5 Keys to a Successful Business Partnership

Last week we had the honor and privilege of celebrating our 15-year anniversary as a small business. That means Jessica and I have been business partners for 16+ years and counting.

Yes, there have been some ups and downs along the way – we’ve dreamed, we’ve laughed, we’ve cried and we’ve shared many sleepless nights worrying about the long haul.

But regardless of what each of us had going on in our personal lives, we keep choosing to put the business first.

Here are 5 tips for having a successful long-standing business partnership.

1. Commit – We have a saying, “commit to your commitments” - it’s our guiding star. Years ago, we agreed to embark on this endeavor together and because of the commitment to business we made we both agree to do whatever it takes to keep the business running. Sometimes this means doing something we don’t really want to do, but if the decision is ultimately the best for the business then we are both committed to making it happen. As long as we’re invested in the business we agree to stay committed to obligations.

2. Friendship First – Running a business is hard work, and some would even say it’s harder with someone you love. In our case we, that hasn’t been the case as best friends. We’ve certainly had ups and downs and times when we don’t see eye to eye, but we always prioritize the human side of this business partnership. If one of us wants to push an agenda forward and it would ultimately not be in the best interest of the other partner then we don’t move forward. This often comes to play when one of us has something significant going on in our personal lives. For example, I may be leaning hard into family and Jessica has a great business idea that may take more of our time at work. I can always trust that she will put friendship first and acknowledge and honor what is best for me as person.

3. Work Ethic – By now, you probably know our story. We were each raised by parents who had their own businesses. Actually they were sole-proprietors which means they worked all.the.time. Add Jessica’s experience growing up in rural Maine working her family land, and my parents’ “there’s always something to be done” mentality and it’s safe to say we each come from families of hard workers. That work ethic was instilled in us long ago, and it’s something we both bring to the table – the discipline and perseverance to keep doing the work even when we get tired.

4. Lean Into Your Unique Strengths – It’s clear we are different people, and in the beginning there was a lot of overlap in our responsibilities. A few years into business ownership, a business coach helped us identify our strengths and then encouraged us to trust the other partner to handle her load. Jessica is our “people person.” She is a connector, and she has empathy that extends for days. She is a master of identifying with clients and helping them with what they need. She is also actively engaged and always learning about marketing. As such, she is our marketing leader and client communication specialist. 

On the other hand, I enjoy understanding how things work, and I love creating efficient systems and processes that we follow as a team and as a business. I also enjoy strategizing, future pacing and planning for the evolution of our business.

We each choose to continue to develop these skills, and we also trust our partner to handle her responsibilities.

5. Communicate – It probably goes without saying that communication is KEY in any long-standing relationship. Sometimes Jessica and I are like an old married couple because we can literally finish the others partners’ thoughts and sentences. The pandemic has certainly presented some challenges because we don’t see each other every day like we used to, but open communication is still a priority for us. We set regular meetings to discuss business topics, and we are often checking in with each other to see how she is feeling. In addition, we honor that having some healthy conflict along the way is part of it. In times of conflict, we are respectful, we are open and we honor the other partners’ point of view. Regular, open communication is definitely a key component for a long-term successful partnership.

Choosing to engage in a business partnership is no easy decision, and while many partnerships don’t stand the test of time it can be done with dedication to your mission and vision. On the flip side, it is a wonderful journey to be in business with a friend and share the ups and downs with someone you love. Some days we pinch ourselves with the realization that we get to chart our own course AND work alongside our best friend in the process.

What about you? Do you have a business partnership or are you considering one?  What are your keys to success? What are you struggles? Or, are you thinking of going into business with a partner? We’d love to hear in the comments.

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