Have you ever considered working with a business partner, or wondered how to work with a business partner successfully? As a solopreneur, you have complete control over your business – but you have all the responsibility and workload, too. So, teaming up with someone else to run a business or group practice together can offer a great solution that offers you the flexibility of entrepreneur life while also having someone to lean on for support, joint decision-making, and more.
As co-founders of the LIT Community, we’ve been working together for several years and put together this blog post to share our tips on how to work with a business partner, make a profit, and keep the peace!
We’re Sonia Jaeger and Melissa Parks – mental health professionals and co-founders of the LIT Community. We’ve been working together since 2019 on the LIT business. And before that, we were accountability partners and collaborated on other projects, including a book club, supervision sessions, and a talk at the 7in7 digital nomad conference.
We’ve often been asked about how we ended up working together and what makes a successful business partnership. So, we recently hosted a Business Meetup within the LIT Community to share our story, experiences, and tips we’ve learned along the way!
And we wanted to share some of the key takeaways about how to work with a business partner with you here, too.
How to Work with a Business Partner (Successfully!)
Let’s take a look at some of the factors that make a good business partnership. From how to choose a business partner in the first place to the practical side of how to work with a business partner, share the responsibilities, and communicate, we’ll cover it all.
But before we dive in, we also wanted to share that we’ve been fortunate not to run into any disagreements or big problems during our time working together. That being said, having a business partner can be a source of stress and problems for some business owners.
While the tips we provide here can hopefully help you choose wisely and set up systems in advance that will reduce problems, keep in mind that just like we’d encourage our clients to get professional support, there are also coaches (and even relationship therapists) who specialize in supporting co-founders. These experts could be a great resource to help you work through any problems you and your business partner run into if you find yourselves in need of personalized support in addition to what we’ve provided here.
How to Choose a Business Partner
Before you even think about any of the other factors in how to work with a business partner, first of all, you need to work out who your business partner is and whether you’re a good fit.
Choosing a business partner is a crucial step in any business partnership, as it will affect everything else. You need to find someone who you can work with successfully, communicate with well, and get on with through the ups and downs of running a business.
So, how should you go about choosing a business partner? There are a few things to consider, and we’ll share each of these below.
Factor #1: Having Prior Experience Running a Business
One of the factors that made a real difference for us in working together is that we both already had experience as business owners. We had both been running our own individual businesses and knew the challenges that came with being a business owner. And that also meant we’d had time to develop our business mindsets, adjust our expectations, and understand our own work styles.
As we wanted to create the LIT Community as a side project and continue running our main businesses individually, it also took some of the pressure off. Although of course we wanted our partnership and joint business to be successful, it wasn’t a full-time project for either of us. As a result, we were happy to share ownership over decisions and have less overall control than we have in our respective businesses.
Being experienced business owners also made us better prepared to work together. We knew what to expect when growing a business (it takes time!), and we were able to lean into our strengths.
But if it’s your first time starting a business, you need to set your expectations. There will likely be a steep learning curve as you adapt to being a business owner and working with a business partner all at the same time. And while being an experienced business owner may make for a smoother transition into a business partnership, there is still plenty to figure out along the way to ensure a smooth collaboration. Continuing reading for our tips for other ways to increase the chances of a successful partnership.
Factor #2: Complementary Personalities & Skillsets
The next essential factor is to consider your personalities and skillsets. Do your personalities gel with each other? For example, is one person more organised while the other prefers to be more spontaneous – and will that cause issues down the line? If you see any potential points where you’re likely to clash, you can pre-empt them with some careful planning and communication.
You should also think about how your skills complement each other. That way, you can lean into your respective strengths and avoid doing work that you dislike. So, if one of you is more techy, they could handle all things related to the website, for example. We’ll share more about dividing up the workload below.
Factor #3: Your Business Mindset & Goals
Before you launch into a business partnership with someone, make sure to talk about your expectations and goals for the business.
What do you each want to get out of the business? Where do you see it being in two, five, and ten years’ time?
You might find out that you have mismatched expectations of how much time you want to put into the business, or that you have very different long-term plans. If your expectations and goals aren’t aligned, it’s better to discover that sooner rather than later.
Factor #4: The Importance of Being Flexible
When you’re working with someone else, you need to learn to accept that you won’t be able to do every single thing the way you’d do it if you were doing things on your own. There needs to be some flexibility on smaller things – you can’t micromanage everything, and if you try, it won’t create a healthy partnership.
