Business Partnership as a Couple

We have discussed the ups and downs of business partnerships here and hopefully you have an insight into what makes for a successful business partnership. But have you considered a business partnership with your life partner?

Jo Ann and Bob Shirilla of Poland, OH have been married for 39 years, most of which they were working in two very different industries. Jo Ann, 62, ran and operated a gift shop while Bob, 64, spent 30 years in the information technology field.

Jo Ann knows what kind of flexibility working for yourself can provide, as her time in charge of the shop afforded her the chance to care for the couples’ two daughters. But when their children grew up and finished college, the two decided to retire. The rest was history.

Jo Ann closed her store but had plenty of leftover gift shop inventory so Bob used his tech-savvy to help her set up an e-commerce website. Bob tells Forbes he was “neither financially nor emotionally ready to fully retire,” and with their daughters out of college, they felt a financial risk was in the cards. So Keepsakes Etc. became an online personalized gift shop that fulfilled both of their desires to only semi-retire. Things were going so well the couple has even expanded to a second website and a much larger inventory. Their second website, Simply Bags, sells backpacks, totes and fashionable bags for everyone.

The couple’s success might have something to do with the complementary skills they’re able to offer to the business. Bob is in charge of business processes, internet marketing and technical difficulties while Jo Ann runs operations and merchandising. But since opposites don’t always attract, Jo Anna and Bob make sure to do their respective work in different locations to ease any potential tension.

While it might seem like the two are busy, they’re not so busy that they’re missing their retirement. The stores offer the Shirillas a much-appreciated flexibility in hours. They’re able to travel together all around the country reaping the full benefits of no longer having to punch a clock. They’re having such a great time that even though Jo Ann warns against the potential financial risks of going into business for yourself, she offers that her only regret is that “I wish we would have done this earlier.”


If you’re a late-life entrepreneur seeking help with a new or existing business, Prime Strategies can offer the necessary guidance and expertise to help you reach your goals.

Partnership Problem: Stress

Strategy: Expect stress, but don’t waste time on it!

Parnership Problems picture of man clentching fist over note padRunning a business can be very stressful.  If that stress is not managed properly it can often impact your relationships, including the one with your business partner.  Problems between you and your partner may simply be due to stress.  Complicating this issue is that many times what appears to be the problem on the surface is actually born out of stress and anxiety about the business.  Knowing this is half the battle.

If you think that stress anxiety is likely the case, take time to talk about it. Try to find out what you or your partner feels is wrong or what is stressing them; then take the time to fix it.  Many times stress and anxiety can be alleviated by focusing on solving an easily fixed circumstance. Recognition of your partner’s situation and feelings is a great place to start. Ask questions to determine their perspective. Share your own. If you’re having trouble coming together, it’s good to review and refocus on the original purpose for the business.  As a result you’ll learn if there has been a shift in thinking by either party.

In her article on Partnership Stressors Barbara Hauser identifies the top three stressors as being out of touch, out of sync and out of reach. You and your partner are out of touch if you have conflicting priorities, a different sense of urgency or how you choose to spend your time. Instead of feeling supported, the weight of responsibility seems to be square on your shoulders. Out of sync means you are not together on your timing. Both partners are busy, so meetings can get put off; one partner may be ready to move ahead rapidly, while the other is not ready. Out of reach produces long stretches of silence, unreturned phone calls and emails. Sudden changes of plans by one partner or the other make it difficult to stay on track in a business relationship.

The antidote for all these stressors is communication. It is absolutely critical that all partners meet on a regular basis to review the status of the business, the results of actions taken, plans for the future and concerns that may be producing stress. When one partner is stressed, it will likely affect the other partner too. Better to not allow the stress to build up, but if it does, take action now. If you’ve tried and you’re still not able to come together, it may be time for outside help.

Sometimes an outside opinion, kudos, idea… can revitalize your initial passion.  I have shared with more than one client how to, “Convert the energy of putting out fires into … plans that bring in more revenue, more customers, more brand recognition.”  Stress is not only bad for your health, but it wastes time and energy that can be focused on ______________ (you fill in the blank).  For some ideas now, you may find my Business Success Articles just what you need.  Otherwise contact me for more guidance and ideas.

Partnership Problem: Planning

Strategy:  Make it a joint effort.

In any business planning takes place as a result of decisions made after information is gathered. When it’s a partnership input needs to come from all partners. Call upon the strengths of each partner to bring important facts and options to the planning table.

Gather all pertinent information, come up with your thoughts and sit down with your partner to compare notes. By having all information available, you will be able to make informed decisions. There will be fewer surprises down the road. Making decisions on timely, pertinent information is the key to a successful outcome.

Make sure your plan specifies who will carry out what actions and by what time. That way there’s no confusion about who was responsible for what. A plan isn’t complete until you assess the results at the end of the period originally specified. Your plan is your framework for action. After taking the planned action, you want to know if it produced the desired results. If it did, you may want to continue doing what you’ve been doing or take the next step. If it did not, you’ll probably want to change your plan, and perhaps your strategy as well.

