by Maria Rapetskaya
Most sole proprietor companies are born from a skill one excels at and enjoys doing. But, once the fairy dust of leaping into business fades into the daily grind, most “solopreneurs” come face to face with the grimmer reality of business operations.
Invoicing, expense tracking, client management – the list of administrative tasks quickly outgrows the capacity for handling it alone. Then, there are those more creative, but no less time-consuming, tasks – developing a brand, building a website, advertising or getting press.
Outsourcing to contractors shrinks the time commitment, but doesn't remove it entirely, since finding those contractors and managing the project is still effort. And, all along the way, the solopreneur must continue to bring in clients and income. For a little while, this is manageable, but if you're beginning to recognize that doing it all alone will not be possible forever, there are a few good points to consider before you make the leap to bring in a partner.
1. “Partner” doesn't necessarily imply “part-owner.”
Let's establish this first: I am using the word “partner” here to simply represent the first person you hire. Why? Because whether this person comes in as an employee, an independent contractor or a stakeholder, s/he will (and should) become your de facto business partner. Of course, you can always retain your right to final say in all decisions, but you need to recognize that by joining you at such an early stage, this person takes a huge leap of faith in your ability to sustain this business. S/he also believes that s/he can help the company grow and thrive.
By adopting an attitude of superiority or being closed off to input, you risk creating a really miserable environment for yourself, or simply losing your sidekick to another job. In an office of two, whether physical or virtual, you have to maintain the spirit of collaboration and respect. There simply aren't enough people to dilute negativity!
The precise arrangement you make will depend on many factors: financials, mutual goals, even personality traits. Some people are happier being employees and foregoing the financial risk. Others will jump at the opportunity to be an investor/partner in a startup. You may have a personal preference towards sharing risk and reward. Whatever the case, it pays to treat your first employee like a partner, regardless of their official status, because in essence, they are.
2. Someone you know? Think it through well. Someone brand new? Vet them carefully.
In case of someone you know, keep in mind that your significant other, best friend or favorite former colleague isn't necessarily the best choice simply by virtue of familiarity. Be conscious of the consequences of this arrangement not working out and the possible fallout this can have on your personal relationship. If it's someone you don't know, make every effort you can to get personal recommendations.
A company of two is a marriage in disguise, and similar considerations should apply to make sure you don't team up with someone who you'll conflict with constantly.
Make sure you have a similar attitude towards money and profit, company structure, business ethics and even work/life balance. This goes for your best friend or someone you stumbled on via LinkedIn. Whether or not you've thought carefully about your entrepreneurial style and ambitions, this is the time to solidify what your company stands for. You'll now steer two careers and you can't change course without considering your partner. Are you hoping for quick growth in personnel and profit? Are you more concerned about your quality of life than the scope of your bottom line? Are you okay with 60-hour weeks and expect your new other half to work just as much? Be vocal and honest, because the person you bring on should have an approach to business and life in general that complements and enhances your own.
3. Having enough commonalities doesn't mean you have to agree on every detail.
In fact, it's better that you don't agree on everything. Per above, it's critical that you agree on the broad strokes, but someone who plays devil's advocate or brings in fresh perspectives is far more valuable than someone who's always in agreement. You can't possibly be right 100% of the time, and the real value in not running your business alone is having a built-in second opinion.
Your ideal half should not be your carbon copy.
For instance, it's far better if a team is comprised of a risk taker and a cautious second-guesser than two gung-ho risk-takers. Whichever you are, you still maintain your veto powers, but having a balanced discussion will improve your decision making process.
4. Trust that they can do the job you chose them to do.
Letting go of doing it yourself may not be easy. When I found my other half, there was a list of tasks I couldn't be happier to hand off. But, with certain others, I insisted on being way more involved than needed. Indeed, I knew it would be better to get out of the way. It takes time, of course, to build trust, even if you bring on someone you know very well. Just don't accidentally hamper or sabotage their efforts. You're handing off sections of your operations to someone else.
Let this person establish their own system for handling tasks you will no longer be a part of, and collaborate on developing systems for the tasks you will jointly own.
Establish boundaries of responsibilities – mine, yours, ours – but be prepared to reassess. You may discover you were actually much better at certain tasks than you had thought – take them back, but don't write off your new partner if they can't do it all as well as you did. Be patient. This person is not YOU.
5. Be ready to be wrong.
What if it's NOT working out? Seriously consider whether your attitude and approach are to blame. None of us are perfect bosses or co-workers. Perhaps extra effort or flexibility on your end can make a tremendous difference. So, be fair in your assessment of the situation, and if you can't do that, consult a trusted, neutral third party. If the warning signs are mounting and, despite your sincere effort, your team lacks harmony or suffers from constant inefficiency, or if your partnership has become a perpetual source of stress, consider a reboot.
Parting ways isn't pleasant, but neither is spending your day swimming upstream.
Do your best to assess the situation impartially and, most importantly, be respectful and considerate in how you go about breaking up, especially if you are more legally bound than a simple employment contract.
Most of all, remember, this person is here to help you succeed. This means you'll have disagreements. Sometimes you'll be right, and sometimes you'll be wrong. You'll each get better at working together. You're as accountable in making your partnership work as your partner. In fact, as the founder, you're probably more responsible for its success or failure, because you set the parameters and the tone of this professional relationship.
So, be honest, considerate and fair. Being a good human is the true basis for being a good partner and a good boss.
This article originally appeared on Fast Company, syndicated by Device Daily and DigitalTalks.org