My Mother once told me that the best kind of relationships are symbiotic.

She was right and it was some of the best advice I have ever been given. That and don’t sleep on wet hair, it will give you split ends.

What she meant was that people are only really invested in something, if there is something in it for them. If both parties can see the benefit and can get something out of the partnership, then the relationship is worthwhile and everyone is happy as Larry.

This may sound cynical and a little jaded, but I don’t mean it to be. Bear with me…

Find out what motivates them

Everyone is motivated by something. For some people, this is money. So, if someone thinks that they can make money with/from you, then this is something that’s in it for them.

For others, it can be that they want to give back. They have extra time, they want to help and be a part of something new, so they give their time willingly. Fine, happy as Larry.

For others, it can be part of a larger picture. I can see that working with you will help me reach XYZ, so I’m happy to work with you now, because it helps me reach my ultimate goal. Fine, understood, I’m happy as Larry.

The key to any of this, is in knowing where people stand, understanding what they want, making sure both parties are transparent about their objectives and then seeing if they align.

If your objectives align and you’re happy with what the other person wants out of the relationship, then this could be a great match.

(Side note: This of course is different if you are hiring someone, the relationship is far more black and white. I pay you XYZ, you deliver me XYZ etc. But it’s still important to be clear here and set clear goals.)

The next step, is to agree this formally. Do not get buoyed by a coffee with a friend that went so well it inspired you both to conquer the world, it’s not set in stone, until it’s set down on paper. Draw yourself a letter of intent, or outline some key terms and sign it.

People are under the misconception that paperwork has to be a scary, formal thing. Yes, it is formalising your relationship, but this is a good thing, a positive thing, a great thing. You’re being professional, you’re taking this seriously and you should be proud of that. It undermines you, your work and your business to handle it otherwise.

The problems arise, when these things are not in place. It’s all fun and games until you disagree, or they want to go in another direction, or they carry out a task in a way that you didn’t expect them too, or they go ahead and do something you didn’t want.

Then what do you do? Do you have a row? Fall out? Stop talking for awhile? You’re in business, you can’t let it derail you, you have to deal with it, head on. You have to be able to talk about it.

The best thing to do, is to try and avoid this altogether, by agreeing upon key factors right at the top.

Ask key questions upfront

When considering going into business with someone, or taking on a partner ask yourselves the following questions:

  • What will my role be?
  • What will your role be?
  • (Hone in on this even more) Who will be in charge of what specific tasks?
  • What is the split of the contribution?
  • How will we be working day-to-day?
  • How do we report/feedback to each other?
  • How do we make decisions?
  • How do we deal with disagreements?
  • If I have anxieties, how do I express these?
  • What does success look like? What are our goals?
  • What does a bad week look like?
  • How do we grow our success?
  • How do we troubleshoot problems?
  • Money, how do we make it and how will we be remunerated?
  • How can I/we part amicably if this isn’t working?

It might seem morbid to think about what happens at the end, if things don’t work, but having an exit strategy discussed at the beginning, gives you both a process to go through to extricate yourselves from this situation and still remain civil, hopefully still friendly.

If I had a penny for every person I spoke to who needed help getting out of a difficult working relationship that become sour, I’d be able to cover their combined legal fees. And, I truly believe that most of these relationships could have been saved, or even spared going down this road in the first place, if they had had a discussion like the questions outlined above.

The truth is, if you can’t talk about the points raised above, if you think it might be too awkward, then you shouldn’t be in business with that person at all. Business is difficult, business is stressful and if it’s your business, multiply this by a billion. You have to be able to deal with confrontation to talk freely about money and things that are putting you under pressure. You have to be able to rely on each other, trust each other. This comes from being open and honest. If you make a mistake and the sh*t hits the fan, your partner needs to be the first person you call, with no fear that they will judge any mistake you may have made, but will be there 100% and willing to jump in and help fix the problem- why? Because you’re in this together.

Anyone can be your friend or the best business partner in the world when things are going well, when resources are bountiful. It’s the ones who stick with you, by your side during the tough, lean days that are your true comrades. Going into the relationship, do you know what kind of business associate they will be?

What about working with Friends, Family or a Spouse?

These lines can get blurred when working with a friend, family member or loved one. It can be tough for people to see you in a professional light, if they know you personally. It’s important to be able to draw a distinction between the two, you as a professional and your personal relationship- to protect your relationship and gain respect professionally. (I will be writing about how to make it work working with Friends, Family or your Spouse in another post, as there was too much to say on it here in passing! Stay tuned)

But what I will say is this, I get asked this question a lot. And the answer is always the same. ‘You tell me?’ What’s your relationship like with this person? If either the relationship or the business falls apart, what will happen to other? As with before, you need to think about the endgame and work back from there. There is greater risk here. Boundaries and working structure are key. Get this right from the beginning and it could be a wonderful, fruitful working partnership. In fact, if you know someone and know what they’re capable of and you know you can get along well, then having them as part of your team could be a truly brilliant thing. Your being comfortable around them and your deeper understanding of them, can mean that you have the potential to work together beautifully, with great great results.

What if I don’t want to work together?

It’s also ok to say, ‘No.’ If a Friend is keen to work together, but you don’t feel it’s the right thing for you or your Business, then it’s far better to be honest and say, ‘No,’ from the outset than feel apprehensive the whole time, questioning whether you made the right decision or not. Or if you know from the outset that the partnership just won’t work. Hurting someone’s feelings at this stage, is far kinder on both of you, than having your relationship suffer under pressures it should never have had to endure. 

Saying, ‘No,’ is also ok if you don’t know the individual personally. You may have met at a networking event, or know each other professionally after working on weddings together. If they approach you and hint that they want to work more closely, take a moment and think carefully about what they might want out of the relationship and ask yourself, ‘What will I get out this too?’. You may need more time to consider it, learn a little more about them. Don’t be rude of course, but express that now is not the right time for you to think about this, but that you’re grateful and would love to consider it in the future. If it’s still a no, then that’s still ok. Don’t feel awkward or be offended if it happens to you- it’s far better everyone knows upfront.

It can be incredibly stressful to fall out with someone in business and very difficult to get out of a relationship unscathed, in one way or another, so much better to really think it through and get it all agreed upfront and in writing.

The key to partnerships is growth. Ask yourself, will this partnership help me grow my business?

From easing your workload, to helping you reach new customers, to adding to your current services. Working relationship and strategic partnerships can, if done well, change the face of your business and help take you into great new territories.

But approach each opportunity with caution and care. Think it through. Be open and honest.

Does this piece resonate with you? Have you had a working relationship go well? Or go bad? Let us know and get in touch if we can offer you any advice, our team are always on call to offer any support or guidance that we might be able to.

Tell us what you think!