Business Partnership – When to say ‘I Do’

Getting into a business partnership often becomes a necessity when your company expands. Unfortunately, a very large number of partnerships fall by the wayside, despite the best intentions of the people involved. And quite often, the contesting partners can’t really pinpoint when or why it all started to go wrong.

The conflict usually comes to a head when each partner does not know how to resolve a disagreement. However, it need not be that way at all. Successful partnerships can and do exist, and what’s more, there is a deliberate process behind them. Here’s the gist:

Do a rehearsal: Finding the right business partner is a tough and very important activity. College mates don’t always make the best business bedfellows. In fact, you might actually want to ally with someone in the same line of business, even if you don’t know him or her that well personally. In such cases, do it in parts. Try and collaborate on “low impact” projects to start with. For example, you might bid for a contract together or engage in cross promotion activities. This will give both of you a feel for what it is like to work together, and address issues of personal chemistry. It is also a time to discover any skeletons hidden in the other’s closet. If it’s roses all the way this far, you’re ready to proceed to the altar.

Choose wisely: If a pre-partnership collaboration is not an option, you need to work a lot harder on identifying the right partner. Before you pop the question, think about:

  • What you expect to gain from the business partnership? Is it money, expertise, direction or security? All of these are valid expectations, but you must set them out beforehand.
  • What skills each of you brings to the business. Partners with complementary skills will always work better together. Balance weaknesses and strengths, so you don’t step on each other’s toes.
  • Whether the two of you have the same vision for the future.
  • Most important – do you like him or her? Can you live through working in close quarters day-in day-out?

Do a back-ground check: Antecedents are everything in this relationship. Check vital information, such as financial status, beforehand and whether there are any legal encumbrances that has to be dealt with.

Formalise it: Once you’ve chosen your partner, put the arrangement in writing. Be sure to cover important issues such as:

  • The roles each one will play, along with financial and other responsibilities
  • Eventualities such as bringing in an additional partner, seeking outside financing or even exiting the business
  • Terms of separation – whether one can buy the other out, or whether both must commit to the partnership for a minimum period

Agree to disagree: As the business partnership progresses, you will realize that even the most in-sync couple will have their share of disagreements. It is best that both agree to disagree gracefully, right at the outset.
And that, more than anything else, is the secret to a successful business partnership!

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