Years ago when I was seeking a partner to expand Successful Culture, a mentor/adviser told me that partnerships work out about 50% of the time. While he didn't cite any statistics, his own experience of building and selling about a dozen businesses, investing in dozens of businesses, and serving on the boards of many businesses was enough anecdotal evidence for me. 

Fast forward to 2018. This year I've partnered with 2 different partners in 2 separate entities, and both are set up for great success. I did have to kiss a few frogs along the way to find the right partner to grow Successful Culture.

Finally, I realized that what I needed was right in front of me the whole time - one of my most trusted friends, with a complementary business model, with whom I have worked for 15 years. We've merged our businesses to create Successful Culture International, which has increased our range of services and capacity, and brought together 50 years of leadership and strategic consulting experience.

With the other entity, which is now Women's CEO Roundtable, I sat on that dream for 7 years before I approached my partner to embark on a journey together. 

Almost 25 years of entrepreneurship (and lots of mistakes along the way) have taught me what businesses need in terms of effective leadership. For a business to grow, the founder must be open to bringing in support. There are just too many things for one person to oversee if they want to truly scale their business, and no one is good at everything. 

Here are 6 fundamental elements that will help all partnerships start off strong, and stay the course as the business grows. 

These also apply to partnerships you may launch with friends, which have their own unique rules to ensure success, as well as spousal partnerships, which introduce their own rules and challenges. 

1. Alignment of Core Values.
This is the single most important factor in any close relationship. Finding a partner that believes in what you believe in, and upholds the same standards, will be critical at every decision point in your business journey. 

2. Long-term Shared Purpose.
Why are you doing what you are doing?  Where are you going? Partners must be aligned in their future visions regarding the direction of the company, and the impact they will make.

3. Complementary Strengths.
The best partnerships include leaders who have different skill sets. You don't need another one of you. If one partner thinks big picture, and is the lead strategist, the other partner ideally will excel in operations and implementation. Your partner should fill in your gaps, and not simply add bandwidth.

4. Proactive, Intentional Communication.
Even if your values, purpose, and strengths align, your partnership will struggle if you don't prioritize communication. Partners must feel comfortable talking about anything business-related. They must be willing to have difficult conversations.

And, ideally they should have standing calls/meetings every week, in addition to the conversations that naturally occur during the course of the business day. This provides a dedicated time/space to address any topics that may be overlooked.

5. Scheduled Strategic Planning.
In addition to scheduling weekly calls, partners will benefit from setting aside strategic planning sessions every 6-8 weeks to review the business progress against clearly defined goals. No facilitator is required. This is simply a block of time (4-6 hours) to take a breath, reflect on what the business has accomplished, discuss potential changes in direction, and set short-term goals that roll up to long-term goals. 

6. Legal Documents.
If you are going to partner, protect the business and both of you with a partnership agreement. No one expects a partnership to go south, but it happens.

In addition, pre-determine the percentage split. Speaking from experience, and based on the guidance of the same adviser I referenced earlier, unless one partner is infusing a lot of capital into the partnership, consider a 50-50 split, rather than creating a situation where one partner is superior to the other. My adviser taught my partner and me the benefit of "standing shoulder-to-shoulder" which equally values both people, and doesn't make one partner feel "less."

These 6 strategies can help any partnership start off strong and stay strong as the company grows. Values, shared purpose, strong communication, and strategic planning are a business's best building blocks.

Published on: Jan 16, 2018
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