This one is very close to home. As somebody who took the plunge and decided to go into business with my friend, I felt very well placed to work with a couple of entrepreneur buddies who had set up shop together last year. On my first day of assignment, it became clear that they were experiencing what we shall politely call ‘teething problems’ and it became evident that some tough conversations and clear action was needed to ensure they could stop bickering and get the business back on track.
Whilst going into business with a friend can be extremely rewarding, it can also present a whole new set of challenges to navigate through. Whilst you will always want to work with people who challenge you, it’s important you also partner with somebody whose skillset is complementary to your own. The right co-founder will have expertise and skills in a different area to you which is what will (hopefully!) make you a strong team. Even if you are lucky enough to form this team, I guarantee there will be challenges ahead. Here are my top tips to help you avoid some of the obvious pitfalls!
- Who does what?
Step one should always be to define the roles and responsibilities of each person. When working with friends it may seem obvious to take a more collaborative approach to covering tasks across the business as whole, but trust me, this won’t work. You will find you can achieve more when each co-founder takes responsibility for a specific area (or areas) of the business and is empowered to make decisions for the good of the company. Of course this means you need to have a good understanding of each individual’s strengths and weaknesses and agree the levels of decision that can be made without collaboration. It is also essential that each party commits to enforcing what has been agreed – it IS ok to tell somebody to step back if they begin to encroach on your territory, after all, ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’!
- Have the ‘challenging’ conversation
As well as defining roles and responsibilities, it is essential that you agree the ‘what’s in it for me’ factor. Whilst it might be a tricky conversation, discussing and formalising the basics – job title, salary (or equity) and job descriptions are essential to ensure each person knows where they stand. Doing this early on prevents the conversation from becoming uncomfortable and stops any nasty surprises later down the line.
- Agree the goals
Starting a new business is so exciting! Don’t let yourself got lost in the buzz of getting started by trying to run before you can walk. It is essential that you complete a business plan and agree the objectives and goals with your partner, both long and short term. This will ensure you both know what you are aiming towards and when difficulties arise, you can always bring your focus back to the end goal.
- Trust your partner
Assuming you have completed steps 1 and 2, this one should be easy. In a new business where it is all go all of the time, there simply isn’t the opportunity to run every minor decision by your partner. Whilst the easy option is to gain approval for every decision that needs to be made, frankly, it’s a waste of time. Instead, learn to trust your partner and if it makes you feel more comfortable, agree some ground rules. For example, you might want to implement an acceptable limit for expenditure before sign off is required from the alternative partner.
- An alternative perspective is crucial
Chances are, that as friends you probably have a lot in common with your business partner. Accept this may well occasionally be different in business! Having somebody who can challenge your ideas, perspectives and decisions is critical in the early stages, after all, if your partner is a ‘yes’ person, how will you know that the decisions you are making are right for the business overall? Don’t be afraid of being challenged or challenging your partner. Heated debates and different opinions should be actively encouraged because it will ensure you think outside the box and make the right decisions for the business.
- Enjoy the perks
Here’s the crucial one. Enjoy it!
Starting a business from scratch and working to make it succeed is a great experience, only made better by doing it alongside somebody you genuinely like. Some days are definitely harder than others, but knowing you have somebody trusted that is committed to achieving the same goals can often be the difference in turning a difficult situation into a positive one. If you ensure you get the challenging issues out of the way and have the ability to separate work from friendship when you need to, then you are in a fantastic position to succeed.
You can find out about how we work with startups and the support we provide here: http://www.leadingstrategies.co.uk/leading-strategies/new-businesses/