To avoid lots of potential partner problems, you definitely want to have a partnership agreement, in writing, before you start your business.
That is not the end of making your partnership work, however.
Whether you know your partner well or have only just met, you want to get together enough times to make sure you understand each person’s strengths and weaknesses, and you see how the other one handles stress, complications and set backs, which will be a large part of what running your business will be all about.
Here are some basic, but very important discussion topics and tests you can do to see how your partner handles them, and how you handle them handling the tests:
1. Invite your partner out to eat. Set an exact time. See if they are early, on time, or late. If they are late, do they call to let you know?
2. Step out and while you are out, ask the waitress to bring the wrong drink, or wrong salad. You may have to tip a little bigger for this. See how your partner reacts- is it no big deal, a minor irritation, or do they blow up? Are they still talking about it an hour later?
3. During the meal, plan to discuss the business. Ask them about their ideas on marketing, pricing or something else. Challenge their responses. Are they staying calm and presenting their position logically, or are they getting upset and defensive?
4. Discuss your plans for how much money you each will take out of the business, and how much time you will devote to it. Discuss what should happen if any partner fails to hold up their end of the bargain.
5. Discuss where you see the business ending up? Is this a path to something else, is it just a way to pay the bills, or is it going to grow into something much larger?
6. Discuss personal future plans. Is anyone likely to move, get married, have kids or facing a divorce or elder care responsibilities in the near future? How will any of these situations be handled?
7. Don’t offer to pay, or say you forgot your wallet. How do they handle it? Are they annoyed by your lack of responsibility, or were they planning to stick you with the bill? How do they react when you find your wallet again?
8. If you haven’t before, visit your partner’s homes. How they live and how organized they are at home will tell you a lot about how neat their desk will be, and how organized you can expect them to be in their work.
9. Suggest that each partner take the free Myer’s Briggs personality test, and then compare answers. A frank discussion about basic types and communication styles can go a long way toward better work relationships.
10. Discuss how you plan to handle disagreements about business issues between partners. Having a conflict resolution plan in place, that everyone agrees to use, will help settle arguments quickly before they become overwhelming.
Some of this may seem unnecessary, or like overkill, but if you don’t or can’t get to know your partner(s) before you put real cash and real risks on the line in working together, the chances of things not working out go up dramatically.
Don’t become one of the statistics as a partnership that failed. Take the time to make it work before you start the business, and become successful without the hassles and headaches of a broken partnership.