One of our clients describes being an entrepreneur like having to pull a bus up a hill, every day, by yourself. Even for those among us who have experienced meteoric growth, shouldering the responsibility of an entire company can feel burdensome. As a result, an issue that frequently crops up with our clients is the desire to have a business partner. It’s understandable: When you’re doing all the heavy lifting, you think it would be nice to share the load.
The two of us are in a long-standing business partnership. Heck, our business relationship has lasted longer than most marriages. So it might interest you know that we have never – not once – recommended partnership to any of our clients. It’s not because we don’t like partnership. On the contrary - here’s when business partnership can work:
- You’re both at the same stage in your life. This increases the odds that you have common financial and lifestyle goals which will be key for success.
- You’re both looking for the same thing out of the experience. Whether it’s money, flexibility, or the ability to grow something on your own, your thinking needs to be aligned.
- You both have interests/ demands outside of work. Partnership can work when you both understand that commitments outside of work are going to take up some of your time.
But here is why business partnership is typically a bad idea: It is really tricky to find someone who shares your mindset, your values and your work ethic. You’ll also want a partner whose skills complement your own. You’ll want someone with whom you can be completely frank. (Letting issues build up is the kiss of death in any partnership.) And you’ll want someone you will enjoy working with. If you’re not going to enjoy this person, then really, what’s the point?
Checking off all these boxes is a tall order, so what is an overwhelmed entrepreneur to do? One recommendation we advocate for our clients is to get help in their businesses: Hire an employee, sub-contract out work, join a networking group, find a mentor. All these things will help to relieve your daily burden without entering into a complex interpersonal relationship with a partner. Plus, significantly, you won’t have to give away any equity in your company.
Once you’ve gotten your company off the ground, it can be very tricky to bring a partner on board. You have a vision, goals, plans, and a way of working. We have all heard horror stories about partnerships gone bad. If you think you’re tired and overworked now, imagine how it would feel to engage in a turf war in your own company if your partnership breaks up. So forget the partner – just bring in people who want to work for you.