How Getting a Business Partner is Like Getting Married
It's really not an exaggeration to say that gaining a new business partner is a lot like gaining a spouse.
Think about it. When you become someone's business partner you embark on a journey towards the future with them and your financial life and well-being becomes intermingled. They also play a huge role in your life psychologically because business partners spend a lot of time together and often have to handle complex issues.
I've seen a lot of partnerships through my business experiences over the years -- as a business executive and third generation woman entrepreneur. It's great when it works well. The business functions efficiently and good partners clearly play off each other's strengths.
On the other hand, working with a failing or destructive partnership can be very unpleasant. Not only is it unsettling, but it can be harmful for your business and it is most definitely damaging for the business of the weak partners -- because who wants to work with a couple that can't work with themselves?
So you should prepare for gaining a business partner in much the same way you would for a marriage.
You want to plan for it to work out, but be prepared in case it doesn't -- because you can't predict the future. So a prenup, or in this case a partnership agreement, is necessary. Discussing this early and when the relationship is good is critical so that you know how you are going to split up if it comes to that.
Apart from a prenup, you should hash out the details of what you both want your partnership to look like and get clear on shared business goals. You should ask questions about communication styles and generally, mentally ready yourself to make the commitment -- and to make the commitment work! To that end, here are two key points to establish early in your partnership:
Don't argue over housework. Get crystal clear on job descriptions
Ideally, business partners have complementary skill sets. You might be great at the business and administrative stuff, while your partner has a technical skill set, for example. But even when there are clear divisions, it's important to be specific about how you intend to share the workload. People get angry fast when they feel like they're doing too much.
Take the division of labor in your partnership seriously -- write it down and continue to communicate proactively. As any go-getter knows, a job description is always in draft mode, so this is definitely an ongoing conversation.
Like spouses, business partners need their own "date night"
Business partner relationships really cannot flourish without regular, open and honest communication.
That's why you need to make it a habit to set aside time for frequent meetings with each other to review priorities, discuss challenges, brainstorm and generally check in with each other. Regular communication is critical because it builds a foundation for difficult discussions and conflicts that will inevitably arise.
The entertainment tycoon Michael D. Eisner explained it well, "Even when two people are a perfect fit, there are going to be times when someone needs to speak up, and say something difficult." Eisner, a former CEO of The Walt Disney Company, co-authored a book on successful business partnerships. In this piece highlighting the similarities between business and marriage partners, he writes: "Like in any successful marriage, business partners find ways to get around the dilemmas and the disagreements, and then use the adage that 'one plus one is a lot more than two' to build up their companies, and rise above in a world that is dominated by people who think working alone is better."
That's a great vision, which is why thinking about your partnership like a marriage that you must nurture and work on is a very helpful analogy.
This post originally appeared in my work-life harmony column on Inc.com.