Dan O'Sullivan, a partner at The Hired Pens, shares what he has learned about finding the right business partner and the keys to a successful business partnership.
One of the most challenging aspects of starting a business is finding the right partner. After all, you will probably end up spending more of your waking hours with your business partner than you will with your family. You don't want to get stuck with the wrong person.
I've had good luck on the partner front. My partner Anna and I founded The Hired Pens in 2001. Ten years later, we're still together. Equally important, we still like each other.
So what are the keys to a successful business partnership? Here are five things that stand out to me:
1) Complementary skills
Carefully consider what types of skills you and your partner each bring to the party. For instance, I'm detail-oriented. Early on, I handled things like invoicing and bookkeeping. Anna, on the other hand, is incapable of balancing a checkbook but helped get our business off the ground with her networking skills.
If you enjoy success over time, you can start paying to outsource certain responsibilities. However, while you're getting the business off the ground, make sure you and your partner can handle all the essential tasks between the two of you.
2) Unity of vision
You and your partner might agree on where the business should be 12 months from now. But what about 10 years from now? Before getting too far in your relationship, have an honest conversation about the company vision to confirm you're in agreement.
Example: Anna and I decided early on what kind of business model would work for us. Neither of us wanted the responsibility of hiring employees. So we've instead built a team of freelance writers, who don't carry the administrative or legal baggage of full-time employees.
3) Work/life balance
If you're splitting profits 50/50, you and your partner probably will want to be devoting around the same amount of time to the business. Resentment can arise when one partner is taking three-day weekends all summer while the other partner is cranking out 70-hour work weeks. So be sure you share a similar outlook toward work/life balance — or at least adjust your financial arrangement accordingly.
You've probably heard the statistics about what percentage of businesses fail in their first few years. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. You and your partner should be prepared for the inevitable setbacks and share a willingness to ride it out. Not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur, especially someone who is going to bail at the first sign of trouble.
In my experience, perhaps the best thing about having a partner is the built-in support system. When you bomb on the sales call, screw up an engagement or feel frustrated chasing down a client for money, you want a partner who'll be there to lend comfort and support. The bitch sessions Anna and I have had over the years have helped keep both of us sane.
And if you don't have a partner who aligns with you on all five of these points? Keep looking. Or, you can always go at it on your own. At least you'll never be outvoted.
Dan O'Sullivan is a partner at The Hired Pens, a Boston-based copywriting firm specializing in websites and various marketing collateral. Interested in learning more? You can email Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org and check out The Hired Pens' blog.