Talking Shop: Questions for a Potential Business Partner
I started my very first business when I was 17 years old with my high school best friend. She was an amazing artist who drew beautiful characters and creative scenes. My dad had a t-shirt press and a button maker he was willing to let us borrow. So, our business was born. And then, just as quickly, our business and our friendship exploded and fizzled out. We had failed to ask each other basic questions about our plans for the business, how we would work together and what we would do if things got hard. To be fair, we were basically children, but I learned a lot from that experience. Since that time, I've had several other businesses with many other people - both friends and not. Currently, Heather and I are partners at the helm of Denver Style Magazine and we've been able to successfully navigate some really tricky and hard situations in our nearly 9 months of partnership. Below, I outline some of the reasons I believe we've been able to work so well together and what questions I would ask myself about a future potential business partner.
Do you like hanging out with them? Like, really like hanging out with them? Can you see yourself sitting on your office floor in the middle of the night, going over the next day's schedule or the month's event plans? You will see this person all.the.time. Probably more than your family, your romantic partner and any of your friends. Heather and I truly like hanging around each other. We're both always up for an adventure and are able to laugh with each other on the really ridiculous things that happen to us on a daily basis. We don't have to hang out with each other all the time but it helps that when we're together, especially when we're together a lot, we like being around each other.
Do you think the same? Just like any relationship, you don't want to be with a carbon copy of yourself. We're attracted to certain people for a reason, regardless of relationship type. It helps to have someone who thinks in a similar way that you do on the big stuff. Because in small business, a lot of things are the big stuff. Do you both want the same kind of company culture? Do you want to offer the same kinds of services? Do you believe the company exists or needs to exist for the same reasons? Making sure you're on the same page about these things now can prevent a lot of headaches down the way.
Do you work the same? Heather and I work at very different times of day. She's a night owl, often working long after I've gone to bed. I prefer to work early in the morning, when the world is quiet. While we work at physically different times, we work in the same manner. We're both hyper organized, Type A personalities. We're both able to manage our own priorities and work on our own, without reminders or check ins on what needs to be done and by when. If one partner was extremely disorganized and messy while the other needed everything in a row, we couldn't work as fast or as well together.
Can you ask each other the hard questions? When we very first started as a Denver Style Magazine partnership, we sat down with each other over pie at Village Inn and talked about what our magazine and our business looked like for the next month, 3 months, 6 months, year and 5 years. We talked about what we wanted it to become, what we hoped it would accomplish for a community. We talked about what we wanted to offer each and every brand that we worked with. We wrote out a core statement for our business and made sure our missions aligned. We've gone wildly beyond what we believed we could accomplish in the first 9 months of business but I know that our core and our beliefs are firmly grounded the exact same as they were 9 months ago because we sat down and really talked about it.
Do you balance each other out? Heather and I bring very different strengths, weaknesses and experiences to our roles. While we'd both had experience with local brands and with managing our own freelance businesses, we came with other very different experiences. We're able to balance each other out and play to our existing strengths. Heather's great at managing our staff and she's a big dreamer. It's not that I can't or don't take on aspects of either of those things but I would rather manage the day to day operations and schedule of our business. Because we're able to truly be partners, we've been able to grow significantly in a small amount of time.
Will they let you quit? Entrepreneurship and owning a small business is HARD. Capitalized, bold, underlined HARD. You will be forced to make decisions you don't want to make. You will cry from exhaustion and stress. You will want to give up. And you need someone who will not let you give up. You need someone who will remind you just how far you've come. You need someone who believes 1000% in your big picture, your crazy dream, your wild idea and who believes you will make it - both of you. You need someone who believes in you, especially when you're struggling to believe in yourself.
Will they call you out on your crap? I firmly believe having someone who is willing to say "You're being ridiculous" and talking you out of your own head is invaluable. Self doubt is serious and it is killer. It lurks all the time and can really mess you up if you let it. One of the benefits of having Heather as a business partner is she's not afraid to tell me when I'm making rash decisions or acting out of fear and I like to believe I do the same for her. Having someone who can help you put the past behind you and move on will keep you from getting bogged down in the lows of business.
Can you let it all out in front of them? The last 9 months have brought me some of my greatest and my lowest moments. The struggle is real guys. Are you willing and able to lay it all out of the line with your business partner - the good, the bad and the ugly? Can you be really honest and truthful with them? We've had to have some really hard conversations, especially in the last few months, because we grew much faster than we ever thought we would. We had to be willing to sit down to each other and really lay it all out there - what was working, what wasn't, what we each needed and what we could do moving forward.
Can you imagine anyone else in that position? When I say I cannot imagine being on this crazy journey with anyone else, I'm not lying. There is honestly no one else that I could put so much trust in, that I could cry or laugh so much with, that I could spend so many hours with on one project than Heather. She truly believes in and is passionate about what we're building in a way no one else is. When something really crazy or hard happens, we often look at each other and say "There's no one else I'd do this with."