Business partnerships often bring diverse talents together, but they can also create as many problems as they solve. Sitting down with your partners and identifying the best ways for each of you to contribute can help you maximize your expertise, management, contacts and investment potential.
Before you begin deciding which partner will perform what tasks, review your legal papers to determine whether anyone is limited in what he can do or prohibited from performing certain tasks. If necessary, review what your partnership allows each person to legally do.
•A general partnership provides all partners with the most say in how the business operates but opens each to the greatest amount of legal liability.
•A limited partnership requires one partner to act as the primary partner and accept more legal liability than the other partners.
•A limited liability partnership doesn’t require a main partner and protects partners’ personal assets.
•A silent partner doesn’t participate in management decisions in exchange for little or no liability.
Once you know how each partner is allowed to participate, write down your management needs. The best way to do this might be by functional area, such as:
- General management
- Human resources
- Legal compliance
After you have decided what your management needs are, write job descriptions for each. List not only what the person responsible for the job must do but also the skills, abilities, experience, training, education and competencies the person doing the work will need to do the work effectively.
Now that you know exactly what needs to be done at your business, how it should be done and the skills required to execute the tasks, find out which partners best match specific tasks. You might find that no one has legal knowledge, so you will need to assign one partner with the responsibility for hiring and managing an attorney. You might have one partner with limited marketing experience and another partner with marketing contacts. These two partners might handle your marketing duties. One of the partners might be willing to attend a business seminar or take a course at a local community college to develop the skills for handling a specific area of the business.
In some cases, you might assign different partners similar work but assign the work based on how individual partners relate to the vendors, suppliers, lenders and other stakeholders the company will have to work with, suggests Haralee Weintraub, co-owner and co-partner of Haralee Sleepwear.
After you’ve discussed who has the qualifications to manage specific areas of the business and important tasks, assign all of the roles and responsibilities. Include any limits you want placed on each partner’s authority. For example, you might limit the partner handling your marketing to a fixed budget and require approval of the majority of partners to increase marketing spending.
Putting roles and responsibilities in writing is not a sign of mistrust. While getting things on paper can protect each partner legally, it also helps you avoid miscommunications, advises the Ignition Consulting Group, which counsels professional services firms. Putting things in writing can help you avoid:
- Duplicating efforts
- Forgetting to assign important tasks
- Not specifying how work should be done
- Not setting deadlines
- Not limiting spending authority
- Subordinates having two bosses
Have each partner sign a document that details the work she's expected to do -- a job description, in other words -- and give each partner a copy of each of these documents.
Don’t allow each partner to operate in a vacuum, recommends Entrepreneur magazine contributor Paula Andruss. Meet in person or use conference calls or video conferencing if partners are in different locations to keep each partner up to date about what the others are doing. This not only keeps partners informed about their overall business, but it also allows them to see how their work is affecting their partners.