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7 Lessons Learned from A Failed Business Partnership

business partnershipDo you often feel that you need a second opinion before doing something?

Have you outlined a great business plan, but you don’t feel confident enough to do it alone?

Would you rather bring your business idea to fruition faster?

Is the workload too big for you, but you can’t outsource, because you don’t have the money?

If you answered “Yes!” to at least a few of these questions, then you might benefit from having a business partner.

I answered yes to those questions just over two years ago, when I met my business partner.

Over the last two years, I’ve learned a lot about partnerships – what works, what doesn’t – and I wanted to pass on those lessons learned. These insights will be beneficial for you if you’re thinking about forming a business partnership, or if you’re already in a partnership.

The Power of the Internet

Around two years ago I started a business partnership with a young lady from the other side of the globe. She seemed to have a lot of experience in business. And me? Well, I was an inexperienced, self-taught marketer, still trying to figure out what was what in the online business world. Joining forces looked like a good opportunity for both of us to learn together and grow a business online

We started working on building an online business in the self-improvement niche. We communicated through Skype and to this day, I haven’t met her in person. That’s the power of the internet: you can build a business with someone without even meeting them.

We launched our business by creating our first product. The goal was to make one million dollars in a year. I remember being a bit skeptical about it, but a million dollars is hard to ignore. I started dreaming of the car I’d buy with the money we earned.

To make a long story short, we made 5 sales of our $47 product, and everyone refunded. This is when I realized that my business partner and I were pretty much at the same level of experience – both still trying to figure out the whole online business thing. The difference was that I wasn’t as ambitious as my partner.

We kept on working, building our list, making some money here and there, until very recently we decided to split the roads and start working by ourselves.

Lessons Learned & Insights Gained

Although our partnership didn’t hit it big, I learned a lot about what it takes to make a business partnership work. If you’re thinking about a partnership, here’s what you need to watch out for.

Take Care of the Legal Stuff

Okay. This sounds pretty obvious, but – you need to take care of the paper work when you form a partnership. My partner and I didn’t do this, I think for several reasons:

  • I didn’t think the business was going to make it big, so I didn’t feel the need to spend money and time on getting a legal agreement. (Note: our business started being profitable only after a year or so.)
  • I was under 18 years old so, I imagined the paperwork would be super complicated, having to get my parents to sign agreements, etc.
  • My partner was from another country, and I imaged that would make the paperwork even more complicated.

Instead of getting our legal ducks in a row, we worked under a word agreement that we are going to split the profits 50/50. Not a good idea… Definitely make sure to take care of all the legal documents, if you are in a serious partnership.

Don’t Do the Same Thing Twice

A necessary component for a successful partnership is trust in your partner's skills.Click To TweetYou need to be confident that he or she can do a good job and you shouldn’t question it, or revise their work over and over. This wasn’t really an issue for us at the beginning, but we sure did question each other’s competence towards the end!

For example, towards the end of our partnership, a simple task of sending an email to our list, which could take no longer than 15-30 minutes, became tiring work for a whole hour. I wrote the email, then she wanted to look at it. She made her edits, I usually disagreed with some of them, and a discussion started about how a single paragraph should be worded. In the end, we end up with a slightly better email, but we spent double the time and energy on it. Personally, that was driving me crazy.

It’s not necessary to do the same work twice. If you really think the project needs some tweaks, let your partner know, but don’t make it your job to manage his or her work.

Have a Clear Business Plan

This is another obvious one, but it’s definitely one we overlooked: you need to come up with a business plan.

All the actions you take should be in alignment with the plan.Click To Tweet

My business partner and I didn’t have a plan at first, because we didn’t know how our business would grow or evolve. In the beginning, we focused on our desired income, and not on how we would get there. Later, once we got a bit more experience, we came up with a simple plan and decided on some key places to focus on. We managed to get ahead quite a bit, because we weren’t so scattered and wondering around aimlessly.

Your business plan doesn’t need to be super complicated. In fact, its main objective is to provide guidance for all your actions so that you can evaluate what you are doing. It’s easy to stop and ask if your business plan is going according to plan, or whether you’ve gotten off track.

Give Your Undivided Focus and Demand the Same From Your Partner

One of the big problems that held us back was our divided attention. Both of us were still at school and of course that took up a lot of our time. Also, I spent some of my time working on my internet marketing business as a plan B, in case our partnership doesn’t work out. So, I didn’t have a lot of time left to work on our mutual business and that led to poor results overall.

