Partnerships in life and in business can be one of the most effective and sustainable ways to grow.
However, they can also be difficult, stressful, and frankly, terrifying. You’ve probably heard the statistic: 80 percent of business partnerships ultimately fail. And when they do, it is not just “the business” that suffers, but often, we suffer professionally, financially, relationally, mentally, and emotionally. The trauma of failed partnerships in business can be devastating and is often so scarring that we begin to believe that we will never find a partnership that can be both peaceful and profitable. We then begin to hide behind a wall of solo business and “solo-preneurship”, convinced that no one has both the trust-worthiness and the competence to add both peace and value to our business as partners. For me, this is not just academic; partnerships have devastated me both emotionally and financially.
To be honest, I remember the events I am about to describe like they just happened yesterday. I had just transitioned out of my career as a full-time pastor for 13 years and was very excited about joining the world of business. There was a business person who watched my transition and approached me to join him in a business venture. 6 months later he had robbed me of $50,000 in cash, and literally left me on the verge of bankruptcy.
From there, I went into another business partnership with some “friends” who promised me both a peaceful and profitable relationship. Just over a year later, and tens of thousands of dollars in losses, I moved on.
Soon after that, I joined the charitable non-profit sector, thinking that there possibly couldn’t be any drama, backstabbing and skullduggery in a group of people so altruistic and committed to changing the world and helping the most vulnerable. A few years, and unbelievable amounts of drama, backstabbing and skullduggery later, I moved on, feeling severely traumatized.
Unfortunately, my perspectives had also shifted to the negative around partnerships in both the for-profit AND the not-for-profit sector.
On the other hand, having started and led businesses and charitable non-profits into the tens of millions of dollars, with literally hundreds of employees and working with large boards of directors, executive teams, and private owners, every good thing in my life and business has come through partnerships. And, as a serial entrepreneur, current business owner of over half a dozen profit making business entities, board member for some significant charities, President of one of the largest Coaching Certification organizations on the planet, and High-Performance Leadership Coach, I can tell you this: partnerships are complex, and yet they are critical and highly beneficial.
One thing that can make partnerships so challenging, and that can bring an enormous amount of “Partner Pain”, is that problems with our partners can encompass so many diverse areas. Problems with partners can be personal, as in personality or perspective clashes. They can also be relational, as in different ways of relating and communicating. They can also be strategic, as in partners who have different visions or strategies for the business or partnership. They can be structural, as in different habits and operational paradigms. Problems with partners can be financial, as in financial valuation, integrity or management issues. They can be professional, as in workflow or work style. And in some cases, problems with partners can also be legal, inflicting often years of damages on top of financial devastation.
But the truth is that we need partners. There is an interesting story in ancient literature that has many applications to current life and business realities. In the book of Judges, chapter 18, verses 27 and 28, it says this: “Then they… went on to Laish, against a people at peace and secure. They attacked them with the sword and burned down their city. There was no one to rescue them because they… had no relationship with anyone else….” This is a tragic tale of an ancient city whose people were at peace and secure, and yet they had no relationships or partnerships with anyone else. Perhaps felt too comfortable and secure to cultivate supportive partnerships, perhaps they felt that relationship was not worth the effort, or perhaps they had bad experiences in the past. Whatever the reason, when they were under attack and it mattered the most, the people of Laish had no one to call upon for help or support, and as a result, their city was overrun. So, it makes sense to cultivate partnerships while we still can.
There is another ancient text which speaks to this dynamic. In Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, we read this: “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; But how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
Indeed, two are better than one. What happens when we have “Partner Peace”? From this ancient text, we can easily see several benefits:
- Greater Productivity & Profit,
- Assistance In Time Of Need,
- Companionship and Support,
- More Success in Competitive Environments,
- Defence When Under Attack.
So, How Can We Move From “Partner Pain” To “Partner Peace” And “Partner Profit”?
There are some do’s and don’ts which can help when it comes to partnering…
- Partner when you are desperate,
- Partner in a hurry,
- Partner when you are unclear about your expectations,
- Partner when you are unclear about their expectations,
- Partner when you lack personal or professional clarity,
- Partner when you are very unequal, in experience, position, or resources,
- Partner when one or more partners do not add any actual value,
- Partner when you are fresh off a bad experience. Take time to heal, but not too long!
- Partner around purpose,
- Partner around passion,
- Partner around puzzle completion,
- Partner around shared objectives and goals,
- Partner around alignment with respect to values,
- Partner where you can learn,
- Partner around mutual professional elevation,
- Partner when each partner adds actual value.