Include in your plan, or make it a policy, how you will handle partnership issues when they arise, so that addressing them will seem less daunting. If you do not currently have such a plan in place, speak to your business partner about creating one.  For simple problem resolution and decision making this will suffice.  For more complex issues that may affect the structure of the company, positions held, or share ownership you will want to discuss the formation of a plan with a good business attorney.

Whether you are just starting out or been in business for years, don’t put it off any longer.  Plan to plan and plan to review and update your plan based on what you learn from your post plan assessment.  For more details and a list of some plans you may need, you can check out my Business Success Articles.

Partnership Problem: Waning Interest

Strategy: Re-focus on the motivators.

One of the worst things that can happen to a partnership is for one partner to feel that the unique and enterprising business idea and opportunity is no longer worth it. It can usually be recognized by excuses such as not having enough time or being overly busy or stressed. This may be a sign that the partner has other interests outside the business or something that pulls their attention away from the business.

If this happens, talk about it. It may sound simple, but discussing the observations can be one of the most effective ways to solving this problem. There will be a reason why they have lost interest, so try to find out why and see what you can do to change things. Be open and willing to listen.  When the communication is not flowing freely try reminiscing about why you started the business, review some positive client feedback, or discuss the motivators that sparked the initial thoughts about starting the business.  In most cases, such motivators (like making money, helping others, sharing one’s expertise, not having a boss, etc.) hasn’t changed; the perception as to how they relate to the business is what has changed.  The objective in the discussion is for the partners to develop a strategic plan to help stay focused on the motivators.

Sometimes this problem needs more insight.  Your business, your motivation, your ability to succeed can always benefit from an outside perspective.  Such support and coaching cannot only renew the passion, but can help with keeping it going through the next slump.  Having experience working with a variety of partnerships has given me a unique understanding of partnership dynamics. See the Partnerships section on the Business Success Articles page for more information on managing your partnership. And if you’d like help in coming together to refocus on the motivators, send me a message on the Contact Page and select the Subject Partner Coaching.

Partnership Problem: Financial Issues

Strategy: Responsibility and Accountability

Money is the lifeblood of any business. In a partnership it can become a source of disagreement unless there is a clear, written operating plan for how money will be managed and disbursed. One partner needs to be responsible for managing the finances. That means there must be clear accountability for income and expenses on a regular basis. When both partners are knowledgeable about the financial picture of the business, potential problem areas can be observed early and decisions can be made. Accusations and blame don’t help to resolve issues. When there is a discrepancy the person who is responsible should be ready to take action for future improvement. Plans to resolve financial issues should be agreed upon by both partners.

Managing income is just as important as managing disbursements. One or both partners may be responsible for generating revenue. Who is responsible for what needs to be clarified. You may be targeting the technology industry and I may be targeting all other small businesses. We can both make projections and be accountable for that portion of the revenue. But we may agree that I will manage the back office and you will generate all the revenue. Whatever it is, make sure you both understand who is responsible for what. Minimally a monthly P & L and Balance Sheet review are in order by both partners. A review of both income and expenses will show you where you need to focus attention. So some strategic decisions may need to be made. Now’s the time to do it; before it becomes an issue.

Unfortunately, good intentions about responsibility and accountability can fall by the wayside unless concerted intention and effort are put into it. You might benefit from taking the Prime Strategies training on how to become a successful partnership. Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been in business for a while, setting up the partnership for success is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. If you’d like to know more about my Successful Partnership Series send me a note and I’ll be in touch.

Partnership Problem: Unforeseen Situations

Strategy: Plan to talk and talk the plan!

Most people, who start a business, know they can’t plan for every problem. As a solo entrepreneur they either have to resolve the situation alone or ask for outside help.  In a partnership the problem strategy needs to be regularly scheduled meetings to not only talk about business in general, but to use the time to also discuss problems and concerns.

But what about the problems that occur on a daily basis?  This is the best time to cash in on the perks of partnership!

There are going to be problems that need immediate answers… like disgruntled customers, shipping problems, etc.  Regardless of which partner or employee handled the issue, even if the outcome was less than desired, there must be transparency and detailed communication about the problem. Emotions come into play when things seem a bit out of control, so this needs to be kept in mind when opening discussion on an issue. Regardless of the field or industry, policies are needed to make certain every problem gets handled in a way that gets best results.

If you find your partner resisting or “forgetting” about these critical opportunities to communicate with each other, I’d suggest you take command of the situation and create a plan for operations the way you believe is best. Present it to your partner for discussion. You will find more interest in such a meeting.

In addition to these regular strategy meetings, having a planned “go to” list of who best can solve which kind of problems, will help resolve problems more quickly and with better outcomes.

Sometimes it’s helpful to get an outside perspective on problem resolution.  Asking for help or ideas is never a sign of weakness; in fact it shows how dedicated you are to the business getting to the top!  I specialize in working with one or more partners to put them in command of their partnership and their business. My mission is to help you and your partnership business succeed.  Read more Partnership articles on the Prime Strategies blog.  

Partnership Problem: Common Serious Problems

Strategy: When all else fails, get outside help!

