A lot of people ask me for advice about partnerships. Many will tell me about a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” that a friend or associate has shared with them and asked if they’d like to participate. Often, the opportunity involves either investing a significant amount of time or money, or a dramatic shift into a new career path, or both.
My advice to such individuals is simple. First, I often ask them if it is something they really want to do; that is, do they truly enjoy this activity to the extent that they might even consider doing it without pay? For someone to be successful at something, they first need to truly enjoy that activity—otherwise, they are likely not to have enough persistence during times of difficulty. To me, enjoying what you are doing is an acid test in business as well as life. If you are having fun, it’s more likely that you will confuse work with play and that you will be successful at that activity.
Second, whenever considering getting into a partnership, you should always ask yourself the question: “Could either of us do this without the other person?” (Have the other individual in the potential partnership ask the same question.) If either of you answer “yes,” or even “maybe,” seriously reexamine the need for the partnership. If you’re uncertain as to how necessary the other person is in a new venture at the very best of times—the beginning—you will certainly doubt and likely regret your mutual involvement down the line; perhaps sooner rather than later. If there’s a good chance you could do the activity on your own, go for it! Life is apt to be a lot simpler if you do.
In a partnership, both individuals involved need to bring something to the party—and each person needs to recognize and value the other person’s contribution. If the importance of each person’s role isn’t clearly recognized upfront, it most assuredly will be valued even less later. In the event of failure, individuals often are quick to blame the other person for shortcomings. In the event of success, most people are apt to feel the success was mainly a result of their own efforts. These reactions are human nature. A clear initial understanding, agreement, and belief in what each person is contributing to the success of a joint venture will go a long way toward minimizing exaggerated perceptions and expectations of effort and worth at a later date.
Third, a piece of common sense advice I truly believe regarding partnerships is that to be effective you need more than a 50-50 effort of both parties; you need 100-100 percent effort. Both parties need to give the venture 100 percent. Fifty percent effort is only half-hearted! If you are no more excited about the opportunity at hand than to feel you are only responsible for 50 percent of the effort, the partnership is doomed from the start. I feel that 100 percent effort needs to be given 100 percent of the time by both parties in any partnership. Such an all-out commitment forces you to move ahead at full speed in making the venture a success. It forces you to rely on yourself, not someone else, to make things happen. It also affords you the ability to give the other person the benefit of the doubt when his or her effort, interest, or time spent seems to be less than ideal.
I have found that it is many times more difficult to break up a partnership—especially if you want to do so on good terms—than it is to start one. By following these simple rules of thumb, you might save yourself some unpleasantness (and possibly a friend) in the process!