So, it’s important to establish what you each have ownership over in the business. You should have a good idea of what you can decide by yourself and when you need to come to each other for opinions or decision-making. Of course, this is something that will also evolve over time. So, while at first, you might want to check in with each other frequently to make sure you’re on the same page, over time you’ll learn to figure out what you can and should just do yourself and what should be decided together.
It’s tricky to be a perfectionist when you’re working with someone else. Cultivating a more flexible approach and being able to let some things go – even if they’re not exactly how you would have done it – is vital for a successful business relationship.
Factor #5: Having a Test Run
If you think you’ve found the perfect business partner, that’s fantastic! But even if you’ve considered all these points so far, we recommend having a test run to try it out in practice. You could try a smaller project together and see how that goes – for example, running an online workshop together or hosting an in-person event.
Often, it’s only when we’re put under pressure that we see how the other person responds. Having a trial project together will help you gauge how each of you works and whether it will be a successful collaboration or not. You might be able to pre-empt any potential issues and figure out a solution or decide if it’s a deal-breaker.
As we mentioned before, we collaborated on quite a few different projects together before we launched a business together. This included a mastermind group, a book club, as accountability buddies, and preparing a conference presentation. While you may not need to have as much practice as we did, getting a taste of what it feels like to collaborate with your potential business partner will help you make an informed decision about whether or not to go into business together.
Starting a business together is a big commitment, so going in fully informed and aware of how each other works, communicates, and deals with stressful situations is the best possible preparation.
How to Work with a Business Partner: The Practical Side
Once you’ve decided on a business partnership, the work has only just begun! You’ll need to navigate the practicalities of setting up a business, how you’ll work together and communicate, and who will do what.
The Business Setup
First of all, you’ll need to decide how you’ll set up your business. That may depend on where you’re based and the business structures available to you. In some locations, you can create a business partnership where you both have ownership of and responsibility for the business.
Will your business need a physical location or will it be entirely online? While having a virtual business offers some perks (for instance, no need to rent physical office space), it also offers a unique set of challenges, especially if the two business partners are in different locations or living abroad.
In our case, Sonia has German and French citizenship and a business based in Germany. Melissa is from the US, where she’d recently returned after a decade of living in Spain and the Netherlands. We discovered that setting up a business together across borders (and specifically in the US) was a lot less straightforward than you might imagine.
So, you’ll need to look into the specifics of how you can set up your business according to your circumstances. You should think about whether you’d be comfortable having the business solely in one of your names (if that is the easier option) and how that might affect the business dynamic. We recommend consulting with relevant professionals (e.g., a lawyer and an accountant) to advise you, if possible.
If your business partnership is entirely remote, especially if you’re collaborating across different time zones, you’ll also need to find strategies to work together. Below we’ve highlighted some strategies that have helped us communicate as a remote team working across time zones (which change multiple times throughout the year!)
The first thing you want to ask is – what will be your main method of communication, and does that work for both of you? For example, would you prefer to have regular meetings on Zoom? Or does asynchronous communication work better using tools like email, a project management tool, or Voxer (an app for sharing voice memos)?
It’s crucial to find a communication method that works well for both of you. That might be a combination of different tools and methods. For example, we use our project management tool (Notion) for most things, including calendar planning, task updates, and project planning (see our blog post on project management tools for more on how we use Notion). But we also have a separate messaging app for any urgent matters so they don’t get missed, and we have found it useful to share discussion ideas and any other summaries as voice notes in Voxer, as there are times when it’s quicker and easier to record a voice note than put it in writing.
We’re normally on two different continents – three if you include our virtual assistant – so these tools allow us to communicate asynchronously without losing track of tasks and conversations. As none of us particularly likes getting or sending emails, it’s a great solution for us! Over time, we’ve figured out when to use each channel, and this system is working well for us now.
While we rely heavily on asynchronous communication tools, we also have Zoom meetings every 1-2 months where we can discuss things in detail, face to face. Sometimes, things are just too complicated to convey in writing, so we save those for our meetings unless they are urgent. We also designate one of these meetings as our official quarterly meeting and we reserve any big decisions for these meetings. This really helps us avoid shiny object syndrome and stay focused on our priorities in the business and how we can work smarter instead of harder.
Communicating Across Time Zones
Another thing to think about if you’re in different countries and time zones is creating boundaries between your work day and personal life. Otherwise, there’s the risk of being “on call” 24/7! In our business, Melissa is usually based in the same time zone in Seattle, but since Sonia is often changing time zones, we both need to be ready to adjust to having very different hours of our work day that currently overlap. For instance, Sonia is currently in Australia for an extended time which means we have very different hours that we’re both awake and working than we do when she’s at her homebase in France.
