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Choosing the Right Business Partner – 7 Tips to Avoid Failure

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Having some fun with client photoshoot props at the office.

“Marry the right person. This one decision will determine 90% of your happiness or misery” – H. Jackson Brown Jr.’s 

In the 21 Suggestions for Success by the New York Times best selling author, this is the #1 piece of advice, and I could not agree more (particularly in the last year or so as my husband and I have embarked on the adventure of being first-time parents).

But in the past few years I’ve met and encountered something that’s often overlooked or left to “work itself out” only to be met with destruction – not choosing the right partner in business. Everyone seems to have a horror story, whether it’s between co-founders, CEO and president relationship, a client/agency partnership, or even agency partners bringing together complementary skill sets.

Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 1.19.33 PMWhy aren’t people vetting a potential business partner like they do a future spouse? Time and again I have seen entrepreneurs stumble into a business with a friend or a family member only to realize they did not “business date” long enough to work through some of the everyday obstacles that come your way and are blown out even bigger once you’re “married”.

For two years, my former colleague turned friend and I worked in the trenches together at a big PR firm. Our offices were right next to each other and we often spent early mornings and late nights hustlin’ and bustlin’ and exceeding our set billable hours by a landslide. We spent more time working together than we did with our own husbands, families and friends. We quickly figured out what made each other tick, what our strengths were, how we complemented each other, and even just when to bring over a diet coke or a snack so the other could survive a deadline. We were work travel buddies, roommates, soundboards and happy hour confidants. We knew each other’s lunch orders and Starbucks order like we did that of our own husbands. We faced client dilemmas and crises alongside the highs of big campaign successes and awards – but regardless of what came at us we faced it and tackled it as a team.

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Early morning toast at a TODAY Show viewing party for our client.

So when we joked over margaritas one night about starting our own marketing and communication shop together – it suddenly didn’t seemed so far fetched. What if we could take everything we love about what we do and combine it with what we knew needed improvement both for us and the clients we served? What if we could really have it all so to speak?

We spent many weekends and early mornings figuring out if we could make this work together – what did we need to do to ensure we continued to work this well together not just as colleagues but as business partners? It was as if we had dated long enough that we decided it was time to get engaged, but we wanted to do everything we could to prepare ourselves for a successful business marriage. Of course many people told us partnerships never lasted, it’s not a good idea, you’re going to regret it – you get the picture. Maybe we were naive, but we ignored all the naysayers and decided we were different, we were going to make this work.

Almost two years later, April and I are still business partners, friends and colleagues. We have built a successful business we love, we work with clients and a team we adore and we have the time and freedom to be there for our family and friends when it matters most. In our first year of business I faced a personal family crisis – losing two loved ones in a tragic accident. April saw me through it all, supported me, ran the business and let me take the time I needed with family. She held no resentment, she did it because that’s what true partners do. They show up during the highs and the lows. We figure it out and solve every problem together like we’ve always done.

I know I wouldn’t be as successful without her, and I couldn’t run a business without her. For us a partnership is the only way (and quite frankly it’s just much more fun). But here’s the thing – regardless of whether you run a business or you work in a corporate environment, you can’t be successful on your own. You must work together with a partner or team of partners if you’re going to accomplish anything meaningful. Which is why I’ve outlined 7 takeaway tips for establishing and growing a successful partnership in business based on my experience.

  1. “Date” your partner before getting “married” – this will help you work out the kinks of your relationship before it’s under the microscope and complication of a big commitment.
  2. Be honest, open and upfront about your goals both individually and collectively. Your goals may change but you must be on the same wave length as far as what you both want in order to be successful and in order to do that you have to keep an open and honest dialogue.
  3. Keep an open line of communication. Give each other room to share your thoughts and opinion and respectfully disagree. Having a different opinion doesn’t mean your partnership isn’t going to work out, in fact it often leads you to a compromise that is an even better idea than what you came up with individually. April and I bounce ideas off of each other all day – if we always agreed that would be boring and wouldn’t help us or our clients.
  4. Be transparent. When it comes to finances, expectations, vacation days, you name it.
  5. Find a partner who will weather any storm. It’s how they act in defeat or during the lows, not the highs, that shows their true character. You want a teammate that is there to fight and win even after a major loss or upset.
  6. Choose a partner that hustles just as hard as you do but also knows when it’s time to take a break and recharge instead of letting yourselves get burned out.
  7. Lastly, make sure you have fun, enjoy what you’re doing, laugh and take care of your health.

What tips would you add? Why have you seen partnerships fail or succeed?

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