Partnership issue?

It goes without saying that a sign shop is not going to be successful if the necessary technical expertise is not there. But the other area of expertise that shop ownership demands is business management. Without it a business is severely handicapped. In fact, it’s usually the lack of one or more aspects of business management that will sink a shop—even a technically competent shop.

One aspect of business management that causes some small businesses to fail is the question of partnership. Do you take a partner or do you go it alone? What do you need to consider before entering a partnership? And once you’re in a partnership, how do you manage it to avoid conflict and ensure harmony?

These are all serious questions because if you get it wrong the survival of the business could be at risk. Yet time and again small business owners will enter into partnerships with hardly more thought than they put into the selection of their morning coffee. There are many aspect to consider—personality compatibility, work ethic compatibility, strategic priorities, money expectations, division of duties, to name just a few.

Sometimes it’s something seemingly simple that can destroy a partnership, and hence a business. Here’s one I’ve seen occur in screen printing and graphics shops. It’s seems really silly and it’s not something you’re likely to think about when considering a partnership, but it can cause a lot of friction between partners and even result in a split.

It’s not fair! You’re out having a good time while I’m stuck in the shop until late.

A and B enter into a partnership to launch a sign shop. A is the technical person and B is the sales and marketing person. As is typical of a new business, the partners put in long hours. A’s hours are spent in the shop until late most nights while B is out in bars and restaurants with potential customers. This is fine for a while but after a few months of slaving away in the shop, A begins to see B’s activity as more fun than work. Resentment creeps in.

Is this something adults should be able to handle? Of course it is, but often it’s not handled in a rational, adult way and the partners begin to squabble until eventually they can’t get along at all.

This is why partnerships should not be entered without a lot of prior contemplation. Have frank exploratory talks with the potential partner, not just about the potential positives bit also about the likely negatives. Seek advice from experts and people involved in business partnerships. Don’t put your sign shop at risk because of a poorly conceived partnership.