Business Partnerships: More Than Just The Legal Mumbo Jumbo

Recently there’s been a spate of conversation in my world about issues related to the ownership of a business and partnerships. In most cases the actual agreement was done or in process.  The founders thought they had settled everything but suddenly found themselves mired with gray tinged situations the agreement didn’t address.  They hadn’t realized that when they went into business together that it’s very akin to a platonic marriage.  There will be inevitable disagreements.  It will get messy.  And the legal paperwork won’t cover all situations. It’s Not All About the Legal Mumbo Jumbo

Most of the time people enter into agreements regarding equity and the ownership of the business focusing on the legal aspects.  This is perfectly reasonable and absolutely necessary.  What I often find is that they typically step over some of the more tough conversations about the interpersonal stuff.  In other words—they don’t talk about the talking.  They assume that the legal agreement they’ve drawn up will solve any issues around partnership that will come up.  Nope.  It’s actually just a starting point.

In fact, there are many questions that aren’t covered in these agreements.  Most of these will be of the interpersonal type.

Who makes the final decision? (Especially important in times when there’s a big disagreement—which will inevitably happen).

How do we handle disagreements in public? (“Mommy” and “daddy” fighting in public is hard for staff…and clients)

What are our roles and expectations (This is always important but even more important when there’s a large discrepancy in the percent of ownership by the partners.)

Who will manage the people we hire? (Because let's face it--two bosses never works.)

You Gotta Talk About the Talking

Talking about the talking is something most people avoid—even more than the plague (if that’s possible).  Most people try to avoid these kinds of conversations hoping that if they ignore them the issues will just go away.  This is a business version of peek-a-boo.  What I don’t see doesn’t exist.  This only makes the issues grow in breadth, depth and severity.  Not good.  This just makes the mess get messier.  And uglier.  And harder to resolve easily.

Business peek-a-boo is a high stakes game—one with diminishing returns.  It robs you of valuable time and energy—taking the focus of the founders away from important tasks like: obtaining and maintaining strong client relationships and improving the revenue producing part of your business. In other words: The leadership of your business is essential to get right.

Here are three steps to get you started.

Step 1: Make sure you pick the right partner.  As or even more important than picking the right technology or business.

Step 2: Be willing to address the scary, ugly issues and have messy conversations.  Communicate, communicate, communicate.

Step 3: Communicate some more.