Moving from Partner Pain to Partner Peace and Profit…
As you consider partnering, it’s important that you survey the landscape. Be aware of your options and be clear-headed about the potential risks and potential benefits of a partnership. Building a relationship with a business partner requires just as much work as any marriage. By being aware of the challenges you will face, you can be prepared.
Look for a business partner with a demonstrated ability to work hard for long hours, and a keen willingness to learn new skills and experiment with ideas.
When it comes to partnerships, before you grab the whiteboard and write big fancy titles above everyone’s names, and start brainstorming a name for your company, take a step back. How much do you really know about the person you are about to do business with? What is he or she truly bringing to the table? And most importantly, will you feel the same way you feel right now in five years?
Here are some crucial considerations for Moving from Partner Pain to Partner Peace and Profit…
More than anything else, our values drive our behaviour. Values are not some feeling that is disconnected from the real world; values determine how we behave in the real world. If you have a gut feeling that you can’t trust the person you are thinking about working with, you seriously need to think about the cons as much as the pros. It might be small, and it might seem insignificant at the time, but remember: Money is an amplifier. As money starts rolling through the door, whatever good or bad in your partner will be amplified. And if that potential partner lies about the small stuff now, the lies will only grow as their bank account grows. The only people you want to work with are the ones who are willing to be open and honest, supportive and integral, because those are the fastest and most effective ways to grow your business.
What kind of vibe is your potential partner projecting? And is their vibe aligned with your vibe? If not, it likely makes sense to get out before you sign on the dotted line.
Can you see yourself deeply connecting with your potential partner? At the end of the day, you’re not looking for a “business partner”. You’re looking for a family member, a brother, a sister, a best friend. You want someone who is going to be there for you, night and day. Someone who is going to be able to encourage you when you’re down and shake you back to reality when you are out of touch. Partner with someone you could see yourself spending a week in the mountains with, or a few days exploring the city with, or some time on the beach with. If you can’t see yourself going on vacation with this person, then don’t do it.
Research shows that we are more productive when we work with people that we actually like. Why is that? Likely because we end up spending more time together with business partners when we do our own families. Business, and especially entrepreneurship, is 24/7. It’s a lifestyle, it’s a way of living, and it is part of who you are. Do business with people you enjoy being around. Otherwise, it won’t be much fun and will feel like too much “work”.
This one is relatively simple, but it is AMAZING to me how often partnerships get this wrong. Partners cannot walk together and work together unless they are headed in the same direction, focused on the same target. Spend the time at the beginning clarifying your destination, and if you are not on the same page, get out before you get in too deep.
Make sure that the workload will not be unbalanced. Especially when you’re first starting out, you both need to be pulling your weight–and both parties need to be aware of that. Even if you have different roles and different functional responsibilities, the time factor should be relatively aligned. It needs to be established from the start who is responsible for what, and partners should constantly check in with each other to make sure both of them are contributing to the growth of the company and hold one another accountable. If not, it might get lopsided, and that’s when disagreements start.
Though our time contribution should be relatively the same, our exact contributions will often be different. Expertise and effort are not equal. Business partners, like any close relationship, often end up being opposites, in some ways. People look for a partner who can fill their gaps, and really, that is the primary reason we partner to begin with.
However, if your potential partner isn’t an expert in something, you need to be aware of that. There is a difference between someone who “puts in the time”, and someone who really knows their stuff. Effort and work ethic should never be discounted, but nothing takes the place of expertise. Look for a partner who brings genuine competence to the table.
Often in partnerships, the actual dollar value of investments will be different, and that can be okay. Having said that, ensure you spend time considering and clarifying the decision-making structure. In other words, just because someone puts in more money, it shouldn’t necessarily mean they call the shots. What matters is the initial partnership agreement you put in place, which should clarify strategic direction, decision-making processes, profit-sharing, revenue allocation, legitimate expenses, the process for bringing in new partners and/or handling a partner exit, and the eventual sale and/or dissolution of the business.
The world we live in is shifting so rapidly that only those committed to ongoing personal and professional development have a chance at sustainable success. Only partner with someone who is committed to their ongoing personal and professional growth. If not, the business itself will suffer. And, with that sort of apathy, there is a chance you may outgrow the relationship itself in time.
In the end, we can move from Partner Pain to Partner Peace and Profit. However, we need to move forward with wisdom and strategic intelligence. Be very careful about who you share your vision, dreams and ideas with. If you talk to the wrong people about the right idea, your idea will die before it can conceive and give birth.
Partner and connect only with people that inspire you, people that challenge you to rise higher, people that make you better
Partner and connect only with people that inspire you, people that challenge you to rise higher, people that make you better. Don’t waste your valuable time with people that are not adding to your growth.