Starting a business is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done, and for over 30 years I have owned three businesses with two of those having partners. By all accounts, I have been blessed with success, but felt after experiencing the loss and death of my previous partner, I was feeling run down and concerned about the trajectory of The Vantage Group and its long-term success. But never did I imagine that I could be so reinvigorated by finding a new business partner, let alone be celebrating a one-year anniversary with my new partner, Missy Jackson.
Prior to bringing Missy on board, I felt overworked and concerned about my succession plan. The pace of the work was causing me to run too hard. I did not have enough time to strategize and plan for the future. It was time to make a change.
In 2019, I started inquiring about potential partners from friends and clients and Missy’s name continued to come to the top of the list. We eventually had the opportunity to meet and ultimately drafted documents for her partnership including plans for my eventual transition to retirement. While I consider Missy a good friend and her family as part of my family, we didn’t start out that way. We were total strangers actually, and I was asking a person with a successful career at Herman Miller to take a leap of faith and eventually take over this business.
This past year we have worked together in what has proven to be one of the most difficult years to be in business. We started out 2020 strong, then COVID-19 brought many of our thriving efforts to grow our business to a screeching halt. Yet, even with a very tough year, we grew and benefited in tremendous ways. In ways that experiencing crisis and stressors do, we were given the opportunity to find out a lot about each other — how we work under pressure, innovate and remove barriers to our success, and approach keeping the wheels on a business amid so much uncertainty. Although we would never wish the challenges that 2020 brought on business throughout the globe, I’m confident that both Missy and I would say, 2020 taught us many valuable lessons and we are stronger for it.
If you search “business partners” online, you will see a sad amount of articles telling you why you shouldn’t partner up and why it’s best to go solo. But here I am one year later, telling you exactly how great it can be to have a business partner when you take the right steps to identify the right person.
Reason #1: Having Someone That Compliments Your Weaknesses
When Missy joined as a new partner, it brought new life to the business, and made the future look brighter for my eventual exit. And even through an intense year of challenges from COVID-19, our partnership remains strong.
Partnership means ownership, so it’s not a decision to take lightly. I have seen many business partnerships fail simply because the partners were not aligned on values, their roles and they lacked transparency. I have been fortunate to have two great partners prior to Missy and the process for identifying them always started by defining what the business needed from a business partner. It requires an understanding of your combined unique strengths, ensuring an alignment of interests, responsibilities and ultimately business objectives. These are essential requirements in any successful business partnership.
Reason #2: The Other Person Always Has Your Back
Working with the right business partner will hold you accountable for action and keep you on track to move the business forward. I was looking for someone to question and hold me accountable. I had Missy take a leadership assessment to help me understand her leadership style. The assessment revealed she is very goal-oriented, used a direct communication style and had the skills needed to appropriately challenge our clients. Based on these results, I knew partnering with Missy would mean I no longer had to view getting a cold, being in a “slump” or taking a vacation as something to set me back. I would have a very capable partner that had my back. She challenges me to slow down when I have too much on my plate, and I know I have a partner that can take on challenges I previously thought only I could handle.
Reason #3: Inspire and Motivate
I can’t tell you how motivating it is to have another person to bounce ideas off of. Good ideas. Bad ideas. Someone who not only challenges, supports, motivates, and shares exciting moments with you, but also carries you through the not so great ones. Inc. Magazine completed a study in 2019 that concluded people who wrote down their goals were 42% more likely to achieve them, and telling a friend or a business partner increased this rate to 78%.
How did this translate to our business in 2020? In spite of the economic slow-down caused by COVID-19, our business realized many of its goals and even exceeded the previous year’s goals. What’s even more impressive, is that we are just a few weeks in to 2021 and are already on track to meet and potentially exceed our goals for the year. This is a direct result of our collective focus, intentional conversations around innovation, challenging assumptions and support what we believed was possible. Our mutual efforts have positioned us well for a successful year of delivering the high-value results our company is known for.
Reason #4: Communication
I’m a verbal processor. Having a business conversation with a partner has been energizing for solidifying ideas, formulating plans for helping clients and strategizing for future growth. It can be easy as an entrepreneur—when knee-deep in client work and sales opportunities—to overlook the opportunities you’re missing out on. When you work on your own, it can be challenging not only to deal with downtimes in your business but also to fully pursue growth opportunities because capacity is strained. Knowing my own strengths and weaknesses, and being willing to communicate those with a partner has always proven to be an essential for creating a well-rounded business.
Reason #5: You Adopt a New Family Member and Friend
Missy and I discovered we are on the same page on really important issues: how we treat customers, suppliers, employees and people in general. Some people say it’s never good to go into business with family or friends. I’ve always believed if you’re going to be in business with someone, they usually end up being your friend, if you share the same values. As my wife and I have gotten to know Missy and her family, we consider them a part of our family. Maybe we’re the exception to the rule. Maybe we’re lucky. Either way, it has been quite a first year as business partners.