Business partnerships can be a lot like marriages, which may mean a high rate of failure. However, it is possible to maintain a thriving partnership that can be better for a company than a solo leader.
By Lisa Laine Miller and James Gabriel Brown
Having a business partner can be a great asset. As they say, "two heads are better than one." From getting the business off the ground to sustaining the value over time and continuing to serve customers and clients, having a trusted business partner to make strategic decisions and manage the day-to-day operations with can not only help a business' bottom line, but also bring a much-needed camaraderie into the difficult job of owning a business.
However, if you think of a business partnership like a marriage, the statistics are not good. Forbes estimates close to 80 percent of business partnerships fail-which puts that divorce rate even higher than traditional marriages. So even though starting a business with a friend, spouse, family member or colleague may have sounded like a good idea, at some point for most businesses the partnership stopped being valuable.
So how can business partners sustain a successful, healthy partnership (and still like each other through it all)?
Work together more often than not
Sure, there may be some tasks one partner takes in solitude, but a true partnership is about jointly running the business, and this requires continual collaboration. It's not enough to have a weekly meeting. As business partners, put your heads and your desks together (literally right next to each other) so there is constant dialogue throughout the day. Doing so helps keep issues in the open, preventing something to go unnoticed and turn into a potential conflict.
Win together, fail together
We call this "Thelma and Louise-ing," which is a cinematic way to say that every decision made is made together. It's not a win-lose scenario, it's not a lose-win; it's either win-win or lose-lose but as business partners, we drive off the decision cliff together. The driver of the decision has 100 percent support from the passenger, and vice-versa. No matter what the outcome, the results are felt together. Doing this leaves little room for blame and plenty of room for celebration.
Exploit each other's strengths
It's common practice to know the strengths and weaknesses of your partner. But knowing who does what best, and allowing them to succeed in that role, is key to a long-lasting partnership. If you are constantly jockeying for the Alpha position, the "I'm right, you're wrong" stance, you don't have enough trust in your partner to be in business together.
Listen first then be heard
As a business leader, being empathetic is essential to successfully lead teams and meet the needs of customers or clients. Likewise, empathy is a critical part of a business partnership. To be true partners, each person needs to be able to "put themselves in the other person's shoes" and be able to consider his/her point of view. You cannot do this if you are just waiting for your turn to talk.
Like your partner as a person
It's ultimately important to share values, interests and goals. In a partnership, like any other relationship, hard decisions about finances, buildings and how to weather economic change can cause real damage if the partners aren't looking at the same light at the end of the tunnel. Understanding that your partnership is a combination of personalities and strengths and weaknesses that enhance each other will help you make decisions and build a relationship that will stand the test of time.
Lisa Laine Miller and James Gabriel Brown are the principals and co-founders of Powell-based advertising agency LaineGabriel. Lisa and James are celebrating 10 years of successful business partnership. They can be reached at (614) 441-4226, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.