What a Car Ride Taught me About my Partner

Business Smarts
by Jay Holmes

The Small Business Association defines a partnership as “a single business where two or more people share ownership.” Statistics reveal the failure rate for new businesses is alarmingly high, but that partnerships (rather than single-owner businesses) have a likelier chance at success. Even with the better odds, having partners can have drawbacks.

I have a partner in my accounting business, and we love working together. But we have certainly faced challenges. When I was in college, my Business Law professor repeatedly insisted that the single most important thing to do when forming a business with multiple owners is to create a dissolution agreement. He’s got a point. I have seen my fair share of ugly business break-ups. But I’d like to think it may not be the most important. One thing that has helped my partner John and me through the past five years is knowing each other’s strengths—particularly our personality strengths.

Building a business takes more than good technicians; it takes a whole array of strengths. To get the work, you need to market and sell your services. Once you have the work, you need systems to ensure your quality is consistent. As you get busier, you need strategy and direction to guide you toward your goals. While trying to reach your goals, you may hire employees, which requires management skills. The list goes on. Each of these skill-sets utilizes completely different personality traits. Different personality traits often lead business owners in separate directions.

John and I grew aware of our differences in the early days of our business. We were on a drive out to a potential client’s office. While John was driving, I pulled out a pad of paper and wanted to review what we knew about the prospect and devise a game plan. I wanted to prepare as best we could for what potential questions or concerns we would face. My micro-planning lasted no more than 60 seconds. John was not having any of it. John has an acute likeability that has always enabled him to go with the flow and act in the moment. There was no sense in wasting a pleasant drive talking about something that might not even happen. I, on the other hand, thought he was being lazy and would surely be unprepared for the meeting. By the end of the half hour drive, it was clear we had differences in the way we thought.

Soon after, we were fortunate to be introduced to a personality test called StrengthsFinder 2.0. We took the test and became more formally aware of where we were both coming from. The test rates people’s top five strengths, and each strength is then categorized into four broad personalities. Mine was heavily weighted in Strategic Thinking. John’s was in Relationships.

In other words, who we are and how we do things matters in how we partner up and do business. I now know, and more importantly I trust, that what I thought was John’s lack of preparation won’t hinder our success. I trust that my over-preparation won’t hinder our success. Most importantly, I trust that having both of us come at things differently gives us a greater chance of success than either of our individual approaches. The meeting turned out to be a success. This first half of the meeting we discussed tax issues and managing inventory. The other half was spent talking about hunting and the client’s two dogs.

John and I have owned our business for five years now. We are just growing out of the infancy stage and there are plenty of challenges waiting ahead. Our partnership is stronger than ever. We are by no means experts in business relationships. We are simply two partners who are trying to pave a solid path. We’ve benefited immensely from knowing our strengths and weaknesses. I encourage all business partnerships to formalize their understanding of each partner’s strengths. You may be surprised to learn that your partner’s lack of focus on a car ride to a meeting is actually the exact preparation they need to succeed.