Like a bundle of sticks, good business partners support each other and are less likely to crack under strain together than on their own. In fact, companies with multiple owners have a stronger chance of surviving their first five years than sole proprietorships, according to U.S. Small Business Administration data.
Yet sole proprietorships are more common than partnerships, making up more than 70 percent of all businesses. That's because while good partnerships are strong, they can be hard to make. Here are some elements that good business partnerships require:
- A shared vision
Business partnerships need a shared vision. If there are differences in vision, make an honest effort to find compromise. If you want to start a restaurant and your partner envisions a fine dining experience with French cuisine, while you want an American bistro, you are going to be disagreeing over everything from pricing and marketing to hiring and decor.
- Compatible strengths
Different people bring different skills and personalities to a business. There is no stronger glue to hold a business partnership together than when partners need and rely on each other's abilities. Suppose one person is great at accounting and inventory management, and another is a natural at sales and marketing. Each is free to focus on what they are good at and can appreciate that their partner will pick up the slack in the areas where they are weak.
- Defined roles and limitations
Before going into business, outline who will have what responsibilities. Agree which things need consensus and which do not. Having this understanding upfront will help resolve future disagreements. Outlining the limits of each person's role not only avoids conflict, it also identifies where you need to hire outside expertise to fulfill a skill gap in your partnership.
- A conflict resolution strategy
Conflict is bound to arise even if the fundamentals of your partnership are strong. Set up a routine for resolving conflicts. Start with a schedule for frequent communication between partners. Allow each person to discuss issues without judgment. If compromise is still difficult after discussion, it helps to have someone who can be a neutral arbiter, such as a trusted employee or consultant.
- A goal-setting system
Create a system to set individual goals as well as business goals. Regularly meet together and set your goals, the steps needed to achieve them, who needs to take the next action, and the expected date of completion.
- An exit strategy
It's often easier to get into business with a partner than to exit when it isn't working out. Create a buy-sell agreement at the start of your business relationship. This should outline how you exit the business and create a fair valuation system to pay the exiting owner. Neither the selling partner nor the buying partner want to feel taken advantage of during an ownership transition.