Here are some of the more serious situations I see most often in partnerships. These can be devastating to the business if not addressed quickly and professionally. If you’ve been unsuccessful in resolving any of these problems it may be time to ask for outside help.

One partner feels like he’s carrying the bulk of the workload (or a partner is falling down on the job).
This may have happened because there wasn’t an agreement about who would do what. Job roles, access to needed resources, responsibilities and accountability have not been discussed. This is bound to lead to problems.

Expectations are not being met.
Expectations may be quite different for each partner. When expectations aren’t met, it’s a set up for negative feelings. It’s important that each partner knows what to expect from the other(s).

Partner has lost interest in the business or changed thinking.
Over time new attractions and options will continue to present themselves to all partners. When a partner becomes disenchanted with how the partnership is going, she is more likely to lose interest over time. .

Can’t talk to each other.
Communication is so critical to maintaining a viable partnership. When partners get so busy doing their own thing that they can’t find time to sit down with the other(s), they will likely start to feel less engaged. An unresolved issue can also lead to partners being unable to talk about certain things.

It’s a wrong partnership.
Sometimes the partnership has been a bad match from the beginning, but it was maintained for a variety of reasons. When the primary reason for the partnership was based on personal needs more than on business needs, if those needs aren’t fulfilled, the partnership will flounder. Maybe one partner thinks and acts fast and the other wants to research things in great detail. These people may never be able to function well together. Basic behaviours and traits will not likely change even if the person tries.

Are any of these your concern? If so, how should you open the subject of improving the relationship for the good of the company? To learn the steps I recommend for making positive changes to your partnership arrangement read my article, Help! I Want to Dissolve My Partnership. It’s the most popular article on the website.

I have personal and professional expertise with partnerships So if you need more help, go to the Contact page and send me a message giving the details of your situation. We’ll schedule a no-obligation time to talk.

Partnership Problem: Power Play

Strategy: Stay focused on the business

Is your partner pushing the boundary to see what they can get away with?  Are they trying to get you to do the bulk of the work? Are they acting like you are an employee, not a partner?  Do they sometimes act more like a child who is not getting their way, than the adult you expected to work with?  Regardless of how they act, you still need to stay focused on the business.

Negative emotions can build up over time and undermine your partnership and the business. It’s important to talk about your concerns and the issues. Listen to your partner, try to understand why they are doing what is so annoying to you. Make every effort to negotiate something that is satisfactory to both of you.

If you haven’t included specific duties and who will be responsible for each in your original business plan, now is the time.  Understand each of you have specific talents and interests. Try to utilize each partner’s strengths where appropriate. Make this your operating plan.  As your business grows, as you learn more about your customers, product and service, and as you each discover more about your abilities and shortcomings you may find it necessary to reassess your division of work… together, as partners determined to succeed in a cut-throat world.

If you missed some of these points in your initial planning stages, and find it difficult or confusing to get the right balance, you may want some help.  Getting a third party involved is a very successful strategy.  If you know folks who have started a business partnership similar to yours, and they are successful… ask for their input, ideas, and help.  If you don’t have such support, I would be happy to become a  sounding board for you. Take a look at my articles on Partnership, the last category in my Business Success Articles archive. Then let me know how I can help.  

Partnership: Potential for Success

Partnership Potential Success photoMany of the top companies today were started and grew as partnerships.  Among the Internet online giants Twitter, Yahoo, eBay, and Google were all started with partnerships.  And in many of these cases they were people who were at odds with each other.  Once they looked past the differences they found that each complemented the other.  For them such a union could make the process of birthing their dream, easier, better, and faster.  They saw their partnership as potential for success.

Some of the largest tech companies have also started as partnerships.  Intel, Apple, Hewlett Packard, and Microsoft are such examples.  In many cases the way partners complement each other doesn’t have to be about the creation and launch of a product or service.  Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard worked together on many things, but they feel that the working atmosphere they created in their company was what helped it become as large as it did.

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, founders of Ben & Jerry’s started out as friends with a passion for food and a $5 course on ice-cream making.  But many say their real success came from their agreement on becoming a socially and environmentally aware business. Their focus went beyond the company profits.

These are only a few examples of highly profitable and worldwide recognized companies that have started as partnerships.  When you read the histories of these icons, you see that many partners did not get along; in fact some even today are not amicable.  Yet they worked on success by focusing on their product or service, their clients, their employees, and their industry.  Success was a byproduct.

If you’re struggling with your partner or your partnership, can you set aside your differences and see the big picture with the understanding that your partner is a unique benefit for your endeavor?  If not, feel free to contact me for help in sorting through the issues.

A Parent in the Business

I recently was presented with a situation where a business owner had hired her father in the position of CFO. At the time the father had just retired from another business and had the skill set that was needed in the daughter’s business. The fact that there had been a long-standing negative relationship between the two was pushed aside in an attempt to be expedient, and with the thought that perhaps this might improve the personal relationship between them. As you might imagine, the father had done things his way for years and was not really open to taking orders from his daughter. [Read more…]