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: Unmet Expectations

Strategy: Communicate

Any partnership suffers when expectations are not being met.

Partnerships work when all partners focus on the same business goals, while also working toward their own personal goals. Each partner uses his strengths to build and support the business. Each feels that his personal expectations are met, and is accountable for meeting agreements with the other partners.

If you don’t already know, find out what your partner expects from you.   Share your expectations as well. Have a plan for when personal or business circumstances or interests change so, when needed, expectations can be readdressed.

It’s important for each partner to know his own motivation, to know and be clear about what he expects from each partner and from the partnership overall. While the vision for the business should be the same for all partners, expectations may be quite different for each partner. When expectations are not met, it’s a set up for negative feelings. The earlier communication can take place, the sooner the issue can be resolved.

We all know that not every business partnership works out in the end. No matter how enterprising the idea or business, there are times when business plans and partnerships do fail. Making a partnership work requires tenacity, dedication and creativity.

Regular meetings to discuss business are the ideal way to keep the lines of communication open. Meetings focused on plans, strategies, expectations, reporting and accountability may not be the most glamorous part of business; but they will keep you focused on what’s important for success.  Even after months or years of success, such meetings need to continue to make sure timely communication takes place and disagreements do not become the basis for a partnership failure.

Above all, know when to ask for help.  Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness; it IS a sign of your commitment to your business and your customers.  When failing isn’t an option, but you are uncertain on what to do next, I’m here to help.

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.