Now, you need money to live and, if your business isn’t profitable yet, you will need to work in a 9 to 5 job to provide that income. If this is your situation, it would be hard to give your undivided attention to a mutual business and that’s fine. It simply means that now may not be the best time to start a business – or a business partnership!

In my case, I should have stopped working on my own internet marketing business. I should have focused on our mutual business; it would have made a great difference to our results.

The lesson here is twofold. First, don’t spread yourself too thin – you’ll be setting yourself up for sub-par results. And second, you need to demand the same kind of focus from your partner. After all, you don’t want to be the only one working, do you?

Hold Monthly Meetings

In the beginning of our partnership, we didn’t plan any sort of meeting. But we found out pretty quickly that stuff changes fast, and you need to do frequent course corrections for your business. Once we started holding monthly meetings to discuss what was working, what wasn’t, and where we could focus next, we started to see fast growth.

Our monthly meetings went like this: Before each meeting, we made ourselves short checklists of topics that needed to be covered. On the day of the meeting, we both logged into Skype and started a conference call. We usually began our meetings by checking out our stats: how much our list had grown, what strategies had the biggest impact, how much money did we have in our bank account, etc.

Next, we would evaluate the other person’s work, giving praise and critique where needed. The last part of our meeting was devoted to adjusting our goals and our plans on how to achieve them.

There are probably other meeting formats out there, but this one worked really well for us. Once we started implementing it, our business started to grow much faster. I’m betting yours will too. ๐Ÿ™‚

Create Daily To-Do Lists

Two teenagers busy with school and other activities can be very unproductive! Once we realized that, we started experimenting with how to get things done. We wrote down daily tasks for each other to do, and all the tasks were focused on growing our business (write a blog post, send an email to our list, etc). We discussed those lists in our monthly meetings.

A daily to-do list can also be useful if you are a solopreneur. I’m rediscovering this for myself right now and my productivity has increased a lot. I think the daily to-do lists would have worked out very well for our partnership.ย  But, I couldn’t keep up with the tasks, mainly because I spreadย myself too thin: second business, school, social life etc.

Most entrepreneurs have a lot going on in their lives, so it’s important to both divvy up the tasks of growing your business, and to hold each other accountable for getting them done.

You Can’t Be Lazy In a Partnership

In my opinion, the main reason why my business partner and I split up was because I was being lazy. I wasn’t bringing much to the table. I didn’t do much for the business, didn’t follow the daily to-do list and was behind on other schedules, because I was focusing on too many things.

It wasn’t fair to my partner, who was struggling to grow the business without my full presence or support. And it wasn’t fair to me, since I constantly felt like I had way too much to do.

In the end, we agreed to split up and go our separate ways.

Moving Forward: Life as a Soloprenuer

As I mentioned before, my business partner and I hadn’t taken care of all the legal stuff. Because of that, when our business split up the asset division was not in my favor – hugely not in my favor, I would say.

Nevertheless, these two years have been heck of a learning experience. Even though our partnership failed, I still think it’s a very good way of building a business fast. If I were to form a partnership these days I would definitely do it a lot differently.

Are you in a partnership right now? Would you add anything else to the list? If you are just thinking about forming a partnership, which insight was the one that you wouldn’t have thought about?

About Liudas Butkus

Liudas Butkus is a young entrepreneur passionate about self-improvement and the internet, and whose specialty is in traffic generation. You can find his blog at EasyM6.comย or connect with him on Google+. If you're interested in learning more about traffic generation, grab his free report:Easy Traffic Guidebook.

27 comments

  1. Hey Liudas,

    Thanks for being so opened and sharing your experience with us. Your article gives so many great tips!

    I would say that one important thing is to clearly identify each person’s roles, tasks and responsabilities for the project.
    Personally, I had also made the mistake to partner up with someone without having a clear definition of tasks before going forward with the project. And it did not work out well for us. I also did not know the person enough in a team work situation.

    Another tip would be to try to work with the potential partner on a smaller and short term project, so if you don’t connect or realize you don’t share the same working values, it won’t hurt as much to end the partnership.

