Last time, I told the story about how Julie and I came to merge our two companies into the brand new Marketing EQ, Inc. But that was just the beginning. Today, I want to talk about what we learned through that process.
First and foremost, we learned that we were right: the benefits of bringing our two companies together and combining our pool of expertise and talent have been huge, and all of our clients have been benefiting from a more holistic approach to their accounts. And it’s also more complicated than that.
Most people who have ever tried to find someone to start a business with know that business partnerships can be difficult. Both Julie and I had failed business partnerships in our past, that started out strong and then fizzled (or exploded!), and we were both keenly aware of the risks inherent in opening up and sharing something we’d each spent more than a decade building on our own, and relinquishing some of that control and ownership to someone else. Taking on a business partner can be terrifying, and for good reason.
Together, Julie and I have often talked about our business partnership as having parallels with marriage, and how many of the elements that make for a successful marriage also make for a strong business partnership. Here’s our top 3 tips for maintaining a long, healthy partnership:
Don’t get married on the first date — AKA: Don’t merge your companies if you haven’t had a chance to work together closely for some years
We had been working together for roughly 3 years before we ever started to discuss a merger. This gave us the perfect opportunity to see what the other person was like in action. We could see each other’s integrity, values, strengths, weaknesses, and even annoying habits (not that either of us have those 😉 ) and had opportunities to support one another, bounce ideas off one another, and perhaps most importantly, make some joint decisions together. As the projects we did got more serious, the stakes associated with those decisions got higher and opinions grew stronger, but we found we were still able to work through differences and come to answers that satisfied us both. If you don’t have have that with a potential business partner, well, that business partner isn’t the only fish in the sea!
Communicate, communicate, communicate!
There’s a lot of emotion wrapped up in running a business, and as you let someone in to the business you’ve built, allowing them to change it can be deeply anxiety inducing — even if you know those changes are for the better. Take time every day to keep each other in the loop. Schedule long lunches together or go on weekend trips together when there are big decisions to be made, or even just information to share. Don’t just ask what decision your partner wants to make, ask WHY they want to make it, too.
Julie and I often found that even when we thought we disagreed, in most cases, if we talked about it long enough we’d realize that we agreed on all the fundamental values and facts, but one or both of us had a fear we didn’t even know we were harboring that was holding us back from giving a yes vote. Uncovering and resolving emotional blocks together has strengthened our bond immeasurably, and gave us new trust in each other’s decision making processes.
Another important thing to establish early on in your partnership is your individual boundaries. Both partners must take care to respect the views of the other.
If you find you’re having trouble agreeing on a big decision, a
therapist consultant might be helpful to break through any communication barriers and help you both understand the other’s viewpoint. Or, just as valuable, a third party might be able to offer the perspective you both need when the reason you can’t move forward is because of confusion or uncertainty on both your parts, rather than from a specific disagreement.
Your values should match, but your skills should be different
Although we understood generally what the other did professionally and the value we could each bring to the table, neither of us were subject matter experts on the same things the other specialized in. That meant that when we came together, we had new agility and ability, more details were examined and taken care of, and we were able to take burdens off each other’s shoulders when it came to things that had to get done but was challenging for one or the other of us to do on our own.
But no matter how well our skill sets complimented one another’s, we wouldn’t be able to work together for long if we didn’t agree on WHY we are in business, what the long-term vision for the partnership is, and what our values are in the world. If you’re considering taking on a business partner, make sure you understand one another’s values and that they match up as closely as humanly possible. Clarify them early and often. Write them down and stick them on the wall where you can both see them: you might both cover different parts of the path, but that road should be leading you both to the same place.