I’m not sure if I agree with the saying “No man is an island”. I work very well with myself; I’m reliable, I’m always available to brainstorm with, and I make a mean cup of coffee. But there are definite benefits to working with another person. For example, earlier this week when I was having a technical crisis, Eugen stepped up at the eleventh hour and wrote a great post. I have a great business partner, but not everyone is so lucky…
A business is a long-term commitment, so be sure to pick your partner wisely. Ok, your best friend is really fun, but do you want to work with him? You and your partner don’t have to be clones, but it is important that you are on the same page, and that you’re clear about your expectations.
Establish what kind of work you want to do. Show each other examples of the type of work you’re talking about (ie “I really like the design of this site” or “This is the type of short film I mean”). Make sure you both want the same things so you’re working toward shared goals.
Don’t work with flaky people. Just don’t. Your sister may have great ideas, but can she get things done? If someone is habitually late, or apologizing because they forgot the files at home, or making excuses for why the poster isn’t ready … steer clear of them.
Running a business is hard work. If you’re going to work your butt off, your partner should be doing the same. Only work with people who believe in the cause as much as you do. Some days you’ll work until 2am to wrap up a project because your partner is away for a week, but other times you’ll be the jet-setter while they’re left to hold down the office. It’s ok if the workload isn’t always 50/50, as long as it’s fair.
Be realistic about what both you and your partner can take on. You may be free all the time, but maybe your partner has a family and a full time job and can’t invest in the project the same way you can. Some people tend to take on more than they can handle because they’re excited, but neither of you should have to pick up the other’s slack.
You want a business partner who inspires you and makes the team stronger. Your team won’t go as far if you both have the same set of strengths and weaknesses. If you’re both great designers but incredibly disorganized, it won’t matter how great your work is when you can’t find it. Use each others’ strengths to move the brand forward.
Conflict is a part of teamwork. It’s vital that you and your partner be able to communicate honestly to resolve the issues that arise. Keep business issues separate from your friendship. (ie “I’m worried that you’re not giving the business the attention you committed to” rather than “your new boyfriend is taking all your time, and I’m left to do your job, like always”), and don’t let resentments build. Don’t work with someone who takes everything personally. I recently heard of one business meeting that ended when one of the partners started crying because her feelings were hurt. Avoid that.
Protect yourself. No matter who you end up working with, you should always be prepared for the worst, before the worst happens. Talk about what would happen if one of you had to take an extended time away (ie in case of pregnancy, illness, or family crisis), and if one of you wants to leave the business. Ideally, sit down with a lawyer and formalize the agreement. It’s important to have these terms and expectations in writing before you need them so you have recourse if things do turn sour. It can take extra energy to keep your team running smoothly, but it can also be totally worth it.