The moment you decide to go into business, you have to decide how you want to conduct business. You also have to decide if you want to do it alone or with someone else (or multiple people). While conceptually and/or financially it may appear to make sense; there are several layers to partnerships in business, especially when you choose to partner with friends (and sometimes family). Trust, me, by no means am I saying it will not or cannot work; what I am saying is to be aware. I can name a few businesses that are between friends and/or families that are successful and continue to thrive. I also know people who value making their way to the top and bringing along close friends with them at some capacity (whether as partners or as employees). What I am saying is to not have an immediate expectation of it working. It is natural to feel people closest to you will have the best interest in mind when you share your vision of a business with them. You open yourself up and discuss products or services and many other visions you have for a business and benefits of future growth. If you are smart, you also include what they can bring to the table to enhance or grow the business as well. I mean, let’s face it, diversity in skill and delivery is what we look for in partnerships if we want a sustainable business. Entering into partnerships with friends require frank and honest discussion before doing so to ensure a good fit, not only as friends, but also as [potential] business partners. So, what needs to be said or discussed between potential partners ahead of time before committing to entering into a partnership? Let me share what I consider to be the top 4 crucial discussions that need to take place:
1. My vision is just as important as your vision.
Vision is a vital path to conception; therefore, it cannot be one-sided in a partnership. When it is, the vision becomes nothing more than words in a business plan and written content on a website. It holds no “real” value to the other person who lacks a likeness of your vision. I also want to add that when there is not a likeness in the vision, this is the opportunity to address it to ensure everyone has voice in the vision of the business. Every partner needs to know and understand their value in the process in going from vision to conception. If visions differ, this is the time to address them to see if opposing views can be resolved or compromises can be made. After all, it is a partnership and the foundation of a business cannot begin with conflicting views and/or opposition.
2. What are you willing to commit to?
This is one of the most important questions to ask one another. I have known people to commit simply because “it sounds good” in the moment, but has a hard time delivering when it comes to the work. Starting a business a HUGE responsibility and requires a lot of work, sacrifice, and dedication (and more than likely for little to no money in the early stages of business development). There is very little wiggle room for excuses and no room for dead weight when it comes to the success of a business. The purpose of a partnership is to share in the responsibilities in the developmental duties and the work needing to be done. I would also like to emphasize the importance of know the descriptive roles each of the partners are committing to. This way there are accountability measures in place from the very foundation of the partnership.
3. What can you afford?
It is a known fact that start-up costs are not cheap. It is also a known fact to not walk into a partnership not knowing what the other person can afford. For clarity, not having any monetary contribution should not be a deal breaker for a partnership. Even as I wrote that, it felt slightly wrong to say, but it is really farthest from the truth. Yes, money is extremely important, but not nearly as important as skill. What do I mean by that, you ask? If you have a potential business partner that can write, market, write code, technical write, build websites, design logos, etc., the business has the immediate ability to save money by cutting costs on products and services. Remember these key attributions to business: Time is money. Skill is money. Knowledge is money.
4. We cannot always be “friends”.
There is a time and a place for friendships and “in business” is not one of them. I know if sounds kind of harsh, but this will be the most honest test you will ever have as business partners. At the start of a business, while in business, and during the growth of the business, there will be differing views on how and why things need to done. To move beyond those differing views, honest discussions need to be had and compromises have to be made. Believe it or not, it is not always as easy as you may think when friendships are involved. There also may be periods of time where one partner is not pulling their share of the weight. As I previously mentioned in #2, there is very little wiggle room for excuses and no room for dead weight in business. As friends, one partner may feel the value of the friendship should hold a high level of understanding to the lack of accountability for broken commitments. That level of thinking is also what causes businesses to fail and sometimes relationships. Being friends, you see one another live and are often aware of what the other business partner has going on in their lives and mentally uses that as leverage of discontent. This is another area that requires honesty as business partners; not as friends.
There are just as many success stories of friendships that sustain partnerships; however, there has been a fair amount of compromise, understanding, and acceptance that lead to that success. Trust me, revamping a business after severing partnerships takes a lot of work (especially if you are well-branded). The sooner you can understand the risk of partnerships with friends, the better. I also want to add, never feel as though a business is not recoverable if change has to take place, so find value in the fact that your vision may not always be compatible with your friends. Knowing sooner rather than later or choosing not to partner at all will lead to just as much success for you and the future of your business.