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Running an agency can be a lonely place and, as a sole principal, it’s often tempting to think you’d be better off with a business partner. But how do you go about finding one that’s going to work out for the long term?
Let me know if this sounds familiar?
You started your agency after years of successfully learning your craft at a bigger firm. You’re a first-class writer, or designer, or write code better than you do English. And let’s face it, ‘working for the man’ is, frankly, old fashioned.
So, you decided to go it alone, freelancing at first but you soon built a small roster of clients and turned your gig into a micro agency. You rented some desk space and hired a couple of grads to service your clients and, hey presto, welcome to agency ownership.
And then it all changed.
You hired a third, fourth and fifth employee, and started spending Monday’s looking at cash flow. Not forgetting client service too of course, and payroll and marketing and insurance and invoicing and biz dev…you got busy. Very busy.
Then one of your hires turned out to be a bell end, and it was time to make the first difficult decision. Suddenly you felt a bit alone and isolated at the top. You started thinking, ‘wouldn’t it be nice to have someone to make decisions and bounce some ideas around with?’
Time to get a business partner.
But this isn’t something you planned for, so who’s going to fit?
Where do you even begin to look?
I’ve had a couple of business partners in my agency career – some successful, some not. So…here’s some areas to think about when looking for a business partner that’s going to work out.
Being in a business partnership isn’t too far away from marriage.
You are going to spend a lot of time together and will often have to make difficult decisions. It helps if you’re happy to be in the same room together, but it’s better if you properly gel.
It’s no good going into business with a Gooner if you’re a Spurs fan. But more than that, does it feel natural when you meet? Can you go out drinking together? Can you spend time with each other’s families and come away smiling?
Start by finding someone with the right chemistry.
2. Alignment of Vision
Next, consider whether you are both trying to achieve the same thing over the same timeline?
I was in partnership with a dear friend, building our agency, providing various marketing and comms services. We felt aligned, but from the outside, our business coach thought we were running two different businesses. She wasn’t wrong. Ultimately, we parted company.
You must be on the same pathway if you want your business partnership to survive. Not just for the first year, but every year.
3. Values & Lifecycle
Coming in just after alignment in vision, is your values.
Do you both have the same values deep down? Things like wanting only to put out first-class creative, or putting client service first? Do the same things motivate you?
Beyond that, are you at a similar stage of life? Are you a family girl that wants to leave for the school run every day? What about your business partner? Does he want the same thing, or is he happy to go networking every other night, prospecting and building relationships?
What happens when he starts asking why you aren’t pulling your weight in new business, or why you had to leave early the day before a big pitch?
4. Level of Commitment & Remuneration
What is each partners’ commitment going to be in time and money to make the business work?
You must have parity in how you value your time and contribution to the business or failing that, clarity on what each is worth.
Not every business partnership needs to be equal. 50:50 is fine, but not if you’re doing 80% of the work. I promise you this is the fast track to divorce. Get this one thrashed out early and documented in a shareholders’ agreement.
5. Complementary Skill Sets
Who brings what to the table? The most successful partnerships thrive when skill sets work well together. If you’re a creative, don’t go into business with another creative. Find someone who brings other skills, like client service, or finance management, or biz dev.
So there you have it, my five factors to address when looking for a business partner.
If you’d like help finding the right partner, get in touch. Through the community of independent agencies at Agency Squared there’s a good chance I might know someone that would fit well in the wheelhouse as the joint captain of your agency.
If you’re grinding away at your agency and feeling the pressure, this post may help too.