Partnerships are Wonderful (Partnerships are Terrible)

Partnerships are wonderful.

They allow people with different talents to come together to create a business that is stronger and more capable than any business each could have formed separately. Partnerships have a broader economic support base, a wider talent pool, and more dedicated entrepreneurial time and headspace than solo start-ups. Partnerships are engaged in the work of solving some of our most intractable problems, and provide employment for an increasing number of people.

Partnerships are terrible.

Partners, while getting along in the early, frenetic time of building something new, often fall out when times are tougher than expected and the money runs dry, or when times are better than expected and greed and selfishness crack the partners apart. There are entire hordes of lawyers who do nothing but make a living off the “divorces” of business partners. Like actual divorces, partnership break ups are emotional, acrimonious, and expensive. Like actual divorces, often only the lawyers win. Perhaps it is better, in life and in business, to be single?

The truth is, partnerships are both.

At their best, partnerships offer a wonderful way to live and work in a close-knit group, pooling funds and talents to the common good. [First Step - Choose Your Partners Wisely] At their worst, partnerships offer communication challenges and a loss of authority some entrepreneurs hate, and a trip into the courtroom at the end. How, then, can a small business owner or potential small business owner who is contemplating a partnership work to make success more likely, and try to avoid failure? Communication is the key. For the partnership to have a real chance of success, the partners must share a common vision of the future. The partners must engage in uncomfortable and real discussions about the future and management of their business. [Need Help? Here are 5 Areas to Get You Started]

Agility is a Must

The product of these discussions – a set of management documents and a plan – is not an end at all, but a beginning. One hallmark of entrepreneurial companies, one of the attributes that sets them apart and allows them to compete with better funded widely-held rivals, is their agility. Their ability to respond to changing circumstances quickly. Your partnership’s vision can, and will, change over time. That’s ok.

What is imperative, is that you:

·     open the lines of communication

·     have a beginning point – an initial vision and plan

·     agree on a method for communicating, agreeing and enacting changes to the vision and plan, and

·     ensure that your legal governance documents reflect the governance decisions you have made.

It won’t be easy, but creating that shared vision is the first step to partnership success.