Choosing the right business partner


I still remember the grimace the business advisor made the moment I brought up starting a business with two other people. He didn't fill me with confidence and hinted that it was perhaps not the best way to start out in business.

I don't blame him. His reasoning was sound. First rule of Business Club - make enough money to feed your self. One business partner equals twice as much food. A third is just chasing the inevitable onset of starvation.

I chose to skip this advice. Who wants to eat alone anyway? Where is the fun in that? I'd much rather eat less while seated with my friends and family to enjoy. Which brought him to the second rule of Business Club - don't go into business with friends or family.

After disagreeing on this he kindly gave me various pieces of paper and advice about pensions and we parted ways. I was not according to him, businesses material. But 5 years later here I am still running a business with two business partners, a friend and a family member.  And we are all still eating.

I suppose the question is what makes us work. There are a huge number of things to think about when going into business with other people. Perhaps the most important piece of advice I can give is to get the business end of it sorted straightway. It's always best to talk about money when you don't have any.

In other words get everything in writing such as exactly who owns what and what will happen in any eventuality. You can't ever rely on how strong friendships or family ties are. Business is business and anything can happen. Before you plough you soul into the business take the emotion out of it and get everything on paper.

After this have an open conversation about how the workload will be split. There is generally a perception that running a business is 50 % doing what ever is involved in the nature of your business and 50% actually running a business. Deciding who does what is key to the success of a business.

Some people split it exactly down the middle. This would never work for us. As the producer and most organised I was always going to be the one who tackled business matters. However if that were to be my sole responsibility in the business I would have soon lost any interest in the company. I wanted to make films not write Environmental Policies.

It's important that everyone is doing what he or she is good at and feels passionate about. This is what will make your business succeed. When things get tough all you'll have is the knowledge that you are doing what you love and you're good at it.

By having a business partner you are able to expand what your strengths are. It's a great thing to do. You are able to take responsibility for various elements and not have to think about another.  It really helps if you do have different skills you can bring to the table.

This relies heavily on trust and communication. It's important to schedule regular meetings even in the early days. These don't have to be formal but they do need structure. It's good to establish what's going on and what needs to be done.

The problems always arise when you don't address the weaknesses fairly. There will always be weaknesses when you start a business. How you tackle these will often depend on what they are. Whether it's through training, outsourcing or moving sideways to think around the problem. The priority must be identifying them and accepting you aren't perfect and neither is your business partner.

Again this comes down to communication and honesty. You have to create an environment where these things are discussed openly and not avoided.

I think when it comes to weaknesses it is important to recognise them and see if everyone can address them. But I believe that you should focus on your strengths.  That is what will help you succeed and thrive. And when there are two or three of you there is a lot more strength to exploit.

In my opinion running a business is an eternal battle between huge self-confidence and inevitable self-doubt. When choosing your business partners make sure they make you feel more confident in succeeding.  In those moments of self-doubt they'll be the ones to make you carry on.

Blog post by Keiran McGaughey, co-founder of Like An Egg Productions Ltd.  
October 2015.