If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. We know that heartfelt connections, strong relationships and soulful collaborations can transform a side hustle into a thriving small business. It’s hard being a solopreneur, and having someone to vent to, and brainstorm or celebrate with can help you accomplish twice as much. But taking the leap and committing to group work can be scary, so here are 5 conversations to have before choosing a business partner, so you can team up with confidence and success.
Why should you choose a business partner?
If you’re lacking a specific talent or skillset that would benefit your clients, and you don’t want to spend the time or money developing that skill yourself, a business partner could fill the gap. If there’s an untouched audience that needs your services, a business partner could help you enter new markets and expand your reach. If you want to make more with less input, a business partner could be the extra mind and muscle that your bank account needs.
How to choose a business partner (and not totally regret it)
Don’t choose a business partner because you just “really like” a creative colleague, you’re lonely in business, or because it feels like everyone else is forming a creative clique, collective, or partnership. Form a business partnership because it will better serve your craft, your clients, your lifestyle and your bank account.
I believe that the best creations are collaborations, and that hard conversations can save you a lot of heartache. Here are five key discussions to have with a prospective business partner.
1. Talk about your personal life, including your schedules, relationships, and family.
Talk about your work routines, schedules, how you prefer to spend time off and what life is like away from the business. What does your prospective partner’s individual work/life blend look like? How does it match up to your own? What about your definition of work ethic? If you like to work 10-hour days, and your prospective partner only works 4-hour weeks, then that’s a difference you need to iron out before signing on the dotted line.
It’s also important to talk about your most influential relationships — what they’re like, where they’re going, and how you foresee them changing in the future. Brene Brown calls these your “one-inch square” people — the tiny, one-inch square of names on a piece of paper whose opinions you really care about. They are the stakeholders in your business and life — your spouse, children, siblings, employees, mentors, or most treasured clients. They have the power to influence whether you say “yay” or “nay” to a partnership or project, so their buy-in is essential to your success.
Are you thinking about getting married, divorced, having a baby or moving across the country? Talk through the big life moments that could impact your business and working dynamic.
Questions to ask:
- What does your average work day look like?
- Who in your life needs to be onboard with this partnership?
- What would help your “one inch square” people feel more excited, supportive, or encouraged by this partnership?
2. Talk about the success you want (or don’t want any part of!)
Be honest about who you are, and truthful about who you never want to be. My business partner and I both want the same thing — to be working creatives that serve our clients and pay our bills. We don’t want seven-figure launches every month or an invite to interview with Oprah.
Get specific about what you’re willing to do for money, and what you’re not. It’s just as important to talk about the success you don’t want as it is to talk about the success you do.
Questions to ask:
- What’s your current business model?
- What services do you want to add, and what services do you want to retire?
- Who is your business idol?
- What does your ultimate “I made it” moment look like?
- What version of “success” makes your stomach turn?
- Do you want to grow into an agency, publication, or a larger platform in the future?
3. Talk about your strengths, weaknesses, big wins and train wrecks.
You can learn a lot about me by listening to my biggest success stories. You can learn even more from my biggest failures, setbacks, and obstacles. When a client was fuming, I began to BCC my prospective partner. I wanted her to see how I handled the situation. If she appreciated the way I spoke to the client, was impressed by my problem solving, and thought I resolved the issue professionally, she could trust me to represent her in a partnership.
If you’re afraid to show someone the good, bad, and ugly of your experiences, then you may not be ready for a partnership, or they may not be the right partner for you. Strive for someone whose integrity you trust, completely.
Questions to ask:
- How do you handle difficult or upset clients?
- Have you ever had to refund a client?
- Have you ever had to dissolve a partnership or working agreement?
- What is your favorite kind of work?
- What tasks do you hate doing?
- How to do celebrate wins?
- What are you best at?
4. Talk about how much money you make.
Are you and your prospective business partner making the same salary? I teamed up with someone making the same money I was, in the same ways — as a contractor for larger agencies and art directors. Because we had a similar starting point, it was easy to project our future salary goals.
If you aren’t making a similar salary — and your prospective partner requires a dramatically different-looking paycheck every month to make her rent — you’ll need to spend extra time doing some financial planning for the business. Nothing is a deal breaker, but everything is up for discussion.
Questions to ask:
- What’s your dream salary?
- How much do you need to make a month?
- How do you determine prices for your services?
- Is giving back a part of your business model?
- What are your one-to-one offerings?
- What are you selling one-to-many?
- What services or offerings make you the most money?
- What’s services or offerings are costing you money?
- Which business investments are most important to you? Travel, education, systems?
5. Talk about the worst case scenario.
What happens if you get sued? If someone quits, dies, or wants to dissolve business? Who gets the money, assets, clients and the newsletter list if you part ways? The best time to talk about the worst case scenario is before it happens. You don’t need to spend big money on a lawyer, but you should ask hard questions and write up a working agreement that you both can sign with confidence and clarity.
Questions to ask:
- How do you build trust with the people you work with?
- How will we split the revenue?
- What happens if one of us wants to take a temporary break from the business?
A business partnership is not at all unlike a marriage, and creative partnerships are notoriously complex. You’re going to disagree, fall down, fall apart, and rally together in amazing and unexpected ways. But if you establish a foundation of trust and integrity in the honeymoon phase, you’re more likely to go the distance and live (and work!) happily ever after.