Growing up I always received advice against partnerships. Saying they don’t work, get messy, and leave you feeling burnt. As I celebrate 20 years of my partnership in business, I look back and join the dots – how did this pan out for us? How did we get this far? Are we truly celebrating this milestone? Are we truly happy in this space? And as I write this blog today, my heart is flooded with happy memories of this journey, the adventures, and every little thing that has made it worth the while.
During this journey of two decades, we often were asked questions that made me recollect the answers and pen them down for you. If you are struggling to make a partnership work, are feeling trapped, feeling overpowered, burnt out, or whether you are a solopreneur who is considering getting into a partnership, I hope these golden rules of partnership will make your decision or your struggle a lot easier. It will make you feel light, as you feel cheered up and may actually look forward to growing your business through partnerships.
Here are some gems that I discovered through my journey
1. Keep The Ego Out
Every now and then you will be faced with the need to make decisions that will improve or grow your business. Sometimes the decision may be to stop something that is not giving results. In either case, remember to go into a decision-making conversation, by parking your ego outside the door. When you do this you set the tone right from the word go. It becomes easier to pick the decision on merit. What’s best for the business is what gets chosen and it is not based on what we personally think is our point of view.
2. Open And Honest Communication
This is a big one. There will be many times when you strongly disagree with one another, one will want to overrule the other with their opinion, leaving the other person feeling sore and unheard. Remember – your working day is not over till you sort things out. I was very vocal about this in the earlier years of my partnership. Being the more outspoken one, sometimes, I would end up leaving my partner upset for weeks. And it would take us a long time to get back to normal. That’s when we made this code of honour a must have in our toolbox going forward.
It has worked like magic and helped us keep stress, anger, disappointment and frustration at bay in our working relationship.
3. Have 100% Role Clarity
What I noticed is, in our earlier days of working together, such was the excitement that we would do all things together. Client meetings, drafting emails, planning new product ranges and even planning production for our team. And you are right – we were stepping all over each other all the time, leaving the team confused with our joint instructions. Not to mention the massive loss of productive time. It was not until our friends pushed us to split our roles that we could effectively start working towards accelerating business growth and contributing our best skills to the business. An important shift that happened for us as we split our roles, was that we started to respect each other’s decision in our respective departments. No matter how much I disagreed with a sales decision, since my partner was heading it, I would make a suggestion, we would engage in long discussions to come to a point of making a decision and then I would respect her final call on it. This has served us very well over the years.
4. Dignity In Disagreement
It is necessary that you don’t agree with what the person is saying if it really does not sit well with you. But what’s even more important is doing so with dignity. Allow your partner to finish saying whatever it is they have on their mind, explain the whole project or idea in detail and then you can open the floor for a healthy discussion to see why they believe in something as being the best way forward. You will see their point of view and may want to onboard the idea after all.
And if you don’t agree even then, please disagree with logic, with an explanation of your perspective and do so with dignity regardless of whether their idea is outright silly according to you, or one that you think is not timed well for your current journey or whatever else you may think of. When you disagree with dignity you always leave the door open for more ideas to flow, and you never know which is going to be the one that will fructify into a big success tomorrow.
5. Don’t Take It Personally
This applies to every win and every lesson you experience in your business. If you take your win personally, you may soon slide away from humility, thinking you are the one doing it all right – either in your personal capacity or as a business. And if you take a loss or a lesson personally it could undermine your confidence for a long time, costing you many important business decisions as you may miss some big opportunities due to the lack of perspective or simply because you feel you can’t step up your game, you don’t have what it takes.
My business journey has made me realise – I didn’t have at the beginning, what it took to reach this milestone. (And I don’t yet have what I will need in my toolbox for my journey ahead.) I was simply open to learning, curious as hell, allowing myself to make mistakes, and being ok saying I don’t know and making that a starting point to begin my journey towards a new learning. You become what your journey needs you to become as you step into your work each day allowing yourself to be chiselled hard along the way. Easier said than done – but I learnt that was the only way I was going to grow – so at some point, albeit reluctantly, I surrendered to the process.
6. Be the In-House Turbocharger
When all cards are against you, the tide of business has moved south and you are feeling like a complete loser, someone has got to sing and dance to bring everyone back together and feel recharged. Remember it happens all the time. When you hit lows and feel stuck, get excited as you are about to hit an important bend in your business, one which when you look back will prove to be a big milestone. Sometimes, it also means staying quiet and allowing the tide to pass. Either way, at any given time, when one partner is losing steam, the other one picks up their spirit and gets them back onboard.
