Build a Partnership that Works

Nov. 1, 2010
Successful business partnerships work best when two individuals complement each other's strengths and weaknesses, and work well together. However, there is a process to follow when considering entering a partnership.

Jake and Elwood . . . Batman and Robin . . . peanut butter and jelly . . . what do these things have in common? They"re all examples of partnerships that work. Who you choose to be your business partner should be given as much consideration as what products and services you're going to offer, and what markets you're going to enter.

My partner, Cal Turner, and I, are co-owners of Bob Woodall Air Care Systems, Dothan, AL. Together, Cal and I have found the right fit in our business partnership. We're fortunate to have done so, because many partnerships don't work out.

What makes for a successful partnership? The first thing to remember is that individuals have different strengths and weaknesses. The key to a successful business partnership is to bring together individuals who complement each other's strengths and weaknesses and work well together.

In any business there are three basic areas that need to be covered — technical, financial, and business development. Each partner shouldn’t be expected to be proficient in all three of these skill sets but, together with your staff, you should have these areas covered.

When you find yourself considering a partner to start a business with, or to join you in your business, it's important to know where to look. Cal and I don't recommend advertising for a business partner. Instead, we recommend networking. As our personalities are different, we had different approaches to the networking that brought us together. With Cal's experience in the trucking industry and as a financial consultant, he was much more analytical in his approach. He made a list of people to consult, such as business brokers, investment bankers, and partners in accounting firms.

I was raised in the HVAC business, and being a true "people person," turned to those I knew well and whom I trusted: my father, pastor, and accountant. In the end, networking was the key to both approaches. My accountant ultimately introduced us to each other.

A perfect partnership is not necessarily made up of two people who are alike. However, they do have to have some things in common — such as character, values and mutual respect. When trying to determine if you have found the right partner for your business, I recommend that you listen to your instincts. You have to feel good about it.

That's not to say that you don't have to do your homework. Both parties must be "open books" and really get to know each other—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

You have to know what both partner's expectations are, define who takes on certain responsibilities, and determine what percentage partnership it will be, how the financials will be handled, and so on. As you work out these details you'll really determine if you complement each other in a business setting.

Our List of Partnership Tips

1. Don'’t keep score. There will be times when each partner has to step up and take on the lion’s share of the responsibility, so just let it all balance itself out. Don't take off early on Friday just because your partner took off early on Wednesday.

2. Define the roles. Each partner brings strengths to the plate. Use those strengths to your mutual success or you will both become frustrated. Always respect each other and what each person brings to the partnership.

3. Learn to communicate. Maintain an open door policy so that if and when an issue arises, you can talk it out and come to a compromise.

4. Set friend/family boundaries. It's wonderful if you're friends as well as partners, but remember you'll be spending eight or more hours a day together. Set boundaries for times outside of the office. It'’s fine if you want to do things together, but don't force it.

5. Have a plan. You need a clear picture of your partnership and your business. Visualize not only your success, but how you are going to get there.

6. Schedule regular meetings. Get together often to stay on the same page. Share responsibilities, stresses, and triumphs. One of the best things about a partnership is having someone to "high five" when things go right.

7. Finally, be prepared for the stages of the partnership. The start-up phase is tough, but it's also exciting because it's new. Be prepared to work long and hard as you figure out all the details and get used to working together.

When you get to the "day-to-day" stage of the partnership, be prepared that some of the excitement and euphoria of the start up phase will have worn off. That is when it is time to dig in and work hard. Know that there are going to be bumps in the road. There may be tough times and even financial humps to overcome. During the bumps, be committed to really sticking together.

Lastly, prepare yourself to survive success. It can actually be easy to lose your focus during successful times and forget what got you there. Be consistent and stick to the game plan that you and your partner created together.

Partnerships are not the right solution for every business and every situation, but the right partners at the right time can lead to a highly successful relationship and a highly successful venture.

Bob Woodall is co-owner with Cal Turner, of Bob Woodall Air Care Systems, Dothan, AL. He can be reached at 334/340-1111 or by e-mail at [email protected]

This article is based on "Partnerships that Work: What You Need to Succeed," which Bob Woodall and Cal Turner presented during HVAC Comfortech 2010. The 2011 HVAC Comfortech and HVACR Week will be held Sept. 21-24, 2011, in Indianapolis, IN.

Honesty, Commitment Win the Day

Business partnerships, like any other partnership, will face challenges, decisions, hurdles, and triumphs over time. Bob Woodall and Cal Turner, co-owners of Bob Woodall Air Care Systems, Dothan, AL, say there's only one way to handle the inevitable challenges that arise and choices that need to be made: by being completely open and honest with your partner.

"You and your partner must be willing to openly lay tough issues on the table so that you can really address them with each other," Woodall says. "Fortunately, both Cal and I have developed a way to leave our egos outside the door when we discuss issues that we face or decisions that we need to make. What's worked for us, and the advice we would give any other partners, is to deal with challenging times or tough decisions with mutual respect, honor, and integrity."

Turner adds that it's important to properly follow through on the decisions once they've been made.

"Whatever the issue, we've always been able to get behind closed doors, lay it on the table, work through it," Turner says.

"Then, when we walk out of our meeting, the objective is to be unified. It's kind of like being on a football team: you might have to call a time-out to assess the situation, and decide what play you're going to run. But once your mind is made up, you go out and commit to it, and run that play. We're unified, and we don't send mixed messages to the company. We've had our challenges, and maybe the challenges have kept us focused,"Turner adds.