7 Keys for a Business Partnership That Works!

John Nieuwenburg

John Nieuwenburg has been a professional business coach since 2004. Prior to becoming a coach, he held executive positions with Tip Top Tailors and BC Liquor Stores. In 2019, MacKay CEO Forums awarded him with Canada’s CEO Trusted Advisor Award in the Small Business category. Since becoming a coach, John has worked with over 350 clients, taking them through a systematic process that helps them feel organized, confident and in control of their businesses.

1 – Start by building a shared Vision, Mission and Culture.

As in any business, it’s critical for the partners to define the Vision, Mission and Culture of the venture as the very first step. If all brains aren’t going in the same direction in the same way, problems are bound to arise. The motives for each partner can be different. The overall objectives and methods, however, need to be the same.

“I always viewed culture as one of those things you talked about, like marketing and advertising. It was one of the tools that a manager had at his or her disposal when you think about an enterprise. The thing I have learned at IBM is that culture is everything.” Louis V. Gerstner, Jr.

“Businesses often forget about the culture, and ultimately, they suffer for it because you can’t deliver good service from unhappy employees.” Tony Hsieh CEO: Zappos.

Key: Take time to discuss your company’s Vision, Mission and Culture with your partners. Look for what energizes and motivates each of you about your business. Give it a purpose and define what the ideal business will look like. Put the joint Vision, Mission and Culture in writing and use it as the reference for everything else you do.

2 – Make sure each partner’s needs and expectations are addressed

Each person in the partnership has his own reasons for being in the partnership. Sometimes people seek a partner for capital, sometimes for expertise, sometimes for connections. These are not always expressed, yet they remain as an underlying expectation. If the expectation isn’t met, the relationship can become strained. Because individual needs and expectations may/will change over time, a clear exit or modification plan needs to be in writing. Get this sorted out while everyone is still on good terms.

“Just as your car runs more smoothly and requires less energy to go faster and farther when the wheels are in perfect alignment, you perform better when your thoughts, feelings, emotions, goals, and values are in balance.” Brian Tracy.

Key: Find out what your partner expects from you in the partnership. Share your expectations as well. Have a plan for when personal or business circumstances or interests change so, when needed, expectations can be readdressed.

3 – Identify and utilize the strengths of each partner

Because partners join forces for a variety of reasons and expectations, sometimes the strengths of each individual may be overlooked. The most obvious strengths will probably be recognized; however, underlying strengths, when brought out can often make a big difference in long term motivation, commitment and success.

“It’s better to hang out with people better than you. Pick out associates whose behavior is better than yours and you’ll drift in that direction.” Warren Buffett

Key: Bringing out and utilizing the strengths of the individuals within the partnership will add to the motivation, the energy and the odds of long-term success. Make note of your personal strengths and ask your partner to do the same. Then sit together and discuss how you can apply these to the business.

4 – Support the partnership’s limitations

In an effort to save money, little things often pile up in areas where partners have neither expertise nor interest. Over time, these can literally sink your business. Limitations can be in any area: strategy, product/service development, marketing and sales, personnel and operations management, financial management and administrative. Wherever they are it’s important to identify them as early as possible and have a plan to manage them so they don’t get out of hand.

“As we advance in life we learn the limits of our abilities.” Henry Ford.

Key: Look at the areas that are problems for you. Chances are these are areas that could benefit from some extra support. If you think you can’t afford it…think again. You can’t afford not to support limitations. These gaps are where the value of the business slips away little by little. Don’t let it happen to your business.

5 – Set company and individual goals

The ideal way for partners to approach goals is to start with goals for the company, then each create goals for themselves. Individual goals should support the company goals. Goals should measure and support expectations. Writing these is especially important for partners.

“On May 25, 1961 before a joint session of Congress, JFK stated that the United States should set a goal of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth by the end of the decade.” John F Kennedy.

Key: Review and update your company goals together with your partners. Then get each partner to set individual goals that support the company goals in their area of expertise. Put all these in writing and get each to commit to their goals. Then at the end of the period there is no question about who’s accountable for what.

6 – Handle disagreements, disappointments and frustrations early.

As in any type of partnership, disagreements will happen. Handling them effectively is the key to keeping the relationship on an even keel and the partnership in good order. Don’t let bad feelings build and fester over time. Make it a rule that each can approach the other when something needs to be addressed.

“Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.” Warren Buffett.

Key: Sometimes it’s difficult to approach a partner, especially if it’s a long standing relationship that has deteriorated. A regularly scheduled sit down together is definitely a good idea. Establish a team meeting rhythm of daily, weekly and monthly meetings to smooth out communications. It’s always best to talk about what you’d like to see for the business and be positive. Present a plan for change as you see it. That gives everyone something to work with and respond to.

7 – Define job roles for each partner, including accountability

Do you and your partner have written job roles? If not you may be operating under false assumptions. Job roles look a lot like job descriptions in that they carry the connotation: “responsible for” with a list of tasks and outcomes. Lack of clarity around job roles is a major source of frustration and disappointment in many partnerships. In addition have a formal organization chart. You can find lots of templates with the typical roles in an organization using a search engine. Be sure that each role has a team member’s name next to it along with which partner is ultimately responsible. Remember, if all the partners are responsible, then none of the partners are responsible.

“Of all the things I’ve done, the most vital is coordinating those who work with me and aiming their efforts at a certain goal.” Walt Disney.

Key: Clearly define the tasks you will perform and have your partner do the same. From this you can each be accountable to yourselves, to each other and to the business. Where there are uncovered tasks, contract for or hire a specialist. The objective is to make sure all jobs are covered and accountability has been assigned and acknowledged.

Follow these Keys and you’ll have a solid platform for a successful partnership and a strong and profitable business.

If you find yourself in a situation that is getting challenging, let me help you take the right next steps. In a 30 minute phone meeting (the first one is complimentary!) we’ll sort through the issues and you’ll leave the call with a plan. To schedule a call, send me a note with the Subject as Partner Coaching and I’ll be in touch!

Free E-Book: Five Steps to Freedom

book cover(1)

How to build a business that runs smoothly, profitably, and (mostly) without you

Feeling stressed out and overwhelmed with a business that is taking all your time - and not giving you enough in return?

Are you finding it challenging to hire the right team (and get them to do the right things)?

I wrote this little guide for you!

Enter your details below to receive your free copy!