How to Set Clear Expectations Working With a Business Partner
Working on projects with friends is a little tricky, whether it’s a group project at school or a side hustle you’re running together. We’ve all been there where things got a little awkward because of a misunderstanding about the business or the finances or the project timeline.
Having a business partner can be an incredible blessing, but you should approach the relationship with as much professionalism and clarity as you can to avoid damaging the relationship, whatever journey the business takes you on.
Let’s talk about all the incredible blessings that come from working with a business partner! First of all, obviously, there is a shared workload. There are two of you working on these projects, which means you have more brains to put to the task, and more marketing power as you network with two different groups of acquaintances. You also get to share the liability and responsibility of running the business with someone else, so should anything go down, you’re not completely financially or morally responsible.
If you’re starting a business with someone you are already close with, it’s basically like a never ending party where you get to plan and dream and scheme together! It’s so much fun to share a common goal and start earning money for it. It barely feels like work!
However, that party can get busted really quickly if any problems come up and the two of you aren’t prepared to handle to work through them. I’ll outline some of the potential issues you may come across in your business relationship, and most of them, unfortunately, I’ve lived through firsthand to have a personal understand of just what can come of these disagreements.
Disagreements on fundamental parts of the business structure and strategy
Have you discussed with your partner whether you want this to be more of a passive income strategy, or more hands on? How much time are you willing to commit to this project each week while balancing other commitments? Talk through your goals for the business to make sure you are on the same page and you understand where the other is coming from. While it may seem like you’re in agreement at the onset of a new project, it’s important to realize that situations change and you both need to be receptive to a change of perspective on the other’s part, or outline in writing what will happen if you come to different conclusions at any point in the future of the project.
one partner feels like they’re doing more work
Unless it was understood at the beginning of the project that one partner would be taking on more responsibility, it’s important to have respect for both your partner and your business by not taking on more than you can handle, or by leaving your partner to manage an unfair portion of the workload. This ain’t fun for no one.
one partner feels they aren’t getting a fair say
Almost the opposite of the previous problem, in creative businesses where both partners are eager to pursue the business venture, you may have one partner who feels like they don’t get to make any of the big decisions, or that their opinion isn’t heard or respected. Again, unless it was stated and understood at the start of the project that one partner would have more say than the other, then it is incredible crucial to allow both parties to communicate and come together on terms where they both have an idea or a thought for how to proceed.
disagreements on how to prioritize investing
Are you both going to be taking an equal paycheck from this business as soon as it starts making money, or will you spare your salaries for a few months in favor of reinvesting in the business? Is it worth spending your marketing dollars on ads or on outsourcing labor? Would you rather sell less at a high profit, or sell more at small profit margins? These are really critical questions that need to be answered by BOTH of you, together, or else it’s not longer a business partnership.
disagreements on how to market and communicate with customers
Obviously, you both share the common goal of growing the business, but do you understand and respect each other’s morals or methods for doing that? When it comes to marketing, there are a lot of sales tactics or communication styles that could give one business partner a sour taste in their mouth. When chatting with potential customers or other businesses, whoever is representing the business should be clear and respectful, communicating in a manner agreed upon by both partners, and with the permission of both partners. There should be no secrets or shady deals.
If you’re considering starting a business with a partner and want some framework around which to have a thorough discussion to set clear expectations, I’ve outlined below some questions you can each ask yourselves and answer together to make sure you are on the right track. If your business is already in full-swing, it’s not too late! Consider your answers to these questions, and if you’re not on the same page, then maybe you should communicate your feelings about each before moving forward.
What time can we each dedicate on average every week to this business?
What responsibilities are we most comfortable taking on?
Where do we see this business going in the coming years?
What goals do we have for the business?
What are our priorities with how we strategize or market our business?
How often should we meet to discuss potential changes to our processes?
Who gets the final say (if any) on certain aspects of the business?
Ultimately, the greatest tool in working with a business partner is communication. Stay patient when you work with another person, because even though it may be easy to see all the bad qualities that they’re bringing to the table, you started this for a reason, and as long as they’re willing to check in with you and make decisions together, then you should be able to work through your issues to build a great business to run as partners.
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