When you run your own web design business, you handle the ups and downs of finding and managing clients and finding and managing money. But you don’t have to do it alone.
“With a business partner, you can celebrate the highs and work through the lows together. ” However, not all partnerships lead to the harmonious and successful business that the partners imagined when they decided to go into business together.
So how do you determine whether a potential partnership will help you both succeed and thrive? You can start by doing a little soul-searching. If you find you’re serious about finding a partner, make sure you both understand the nature of the partnership by discussing how the business will work and getting it all in writing.
What do you need from a partner?
People become partners for all sorts of reasons. They enjoy working collaboratively. They complement each other’s skills. They don’t have the money to start a business on their own. They don’t have access to the types of clients they want to attract.
You improve your chances of forming a successful partnership if you consider what you need from your business partner. Perhaps you have top-notch design and money-management instincts, but you dislike networking, sales, and negotiating. Or, you might have great connections but need a partner to help you ensure that the technical requirements and design specifications are written and carried out correctly.
Before you seek a partner, give yourself time to assess the design and business skills at which you excel and those you would not perform so well.
Finding a partner you trust and enjoy working with
When you imagine running a business with a partner, you may have a specific person in mind, such as a friend, colleague, or family member. Even if you know and trust that person in one context, you don’t necessarily know whether a business partnership with that person will work until you explore the details of your partnership.
Discussing the following topics with your prospective partner can be a great way to discover how well you’re actually suited for each other.
You want to know whether you both see the partnership as a long- or short-term endeavor. Also, do you have similar goals for growing the business into something bigger or maintaining a small-scale enterprise? Beyond your long-range commitment and business size, talk about the business brand you want to cultivate through your designs, customer service, marketing, and more. Your brand will reflect what you value as designers and professionals as well as individuals, so finding a partner whose style complements yours is important.
Division of duties
Write a list of all the day-to-day tasks that need to be done and talk about who will do what. Although most of the work you likely want to divide and conquer, you also need to think about what big-picture decisions you agree to make together and how you’ll communicate about your respective roles in the business without stepping on each other’s toes. (Checking out these tips for day-to-day collaboration with a partner can help you flesh out your list of tasks.)
With your list of duties in hand, you can add how much time you plan to devote to each one per week, month, or quarter. Unless your special skill is estimating the time needed for tasks, overestimate how much time you think you’ll need. Add up those hours and talk about how many hours you’re each willing and able to work. Will this business be a full-time job for both of you? If you have family responsibilities or other commitments that can take you away from the business, discuss what those are and how you will handle time conflicts.
While you discuss all these fundamentals, look and listen for a chemistry forming between you and your potential partner. This chemistry isn’t only about shared business goals, but also about how your personal values intersect with company values and how much you enjoy simply being around each other.
To understand how all these elements can coalesce into a successful partnership, consider two different stories about partnerships, one that came together slowly and another that happened in a flash. In a column for Inc., Minda Zetlin relates how Bill John and Lain Hensely’s partnership for Odyssey Teams slowly evolved as they spent time working together as well as sharing hobbies. Conversely, Julie Rice, co-founder of Soul Cycle, describes how her partnership with Elizabeth Cutler gained momentum quickly after they sketched a business plan on a napkin. However, in both stories, the partners shared their goals, values, and commitment to the business; discovered they had complementary skill sets; and spent time together outside of work because they genuinely liked each other.
If you’re considering going into business with your spouse, you clearly trust each other and enjoy spending time together. You will still benefit from discussing how your business partnership will work. At Entrepreneur, Karen Mishra writes how her business partnership with her husband evolved over time and how they approached their business partnership in a way that ultimately enhanced their marriage.
Putting your agreement in writing
After talking about all aspects of your joint venture, you and your partner need to agree on one more thing: a legal partnership agreement. To create the legal foundation of your business partnership, this agreement covers how the partners will handle issues such as the following:
- Determining how much equity each partner has in the business
- Dividing profits
- Making decisions for the business
- Changing ownership by either including a new partner or enabling a partner to leave the business
Writing for the Small Business Administration, Susan Solovic outlines elements every partnership agreement needs to include. To ensure your partnership agreement covers the specifics of your design business, hire a startup or small business lawyer to help you.
Also, if you’re going into business with your spouse, make sure you understand the legal and tax considerations of a partnership versus paying a spouse as an employee.
A great business partnership forms in its own unique way but starts with clear and honest conversations about your objectives, roles, and commitment. As you consider whether forming a partnership is the right step for you, make sure you not only have the right chemistry, but also the right legal foundation for your business.