I’m going to tell you a little back story here of my first business partnership. Several years ago, my husband was done with his advanced degree but because of the recession, nobody was hiring people with history degrees. At the time, we had three children under the age of 9 and lived in my in-laws’ basement. However, they were moving to Utah and we didn’t want to move that far away from my parents.
My husband came to me and proposed that we move near my parents and he would take several low paying jobs to support the family. I had been designing and developing a few websites as a hobby and I suggested we work together and start a web design company. We could find local businesses and create websites for them.
So we did. We took the plunge, moved our family and opened Cerulean Creatives. When we started, we took every job we could find, even ones completely out of our business scope, like designing Christmas cards for a real estate company. For over two years, Cerulean Creatives pulled our family through a really rough time. Over time, however, my husband and I learned that we were not good fits for each other in our partnership (just the business one, thankfully!). My husband went on to find different work and I ended up going back to school to get a degree in web development. Here are some of the top things we learned:
- Know Your Niche
- Have your systems down
- Communication is King
Know Your Niche
This was one of the fundamental challenges for my husband and me. We were marketing to completely different clientele. He was more than happy finding super small businesses that just wanted a tiny website that could be built in an afternoon with a page builder. This is what we started out doing, since we were new to the business and didn’t have a portfolio or anything to show off. I was happy doing these kinds of sites at first as well. It was nice to have the projects be completely straight forward and completed quickly.
However, as time went on, I would go back and check those websites to see how they were doing, and 90% of the time, the website had never been touched after we turned it over to the business. These small businesses were buying websites because they were told they needed one. They didn’t intend to use them to better their business because they didn’t take the time to understand how to.
After awhile, I started to itch to find clients that wanted more interesting, more complex websites. I had learned a lot and wanted to use my expertise. I also wanted to find business owners that were passionate about their websites and that understood the amazing things a website can do for a business.
This is one of the first places my husband and I started to feel friction in our partnership. We couldn’t agree on who we were marketing to and who we were building our business model around.
Have Your Systems Down
This next part is something that ate up a lot of time in our work week. We never took the time to sit down and figure out each step of our website design and development process. We didn’t have checklists or automated programs that helped us to keep track of where we were in a project or who was responsible for what. Whiteboards and random notebooks would get erased or misplaced. Client meeting notes were scattered everywhere. We would try to keep tabs on what we were doing, but we often had several projects in various stages and it was all just a tangled mess.
Before starting a partnership again, I would insist on sitting down long before we took on our first client or started our first collaboration and hammer out what the process was going to look like: where we were going to keep track of everything, how each stage was going to look, who was responsible for what parts, and who would be interacting with the clients directly and how.
It is so so so important to have a system. It keeps you on track and eliminates so much back and forth trying to keep everything straight.
Communication is King
I also learned the value of honest, open communication. Fortunately, this is something my husband and I are usually pretty good at. It might have been what kept us from taking our business discord into our personal relationship with each other. We still got frustrated with each other. We were frustrated a lot, but we learned to talk it out. After each project finished, we sat down and talked about what went well, what we think could have gone better and how we could build off of that project. We tried really hard to not be offended by the other’s critiques.
When you are in a partnership, you need to keep your ego out of your communication. Your partner should have your back, even when they are pointing out your flaws. Use this communication time to build each other up instead of tear each other down. Be honest. Don’t say everything is fine when it isn’t. Lying to save feelings doesn’t help you, your partner, and especially not your clients.
A Partnership is Still Worth It
A partnership a lot of hard work, but they can be so very rewarding. A partner can keep you motivated, give you inspiration and help you grow. In the end, my husband and I parted business ways, but I would love to partner up with someone again someday. If it’s the right person.