11/08/2011 09:21 EST | Updated 01/08/2012 05:12 EST

Why You Should "Date" Your Business Partner


Much is written these days about collaboration. As I reflect back on my career, I confess the results vary.

When I worked in the non-profit sector, I had a reputation for bringing people together to collaborate on a project. Agencies didn't always do so willingly; sometimes there was resistance -- mainly because of territorial issues. But, bottom line, we were able to find a common ground that made it work. Usually, it was because of the clients, and we would pool our resources to better the outcome for them.

And when I had my consulting practice, I made a point of linking up with other consultants. It made sense to have a team of colleagues who I could call on when I got a large project, and I often did just that.

But I can't say I have had the same level of success since starting Company of Women. I get approached a fair amount, but I usually find that it is more people wanting a bit of our action, rather than offering anything that is of value to our company and our members.

People are suspicious -- always wanting to know what's in it for them. Are you going to get more out of it than they are? And when I have partnered, it hasn't always worked out the way I expected.

With my non-profit days, I realize that in addition to wanting the best for our clients, we also shared the same values. We tended to be working in that sector because we wanted to make a difference. Earning lots of money was never a draw, which was just as well as it was never there.

So when I look at the partnerships that haven't worked, I can see now that part of the reason why was that we didn't share the same values. We hadn't taken the time to really get to know one another -- to discuss our vision, or to agree on goals and the desired outcome. If one of you expects to make thousands, and the other is happy to stay small, then problems are bound to arise.

Mutual respect is also crucial. You have to value and respect your partner's contribution to the whole, because without it, it's not going to work. I once worked with one gentleman (and I am being generous in my use of that word) who clearly didn't like women, had no respect for my contributions and felt I was just his gopher. I ended the relationship as soon as the project was done.

When you're an entrepreneur, one of the reasons you've chosen that path is because you want to be in control of your own destiny. So it is not surprising that there are control issues when there are two captains steering the ship, and even more so when there is no real agreement on the end destination! Ego can kill a project faster than anything.

I've written my share of articles on partnerships and have often joked that I really should read and heed my own advice! I see real merit in collaboration, in working with like-minded individuals who share a common audience or goal. It actually makes business sense.

I take an abundance attitude but I find not all groups operate under the same code of ethics. So I know first-hand how difficult it can be to work with your "competition," especially when you don't altogether trust one another. But when it works, it can be wonderful, leading to a richer experience for your clients and a win-win situation for all involved.

So date first, before leaping into a serious business partnership. Work on a short project first; see how it goes, and then build on the relationship.

Getting divorced -- be it marriage or business partnership -- can be a costly, damaging experience, one you want to avoid.