to work.

Choosing your own destiny

When you’re an entrepreneur, one of the reasons you’ve chosen that path is because you want to be in control of your own destiny. So it is not surprising that there are control issues when there are two captains steering the ship, and even more so when there is no real agreement on the end destination! I’ve written my share of articles on partnerships and have often joked that I really should read and heed my own advice! And for what it is worth, here are my suggestions:

  • Date first. Before leaping into a serious business partnership with someone, work on a mutually beneficial project first, see how it goes, and then build on the relationship.
  • Do your share. Look at what each partner brings to the relationship. Is it equal in value or is one person contributing more than the other? When it isn’t balanced, resentment just lurks around the corner. No one wants to carry someone whereby you do all the work and they look good.
  • Be clear on outcomes.Truly flush out what your goals are and the desired end results. This will avoid problems down the road.
  • Put it in writing, especially if money is involved. Make sure you cover off what you will be getting out of the partnership financially.
  • Do you like and trust this person?  Really. You don’t have to be best friends, but if there isn’t a synergy and shared values, there may be trouble later.
  • Pay attention. Often there is a honeymoon period when the partner looks good and you ignore your niggling  concerns.Sometimes you don’t see the real person until you are further entrenched in the relationship.
  • Have an out clause. While no one likes to enter a partnership looking at what to do if it doesn’t work, it is important to protect yourself and build an out clause into the agreement.
  • Ownership. Determine upfront who owns the end product, the service that you have developed and who has the rights to use it after the partnership ends.

Does that mean that I am off partnerships? No. I see real merit in collaboration, in working with like-minded individuals who share a common audience or goal. It actually makes business sense. In fact, I am currently working with someone where our combined skill sets and reach has resulted in some dynamic programs. When the energy is right and the trust is there, it can truly be fun to work with someone else who gets it, and gets you.

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