You might not think of your business partner as your life partner. But in many ways they are as close, if not closer, than a romantic partner. Money, time, visions of the future…these are just a few of the topics that you’ll have to navigate when you go into business with someone.
Starting and running a new business is often an overwhelming endeavor. There are so many tasks to get to and goals to achieve, it can be too much for one person. That’s why so many people dive into entrepreneurship with a partner to two. You can share the load, and everyone will bring different strengths and skills to party.
But Are Partnerships Always Good?
But there’s a downside to partnership that no one talks about in the beginning. Getting along with people, even people you really like, is hard when there are important things like money, security, and dreams on the line. When there are multiple owners in a business, one of the biggest challenges can be creating and maintaining harmony among those in charge.
I knew of a local business that was run (quite successfully) by two brothers. They shared with me once that they felt part of their success came from regular sessions with a couples counselor. Not a business counselor, an actual therapist who usually saw married couples. They felt that those sessions were a key part in helping them maintain a strong relationship with each other and avoid problems. As one of them said, “Running a business is just as stressful as running a family, and we didn’t want personal issues getting in the way of actual professional concerns.”
If you are in a business partnership, you might not be able to find time to sit on a therapist’s couch. You can still be aware of power of the personal dynamics between the partners and the profound impact that they can have on the business.
All of the strengths and weaknesses that each partner possesses in their personal lives will manifest in business. Sure, the natural saleswoman who is great at influencing others in her personal life will be good at getting new clients. But if she’s also disorganized at home she will probably bring a little of that chaos into her worklife as well. That could be grating if her partner is highly structured…or if she keeps misplacing the suppliers’ invoices! Both the positive and negative will come into the business.
Don’t Ignore Personal Tensions
You might not have a therapist’s coach to sit on, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have powerful conversations with your partner(s). Three questions that can help if asked of each other regularly and answered honestly:
1. What is exciting you about the business right now?
2. What are you afraid of right now?
3. What is a behavior of mine that you are finding challenging? What is a way I could improve that?
Hopefully, your relationships will be grounded and strong enough to ask the questions honestly and openly. The goal isn’t to attack, place blame, or wallow. The goal is to remove obstacles and impediments from the personal side.
If you don’t have a strong enough relationship with your partner, or you don’t feel comfortable asking or answering these questions, then maybe they aren’t the right person to start a company with. I once heard a sex educator say, “If you aren’t comfortable asking your partner about their sexual past, you don’t know them well enough to sleep with them.” The context may seem a little different, but if you are going to trust your money and your future to this person, you better have very clear lines of communication.
Don’t be shy about bringing in outside help if it’s needed. This is where a coach, consultant, or therapist can provide a much-needed perspective. When you are in the weeds, and your partner is driving you nutty, objectivity can be in short supply. Pretending that there aren’t any tensions or problems caused by personal conflicts doesn’t make them go away.
So when something is going down the wrong path, address it and fix it, because it’s only going to get worse if you ignore it. Keep communicating, keep working on the relationship, and watch your business flourish!