Normally, I don’t share things like this until I’ve had time to lick my wounds, brush myself off and move on. I like to be able to give a positive perspective on situations rather than have fresh emotion injected into my writing. You, my readers deserve candid, open and real articles—not “sunshine up your ass” fluff.
A Business Partnership is Like a Marriage
If you’re married (or have been married) then you know it takes a LOT to make a marriage work. Business partnerships involve a lot of the same key elements a marriage needs to make it work and if you don’t have them you are likely heading towards Splitsville.
My business partnership failed.
Luckily, the business itself is fine. Had I looked at it as though it were a committed relationship that is supposed to last forever, it might not have failed or I might not have even gone through with it. Either way now I can share my learning experience with others who might make the same mistakes.
The “Dating” Period
I met “Jake” (not his real name) in January/February of 2012 after being introduced by a mutual friend. I was currently a higher up at a promotional marketing company and Jake was a potential client. While we had lunch, he told me about the company he was launching. I was insanely excited at the possibility of somehow being involved. I floated away from our “first date” hoping I’d hear from him again. It wasn’t long before I did and he invited me to dinner to meet the rest of his team.
I found myself working for free. If Jake wanted me to attend a meeting with him, I went– even meetings out of state. I wanted his business, I saw the massive potential in him being my client and I wanted him to see my work ethic. After only 6 months, he mentioned the possibility of a business partnership. After 10 months he popped the question so I gave my notice and we started the business 3 weeks later.
Anti-fail tip: Sometimes the best business partnerships (and marriages) happen quickly, but it’s important to be sure that you’re not just getting caught up in the excitement.
Trust Your Gut
As women, our guts usually tell us when something is a bad idea. Well, when we sat down to make all this happen, something didn’t feel right. Jake wanted to bring one of his other partners into our partnership. He also decided on ownership percentages that weren’t what he’d originally mentioned. I sat in that room thinking to myself, that this new company was theirs, not ours. I didn’t really want this 3rd guy involved and didn’t see why he was getting such a big piece of the pie.
Anti-fail tip: Trust your gut. Signing paperwork is like the day you walk down the aisle. Don’t sign anything until you are sure. And ask questions. I asked questions but wasn’t satisfied with the responses I received. I felt like I was getting screwed out of something and I just accepted the answers I was given when I should have challenged them.
Share a Vision
It amazes me when people get married and then later divorce because of something like religious differences or because one of them didn’t want kids. I mean like, didn’t these people freaking talk about these major issues before they took the plunge?? Same thing goes for business partnerships. If one of you is thinking rapid expansion and the other wants to stick to just one client for a year– you’re going to have problems.
I saw this amazing little business I could make my baby. I saw potential for changing and improving the industry. Jake saw a way to keep costs down for his other company.
Anti-fail tip: Make sure you are on the same page with your ideas for the company. It’s perfectly okay to disagree on things and you will– but know your deal breakers. If you go in thinking you can change their mind later, you’ll fail.
Not only is communication imperative in any relationship, but the way it’s done is important as well. Jake and I would mostly text and email. It wasn’t often that we met face-to-face or spoke on the phone and after awhile we hardly did that at all.
Conversations through the written word, unless you’re writing love notes, doesn’t properly convey emotion. Something that is meant to be concise, can end up sounding bitchy. Taking too long to respond can feel like you’re being ignored. A lot can go on in between your ears with enough time and not enough communication.
Anti-fail tip: TALK. Yes, use actual words to talk to each other and talk often. There’s no reason why you should go an entire day without a check-in, technologically or otherwise. If your husband went MIA for an entire day it would be an issue, right? So don’t let that happen here. Problems will build when the line of communication is broken. So don’t just do it, over do it.
Support Rather Than Depend
A woman who marries a man and depends on him for money, will feel much like a woman who gets involved in a business partnership where they don’t hold the financial cards–trapped. Jake put up the capital to get started and his company assisted with certain expenses. While it made things comfortable, it also made me feel like I was at his mercy. Even though I was putting in all the sweat equity, we certainly didn’t feel like equals.
Anti-fail tip: Having a partner provide capital isn’t a bad thing, but it shouldn’t feel like a noose.
You Need to Keep “Dating”
You know how couples move in together or get married and then suddenly they stop doing all those couple-y things they used to do? Yeah. Well, Jake and I started to only see each other out of necessity. We stopped grabbing beers, catching up over lunch and meeting for coffee. We stopped being friends.
Anti-fail tip: Keep the magic alive. You don’t have to be besties but you should at the very least like each other. Whatever made you want to be business partners in the beginning is what you need to continue to do in order to sustain your relationship.
A little over 4 weeks ago Jake and I were having lunch so I could tell him about my brilliant plan to reposition the company’s strategy, now that he’d given me the green light to bring on more clients. After I chattered on for a bit he took a deep breath and broke the news. His company would no longer be supporting mine. He and our other partner would be pulling out because they no longer saw the value in being involved. He essentially was saying, “I want a divorce.”
Deer. In. Fucking. Headlights.
I swallowed the news like a jagged edged potato chip I’d forgotten to chew. I felt frightened and confused. But I’ve tried SO hard, I’m doing everything to make this work. I need more time. What am I going to do now? Last week we signed the paperwork and I’m now 100% owner. I walked away feeling like a failure.
But I’m NOT a failure. I am very, very lucky in the sense that I don’t have any debt or major financial obligations. I now can run my business the way I want to and it excites the hell out of me. I’ve also forgiven myself for the mistakes I’ve made through this whole process. I saw an opportunity and I went for it, knowing full well the risks involved.
And if I had to do it all over again? You bet your ass I would.
Are you in the process of starting a business partnership? Have you ever had a business partnership fail? What are your tips for making it work?
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