We’ve seen a lot of lows together on this journey – from lack of selling skills and business management, to recession and covid. At times like this, we would consolidate by counting our small and big wins so far and that would give us the energy to pick ourselves up and keep moving. This quality of cheering each other has come a long way in ensuring we are there for each other, allowing us to collapse in despair sometimes and pick each other up so we can continue to move forward – with a cuppa chai or coffee!
7. Data To The Rescue
I remember how passionate we were about our retail business for years. We would have chai mornings and invite our customers to see our new collection of notebooks, stationery, ceramicware, terracotta, and gift boxes. And as a result, we end up having a huge inventory that would crawl through the year, costing us a bomb in cash flow. It was a tough decision to make to shut down our retail ops overnight. But it has been one of our best decisions too.
What helped us make that decision was data. We checked our retail sales for the year and were shocked to see that it contributed to only 5% of our turnover and left us with huge stocks of finished goods with nowhere to go. Data comes to the rescue when both of you are emotionally invested in something – like our love for retail in this case. Though it broke our hearts at that time, we were able to take the support of the data and do what was the logical thing to do to save our business.
8. Know Your Partner’s Nerve
And stay away from touching it at all times. Respecting that this one thing will give them a hard rub the wrong way and will ruin what could have otherwise been a productive meeting or a day at work. Our partnership looks beautiful to those on the outside, and that is because we work each day towards nurturing it. And one way that worked for us was to understand what ticked us off.
For example, if we are in a business discussion and the phone goes off, and my partner answers it, saying it is important because it is a client call – you can be sure I will already have switched off, lost my cool and will even walk out of the meeting. Because for me my business meeting is more critical since ideas are in flow and I feel we can return the client’s call in 30 minutes and it will do no harm, as opposed to stopping our flow knowing we may have just missed some important ideas there.
9. Use Your Influence With Care
Some of us in a partnership are usually more outspoken, stronger in our opinions and more assertive about our ideas. While this is a good trait to have, we need to take care to ensure we are not stifling the quieter partner by not giving them an opportunity to present their ideas and pushing them into a space of giving in to all our ways. Remember it is a partnership, you are in it together, so it’s imperative that you are aware of your personality traits and use them in a way that encourages them to come forward and express themselves.
Allow the other person to breathe. Don’t be a control freak and freak them out or even worse piss them off. The repercussions will bite you in the back before you even know it.
10. Speak the language of WE
My mentor Sidra Jafri is big on the WE world. She believes when we think and act in a way that makes OUR lives better, we always make the right decisions. As opposed to when we think of individual gains. In business too, when you decide what’s best for the business it does not matter who the idea came from. Whether it was your idea or your partner’s, once implemented, you call it OUR decision. WE made this happen. When taking credit, we always say ‘am glad WE decided to take this step as a team, it has worked well for us.’ The same applies when things fall apart – ‘I wish we were more prudent, let’s take more care the next time.’
You may think this is easier said than done – but here’s my take – you will stumble on your words initially as you get used to a new language. You will end up saying I did this and you did that, slowly with practice and awareness you will experience a shift. You will experience the first shift in the intent and where you come from and that will naturally translate into a new language of WE.
11. Your Relationship Above Everything Else
If there is one rule you want to take away from this blog – it’s got to be this. Initially in a partnership things go well, everything is exciting and new. This is your honeymoon period if you will. But over a period of time, things will begin to shake you up. Discussion, arguments and heartbreaks will follow. In such situations, be the first to apologise even if you are not at fault. Uphold the person and the relationship at all times. Work will come and go. Opinions are temporary. Arguments are made in the heat of the moment.
When emotion is high, intelligence is low – so our code of honour for these times is to drop everything, stop the discussion and just break the pattern with a tea break or a drive. It gives us time to collect ourselves, get back our composure and breathe, before we re-open the conversation from a new vibrational frequency of listening, talking carefully and allowing it to flow again. It is at such times I remind myself of this – My friendship with my partner is bigger than my need to be right, to be heard or to be in control.
I’m feeling nostalgic and even a little emotional as I end this article. We have come a long way in our partnership and recapping the things that worked has only filled me with a new energy and excitement for the road ahead. A lot of these lessons have been learnt on the way, through the tearing times and raging arguments, where we cried, threw our hands up in despair but also where we picked each other up, hugged, made up, promised to be more careful the next time, thanked each other for holding our space when we needed it the most – sometimes to save us from our fears of the outside world and sometimes to save us from ourselves.
I can go on for hours and days about the wonders that this journey has created for me and us. We have evolved as people, grown as a business, and above all we have found ourselves very often in a space of gratitude and appreciation for all that we have experienced together.
These are some of the golden rules that worked for us and I hope they help you too. The joy of partnership is to have someone to hold your back when you want to collapse and to say cheers with you as you celebrate your every win. And that makes the whole ride more than worth the while. Every single time!
Co – founder
The Giving Tree