Too many of us mistakenly assume that business must be transactional. It’s a fair error to make; after all, the two words are practically synonyms.
We’d do well to avoid this mistake, though. That’s certainly true for those of us who do business presently and those with aspirations to launch or join ventures of their own. “Going into business” is not a decision to make lightly, of course. Nor is choosing who to go into business with.
Business partnerships, in other words, should be built to last, or at the very least built upon the expectation that they will last.
Beyond this baseline expectation, such partnerships tend to be built upon common foundations. They tend to share similar characteristics and be guided by similar expectations. While no guarantees can be made that they’ll succeed as a result, they tend to endure better than ill-advised or poorly founded partnerships that stand no realistic chance of paying off.
Here’s what these partnerships tend to have in common.
1. The Same (Or Similar) Long-Term Goals and Objectives
Successful business partners tend to share the same long-term goals and objectives. These goals and objectives don’t have to be carbon copies and probably won’t be; business partners are unique individuals. They do need to be broadly aligned, though.
Partners at odds rarely get very far before disagreements break into view and interfere with the hard work of building an enterprise.
2. Shared Values and Worldviews
Business partners need to see the world in similar fashion and share similar values, as well. These commonalities usually go hand-in-hand with shared goals and objectives, as people who see the world through the same lens tend to want the same things out of life and work. Business enterprises tend to succeed when they’re built around the same set of shared values; New Zealand-based social entrepreneur Derek Handley has made a career of developing and supporting social enterprises from first principles.
3. Complementary Skills and Competencies
The amount of overlap between business partners’ skill sets should be less than that between their shared values, goals, and objectives. Business partners shouldn’t have identical or even similar skill sets. On the contrary, partners should complement one another, making up for weaknesses that might threaten the enterprise. And as they surround themselves with nonpartner talent, partners should keep this principle in mind.
4. Complementary Backgrounds and Experience Sets
Entrepreneurs should seek out real, difficult differences of experience, background, and opinion (the third naturally following from the first and second). Groupthink is rarely a positive force in the boardroom; business partners should be wary of too much agreement or even agreeability, even if they should always strive for collegiality.
5. Frequent, Transparent Communication
Nothing is more important to the long-term success or failure of an enterprise than the principle of frequent, transparent, effective communication at all levels of the organization. In this, business partners must lead by example, and not only for the sake of their growing staff.
Partners that keep pertinent information secret, that silo information, are apt to regret it down the road.
6. Mutual Trust and Respect
This should go without saying, but it doesn’t always in today’s hard-charging business culture. Business partners should show one another the same trust and respect they expect from those around them. A toxic enterprise is not a strong enterprise.
7. Shared Work Ethic
Recognizing a strong work ethic is not always easy. Humans are surprisingly adept at concealing shortcomings; often, a partner that appears busy and productive is merely skilled at conveying the impression of forward motion. Delegators are good friends to have, but think carefully before going into business with someone who expects others to do the work that no one else can do for them.
In a crisis situation, you can’t afford to rely on those you can’t trust to pull their weight.
You’re in This for the Long Haul
Your business is not a flavor of the month. It’s not a flash in the pan. It’s a serious, durable enterprise that you have every reason to expect will be flourishing five, ten, twenty years from now — perhaps achieving rates of growth and market shares that you can scarcely imagine as you sit here today.
You’re in this for the long haul. And you should set your business up with this in mind.
Choosing your business partner or partners wisely is an important early step along your entrepreneurial journey. No one can say for sure where that journey will lead or what awaits at its ultimate destination, if indeed it has one. But you’d certainly prefer to endure it with partners you trust.