By Carolyn Heinze
Remember that first encounter? When you were swept off your feet? How you knew – just knew – that you and that other person could, together, take over the world? And then the first date? And all the dates after that? And then…
Like personal relationships, business partnerships involve some flirting, some fighting, some bliss and, at some point, a certain degree of ennui. How do you get through it all? According to Kim Wilkerson, founder, Wilkerson Consulting Group in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, you don’t forget that the rules to running a successful business partnership often parallel those that apply to long-term relationships, like marriage.
What goes into figuring out whether two people should even be business partners?
KW: They need to have a common vision and common values. They are both in a situation where they are on the ground floor of something, whatever that may be, and they want to join forces to create this new business, or to bring someone into a business.
How much about each other’s personal lives do they need to know before entering into a professional partnership?
KW: I think there has to be full disclosure with that. Absolute full disclosure. I think that becomes part of the partnership agreement – not so much from the perspective of documenting all of that, but being able to look at what those variables may be that each person is bringing to the table, and how that may influence the business and the partnership itself. Is one person contributing the money while the other person is contributing the smarts? Is one person’s lifestyle not conducive to running the business together? Is someone a silent partner or an active partner? When I say this needs to be part of the partnership agreement, I don’t meant that they should itemize these things, but they should look at the variables so that they can identify what’s going to be an asset, and what may be a liability.
What else should both partners be thinking about from the outset?
KW: If you go back to the concept of a common vision and common values, I think that absolutely has to be the foundation. They may have a difference of opinion on how to achieve the vision, and that’s OK in terms of execution and implementation. But they have to want similar things in a similar way.
Partners truly do have to have a mélange of strengths and traits. Where you may be attracted to exactly the same thing, or you may be attracted to polar opposites, I think you have to inventory what those are – which traits are similar and which traits are different – and what has the potential to create synergy, and what has the potential to undermine the partnership.
What are the common issues that many business partners run into over the course of a partnership?
KW: Sometimes it’s strictly difference of opinion regarding how to implement or execute something, or what their strategies should or shouldn’t be. On the strategic piece, they need to be aligned early to eliminate that dissension.
Other aspects are communication dynamics, whether they are going to grow the business or not grow the business, and how they are going to invest money or not invest money into the business. With the communications piece aside, then you get into the hardcore business decisions about the business. And they may very well have a difference of opinion, and it’s not about the final decision. It’s about how they work through agreeing to disagree.
Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer/editor.
Wilkerson Consulting Group