In order to juggle all of this, we’ve found it helpful to share our typical work schedule, and wherever possible, we try to be mindful of each other’s routines. And then, we also send a quick reminder to everyone before we take extended time off. Finally, we also have a separate method for getting in touch if something is urgent, and that allows us to check our other notifications and messages at a convenient time, rather than worrying that we’ve missed something important.
Our preferred means of communication have also shifted over the years as our business has grown. As we now have a virtual assistant who is an integral part of our team (more on that below), some of our choices about communication tools are based on the fact that we’re a team of three, working across three distinct time zones. Find tools that work for you and your business partner, but also remember to be flexible and make space to change things, including adding new tools, as your business, and your priorities, change.
Sharing The Workload
When it comes to sharing the workload of the business, think about each of your strengths and even your lifestyles! For example, Sonia is often travelling and likes to take longer chunks of time off, including one month over Christmas. So, that means it’s not ideal for her to take on regular, smaller tasks. Instead, Sonia prefers to handle the techy things, big vision tasks, back-end organisation, and recurring tasks like the monthly bookkeeping that she can plan for in advance.
And for Melissa, the smaller tasks fit in well with her busy lifestyle as a toddler mom, as she can often fit them in between other things. So, Melissa oversees a lot of the content creation, such as our blog posts, email newsletters, and social media content. These days much of our initial content creation is carried out by our virtual assistant (again, more on that below!) but we still prefer to have one of us (Sonia or Melissa) doing a final review of much of the content and as a native English speaker, it makes sense for Melissa to take on this role.
Of course, one of the biggest perks of having a business partner is that there’s someone there to keep an eye on the overall business when the other person is away and Melissa does this when Sonia takes time off, and vice versa.
Outsourcing: Hiring a Team Member
Outsourcing some of the work to a team member can also take the pressure off. It means that you don’t have to be responsible for all the work between the two of you. As the LIT Community was a side project for both of us, outsourcing allowed us to be more hands-off in the nitty-gritty tasks like writing every social media post.
We have a virtual assistant, Georgia, who handles a lot of the day-to-day tasks such as scheduling events, creating social media posts, preparing and sending our emails, managing our inbox, and supporting our members with any issues they have. Georgia has been on our team for over two years now, and we’ve gradually been able to hand over more tasks and give her more responsibility during this time. We have a blog post with tips on outsourcing here, so if it’s something you’ve been thinking about, make sure to check it out.
When you decide to hire a team member, it also means that you’ll need to have important conversations about how things work in your business. You’ll also need to document your processes and decide who is responsible for which tasks and areas. So, that makes it a great opportunity to reflect on what each of you is doing in the business and how you both feel about it. It’s easy to overlook tasks like staying organised and creating a business manual or SOPs, but when it comes to outsourcing, it could be the nudge you need to stay on top of it.
Getting Outside Help
When you set up a business, you often need to invest in it to get it up and running. And that might mean seeking outside help from experts who can advise you as you get started. When we decided to create the LIT Community, we worked with Jenny Lachs who runs Digital Nomad Girls and her online community, The Lab, and offers consulting on setting up an online community. With her guidance, we found the whole process so much easier as we had direction and expert advice to guide us through the process.
We also invested in a brand consultant to help us create the brand identity and visual elements for the LIT Community, Zsanka at Zsanka Branding. And we had a web designer, Judit of Brillful, who set up the LIT website (and continues to help us now and then), as well as an accountant who handles the bookkeeping and taxes.
As you can see, setting up a business takes some investment. So, you’ll need to be in agreement on how much to invest into the business – both time and money-wise.
But we found that investing in expert help not only reduced the stress, but it also allowed us to start the community with a shared knowledge base and reduced any disagreements about the “best way” to do things.
How to Work With a Business Partner: In Conclusion
Working with a business partner can be a fruitful relationship that allows you to build a successful business while sharing the responsibility, decisions, and workload.
But a lot goes into making a business partnership work effectively, including careful thoughts, lots of conversations, a shared vision, and a flexible mindset. You’ll need to work out the practical side as well as how you work well together – but if you get it right, it’s definitely worth the time and investment you put into a business partnership!
It goes without saying that we’re very glad we teamed up to launch the LIT Community together all those years ago. And we hope you’ve found this blog post interesting and helpful! Feel free to drop any questions or comments below.
We’d love to know – have you ever considered working with a business partner? And if you’ve done it – how did it go? Do you have any other tips to share with us? Let us know below!