WORKING WITH A PARTNER
We get asked a lot about what it’s like to work with each other, and for advice about working with a partner. Sometimes I don’t feel like I’m the best person to give advice in this area because Arabela and I have a really good relationship, and I know that the ease of it is pretty abnormal. Weekend Creative happened really naturally for us which you can read more about here. Our personalities mesh really well, and I feel really lucky that we are able to work together with practically no conflict. However, there are definitely things that we have intentionally done to protect our working relationship and keep it strong. If you are in business with a partner or thinking about working with a partner, here is my best advice.
Just like in every other relationship, communication is everything. You can’t expect someone to read your mind. I really believe that the foundation for all strong relationships is the ability to communicate your feelings, preferences, and thoughts in a kind and respectful way. If you have expectations from the other person or for the business but you never share them, that can easily become a source of conflict when those expectations are not met. If something bothers you, speak up, even if it’s uncomfortable. Part of good communication is giving your partner space to also share their thoughts and concerns and making sure that you respond with humility and receptiveness even if you don’t agree. Fight the urge to be defensive and take things personally.
One thing that’s really important to communicate with your partner is your goals and vision for the company. We have written a few posts about goals and goal setting that you can read here. We are really fortunate that we have always had the same goals and vision, but we make sure to check in regularly to stay on track and make sure we are both on the same page. We have monthly check-ins as well as longer check-ins twice a year. As our business has grown, our vision has changed and evolved and it’s been essential for us to talk through those changes together.
DEFINE YOUR ROLES
One of the reasons that Arabela and I work so well together is that we have very distinct roles in our business. This happened naturally for us, but it will probably be something that you need to talk through with your partner or potential partner. In order to do this, you need to be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses. For Weekend Creative, I handle more pre-production and Arabela handles the post-production. During shoots I am more responsible for styling and she is more responsible for the actual shooting/lighting. Having these separate roles helps us to know when to defer to the other which helps to avoid conflict. While I might think that something should be shot a certain way, if we have a disagreement ultimately I will defer to her because that is her strength and I know that it can effect her editing process which she knows more about than I do.
If two people are both trying to take on the same roles, there is more opportunity to step on each other’s toes. It also just makes sense from a practical stance as well, by dividing roles we can accomplish a lot more in less time. If you are looking for a partner, I would recommend looking for someone whose strengths balance out your weaknesses. This doesn’t mean that you will never speak into each other’s areas. I often ask for Arabela’s input on pricing or art direction and I rely on her to proof-read my e-mails when I am upset or have something difficult to tell a client, but overall having our own roles helps everything to run smoothly.
WORK WITH SOMEONE YOU TRUST
Trust is absolutely essential in any relationship, but in some ways there can be greater stakes in a business partnership. Your finances, reputation, and job are at stake. If you have any doubts about trusting a potential partner, I would really think through if you want to go into business with them. You need to be able to trust that they will be honest, but also that they will uphold their end of the business. For example, Arabela trusts that I am answering client e-mails, and I trust that she is editing photos, both of these tasks could affect our business if they aren’t accomplished on time. We might remind each other of things every now and then, but we are able to trust that the other is doing what they are supposed to.
CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES
When you are working with another flawed human, there are going to be things that frustrate you. You will have different ways of working, and differences in what you think is best. If you bring up every single little thing that bothers you, eventually you are going to exhaust your partner. No one likes to work with someone who is always negative or who constantly picks a fight. Before you bring something up, think it through to make sure that it is worth talking about. Is it a repeating issue? Is it affecting your business or your ability to work? Is it something that is just a personal preference? Make sure to show grace towards your partner and give them the benefit of doubt if you do decide that you need to bring something up.
SUPPORT AND ENCOURAGE EACH OTHER
In addition to choosing your battles and not bringing up every little thing, make sure that you are encouraging your partner the majority of the time. This is something that Arabela does really well. I have been in work environments where I felt like I was always criticized and not supported, and I cannot even begin to tell you what a difference it makes to work with someone who is always telling me that I am doing a great job. It is so motivating and makes me want to work even harder. I know that I can count on her to be honest but also tell me when she genuinely loves something that I have done or made. I think it can be easy to forget to tell people around us that they are doing a good job but it’s really, really important. When you own your own business, you have the opportunity to set the culture of your company and that starts with how you treat each other as partners.
OWN YOUR MISTAKES
If you are a human being, you are going to make mistakes. I get it, it’s really hard to admit when you’re wrong, but it’s also necessary. Owning your mistakes and being willing to learn from them is the only way to grow and avoid repeating them in the future. If you mess up, miss a deadline, double book a shoot (this has happened to me multiple times - whoops), be up front about it and tell your partner. You don’t have to make excuses, just be honest. Don’t sit on it for too long, because the sooner you can admit your mistake, the sooner you can come up with a solution together.
KNOW WHEN TO WALK AWAY
Not every partnership is meant to last forever. A person may turn out to be different than you thought, you might realize that you don’t work well together, or things can end naturally on good terms. It’s ok if your business or partnership doesn’t work out, you’re going to learn valuable lessons and grow from it in ways that you couldn’t have otherwise. I think there is definitely a time to work through problems and persevere even when it’s hard, but there is also a time to walk away. That choice is going to be really specific to your business and situation, but make sure to communicate your thoughts with your partner throughout that whole process if possible.
It’s also really important to have a partnership agreement even if you have a great relationship. At this point, neither Arabela or I can imagine having an issue that would result in us splitting up, but you never know what the future holds. If you have invested time, finances, and resources into your business, you need to protect yourself and be prepared in case anything goes wrong. We had a lawyer draft a dissolution agreement for us early on in our business. These are some things we included:
Notice: how much notice one partner needs to give the other if they want to dissolve the company.
Allocation of Assets: what will happen to all assets if the company is dissolved or if one partner buys out the other. These assets can include intellectual property such as logos, photographs, videos, etc., equipment, and current clients.
Allocation of Liabilities: who is responsible for debt including leases, business credit cards, unpaid invoices, etc.
Buyout Clause: the rights, timeline, and process if one of the partners wants to buyout the other.
I’m not a lawyer by any means, so be sure to hire one to write your agreement for you and always seek professional legal advice if you have any questions about this topic.
Thanks for sticking with me through this long post! Having a good relationship with your business partner really boils down to this: treat them the way that you want to be treated. Knowing that I have someone to support me and share in the ups and downs of owning a business is really special, and I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today without Arabela pushing me and encouraging me (insert crying emoji here). If you have a good business partner, make sure to tell them that you appreciate them today!
Is it the weekend yet?