Saturday, September 3, 2011

Partnerships -- Yes or No?

I've extolled the virtues of partnerships in the past, but just the other day after eight months of running 3L Publishing solo, I started thinking about how much I love being solo. So, I thought I should preach to the value of keeping lone wolf (or wolf-ess) status and why partnering can be a liability. So, this lesson will be the opposite -- and hey, keep it fair and balanced too. I'll be like Fox News ... or better yet ... Lone Wolf News (yuck, yuck and bada-bing).

First, for the record, I launched my company in 2006 with the intention to do it on my own. In fact, I never wanted a partner for my company, as I felt from past experience it could be a liability -- and no way I ever wanted to threaten my hard-won status as a successful business owner. I certainly never needed a partner either. I was doing extremely well the whole time. So when the proposition came up to add a partner, the only reason I did it was to have fun (not a good reason). Partners don't have to be liabilities, but I've seen very few partnerships flourish. I remember I worked for a company that started with three partners and it eventually dwindled down to one. Hmm ... maybe I should have paid more attention at the time and wondered why. So after this last soured experience with a partner, I will never ever add that kind of liability to my company ever again. And as noted, it was truly never my intention to  partner in the first place. So, why do I say this? Why should you be very careful in who you partner with? Or why should you partner or not? Here are some important lessons and guidelines to use if you want to consider it.

Honesty, Integrity and Ethics -- I am extremely ethical. I value honesty and integrity as symbols of my company and how we work with clients. I am also extremely trusting. This last year I had my trust violated in big ways. I don't think you should ever lose your ability to trust, but I think the decision to partner with someone should be made slowly, methodically and carefully. I also think you should have ethics clauses in any contracts you might sign with someone. Breeches of ethics should be cause to sanction or end the partnership. Why does this matter? When you work with clients, any breeches of your ethical responsibilities (e.g., delivery of promised services) should make it easy to end that relationship. When you remain in charge of your company and you value these things then it makes it easy to keep those principles in place. You cannot control another person's actions or even qualify their true intentions. So be sure that your potential partner shares these core values -- and I mean really shares them and doesn't say he/she shares them. There is chasm between do what I say and do I what I do.

Adding Value to Your Company -- A partner should add value to your business. They should bring a talent to the mix that you don't have. One clear sign of imbalance is when a prospective partner brings zero value, and in fact, is a clear liability. What does this mean? It means you are not carrying the financial burdens of the company. It means that you are equally responsible for everything. One thing I've learned in taking responsibility for my own failings is that I always tend to be a fixer. And when you have a fixer fixing and another person just sitting back and watching the action, it up-ends the balance of things. So if you do tend toward that behavior, you should avoid it right from the start. Everything should always be 50/50. The second part of that is that you don't fix the work either. A partner, as a true 50/50 owner, should be fully responsible and able to do whatever their work is. They should not rely on you to fix or correct or improve.

Passionate Equals -- Now this is a really interesting one. A passionate equal means that your partner shares your passion on the same level. That when you give your all -- the other person gives his/her all. Because this can be another situation that sets up imbalance in the partnership. So you have to find someone who will give the same amount to the company and infuse the same passion and enthusiasm. For example, if you're in a business like 3L, one person can't always be the one doing the extra-curricular support, showing up at literary festivals to represent, travel to all of the book launches, making sure that all of the clients are supported. It's OK if one person doesn't want to go above and beyond, but it needs to be equal in that desire and interest.

Here is my last comment. You would think that no longer having a partner would mean more work for me right? Here is a surprise. I was completely burned out and exhausted last year. I was working a crazy number of hours. I was keeping everything going, and I really needed and wanted help. I wasn't getting the necessary support and what burns evaporates. The loss of the partnership had profound and interesting fallout. I now have hired the necessary support. I no longer work round the clock. I am actually working fewer hours than ever before, have more time with my kids, and I just finished two major creative projects that are my own. We are doing better than ever from a financial standpoint. What happened? Well, I didn't have all of those things and now I do. So if you are considering partnering and you believe it will ease the work, really analyze it. You might find that hiring people to do the right jobs will enable expansion. And lastly, when you partner you give up a certain amount of control you may not want to do. I believe healthy partnerships can be productive if balanced 50/50 and burdens and responsibilities are weight equally between the partners; but if those things cannot be achieved, it's just not a winning situation. And here is another interesting gem, we have actually been able to grow a new area of the business, because I have the right staff in place. I will announce our new business area in the coming months.

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate your candor in sharing. Thank you

    I always like poignancy. The new format to posts is great too.

    It is exciting to watch your business grow and evolve as you branch out and experience new things.