How to make a business partnership work

George Grigg lifts the lid on what it takes to make a business partnership work.

Becoming your own boss is a dream plenty of people aspire to, but it’s a lot easier said than done. A recent survey of millennials by Bentley University found that two thirds of respondents have a desire to start their own business. Meanwhile, 37 per cent expressed a desire to work for themselves, and 25 per cent would like to own their own company. But of course, striking out alone in business is daunting.

I first met my business partner, David Rees, when I started working at an independent corporate finance lead advisory firm. I’d just graduated and had been offered a job at the company where he was already working as a director. We clicked immediately and realised we both shared the dream of being able to work for ourselves. It didn’t take long for us to take the plunge and seed our company, ShareProperty.

Starting a business is scary and financially risky. Regardless of age or experience, any entrepreneur will feel a little nervous when starting out, and the idea of taking on a business partner can be a tempting one. The prospect of having another individual to share skills, ideas, and responsibilities with seems like a no-brainer. But it’s important to carefully consider whether taking on a business partner really is right for you. It’s an enormous commitment and is much harder than you could possibly imagine.

While every partnership has a different dynamic, there are a few things you can do to ensure your partnership will work well.

Agree long-term goals

Thinking about where you see your business in five, ten, or 50 years is vitally important and you need to make sure that you and your partner have the same vision of success. Your motives may differ, but your objectives and methods for achieving them need to marry up. In short, you need to know that you’re both working together towards the same long-term goal.

It’s worth taking time to thrash out your company’s vision and mission, summing up in one sentence what your main objective is and in a handful of bullet points what steps you’ll take to achieve this. Put your vision and mission in writing and use it as a reference for each business decision you need to make.

David and I share a vision to scale rapidly through large funding rounds and rapid consumer adoption and have laid out a detailed strategic plan for how we’ll achieve these aims.

Pinpoint your roles

It’s logical to expect both you and your business partner to naturally gravitate towards different aspects of the business. For example, David has a background in city investment, and brought with him a wealth of skills and knowledge in everything from accounting and business strategy to the legalities and compliance requirements of the property market. Meanwhile, my strengths lie in areas like marketing, web strategy, and the development of our technology.

But it goes further than simply playing to our strengths. It’s important to be specific and create precise and detailed job roles that clearly outline where each person’s roles and responsibilities lie.

Communication is key too. Agreeing on a set way of reporting to one another can work wonders to keep everything sailing smoothly. And it doesn’t need to be anything too taxing or formal. As long as you’re both committed to keeping the other up to date on your latest activities and making sure they are included in discussions and decisions about key business issues, you won’t go far wrong.

Like each other…

It seems obvious, but a lot of people don’t realise just how entwined your lives will become when entering into a business partnership. It’s important that you can craft a professional relationship that’s built on mutual trust, respect, and open communication.

Running a business together means you’ll inevitably face some of the toughest challenges of your life together – and you may even disagree on how best to approach them. When this happens, it’s so important to be able to talk openly with one another and give serious consideration to each other’s views in order to come to a resolution.

…and learn from each other

I have a huge amount of admiration for David, who’s achieved some incredible things throughout his career, working for firms like Goldman Sachs and Deloitte, floating Dominos in Switzerland and Accenture in the US, and working at the heart of the financial centre of the .com boom in 2000.

In a relatively short space of time I’ve learned so much from him; he has a realistic, pragmatic approach to business and has a talent for making things happen. I’ve also seen first-hand the tight processes and tricky balancing act that comes with bringing investors into business.

Likewise, David has learnt a thing or two from me. As a serial entrepreneur with a background in technology, I’ve been able to share expertise in everything from launching and marketing a start-up right through to software development.

And of course, you need have things which help you push on and help you draw extra determination when it’s needed most. For me music helps – especially hip hop. Rappers and entrepreneurs have more in common than you might think and I think inspiration can be found in music based on struggle and money. This is something brilliant entrepreneur and venture capitalist Ben Horowitz shares in his book ‘The Hard Thing About Hard Things’.

In short, there’s no one-size-fits-all way of approaching a business partnership, but with hard work, perseverance, trial and error, patience, and consistent communication, it can be a really valuable thing. Setting up a business is one of the steepest learning curves you’ll ever encounter and having someone you can talk to and learn from along on the ride is a pretty enticing prospect. Just make sure your eyes are fixed on the same prize.

George Grigg is co-founder of ShareProperty.

Further reading on business partnerships

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