    1. Yeah, you need to know your partner very well to form a partnership. As you already said, start with a small project and if it goes well you can think about forming a serious partnership.

  2. Hey Liudas,
    Great story being shared.

    Currently me and my partner is running a web design and development firm. I’ve also learned a few lessons from my little experience.

    All I could say that is, before starting a big project with a stranger whom you met online, it is always better to work together for a smaller project first. You got to have an idea how it would be working together, and you gotta know each other properly.

    Its something like marrying after having proper date ๐Ÿ™‚

    Anyway, thanks for sharing bro!
    Good luck
    -Shahzad

    1. Yeah, it’s a good idea to start small and invest just a little bit of your time into a project, if it goes well you can then start thinking about bigger projects.

      Thanks for the comment ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Hi Liudas,

    To do lists are golden. If you partner or even go solo work off lists. I do each day, and it’s amazing how much order a list builds in the mind. We have some 40,000 thoughts daily; why not make it easier on yourself and write out a few to get the job done.

    I had a recent failed business venture, and really, partner or not, I simply looked at it like practice. I didn’t take it super seriously, nor did I ask for feedback from my market. Feedback is huge, both before and during, and after your product launch.

    Also, you REALLY have to vibe with your partner. I’m blessed to have attracted a really awesome business partner. He’s skilled, kind, generous, and good natured, and we both have similar visions, so we simply work with one another to make things work.

    When you have a friendship too, and really vibe, you build trust that helps each party respect one another, and which helps you 2 not take things personally if someone offers criticism or simply a different point of view. I have that with my partner, so I feel blessed, and all of our interactions are pick me up type situations, instead of me feeling drained.

    Thanks so much for the share Liudas.

    I can see why the legal issue would be a biggie too. Big or small venture, get your paperwork in order.

    Tweeting in a bit.

    Ryan

    1. Hi Ryan,

      Yeah, some people get kinda scared of lists, but I enjoy them actually when I’m in the mood of working. They help to keep you on track.

      Now, that I think of it it’s important to know the person before you start a partnership and know him/her very well.

      Thanks for the comment ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. You raise some very significant points, Liudas. Just because we meet someone online who shares the same philosophy as us doesn’t mean this will automatically evolve into a fruitful business partnership.

    I’m considering an invitation from a group that want to create an online training programme, but am hesitant for many reasons. I’ve never done anything like this before, and going ‘all in’ to something big seems like too big of a risk at this stage.

    The legal stuff is paramount. Most people don’t know that, in the US at least, it’s illegal to collect an email address of an individual and not have a privacy policy. How much more are we missing by not looking this stuff up?

    1. Sharing the same philosophy is a good start, but your characters also should be in alignment.

      Well you either go for it or not, “half assing” usually won’t work.

      Thanks for the comment ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. What an honest post, Liudas. The two things I took away is: have a plan + do a little something towards that everyday. Glad you found your way with partnerships. I appreciate you sharing your knowledge with us!

  6. Hi Liudas, great post. Well done for being so open about the problems you’ve faced, and also for having the courage to wrap things up before it got even more sticky.

    Any sort of disappointment or failure is always a massive learning curve though. Glad to hear that you’re stronger for it now. Keep on keeping on!

    1. It was a hard decision to split the roads, because the business was providing some financial security. But I still decided to quit, because working together wasn’t enjoyable anymore.

      Now, it wasn’t a big disappointment, but because I lost that financial security I had to grow my productivity and ability to take action. From a self-improvement point of view it had a big impact on me.

  7. Great post!

    I’m looking to form a partnership with the editor of Book One of my children’s picture book series. My editor worked for one of the most recognized publisher of children’s books, so I know I’m in good company.

    Communication is key. You must be on the same page (pun intended). Otherwise, your partnership may have an unhappy ending.

    You can’t ignore the business side of partnerships. Contracts are a way to outline and protect both parties. If you have a good working relationship, signing a contract should not be that big of a deal.

  8. Great article! I agree with Kathryn — you’re lucky to have learned these lessons at such a young age, and thank you so much for sharing them with us. Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes: “There is no failure, only feedback.”

    I took the liberty of swiping — ahem, “curating” ๐Ÿ™‚ — this article for my blog, symblemeservicesonline.blogspot.com. I gave you all of the appropriate backlinks, credit, and so forth of course.

    Thanks again for the lessons. ๐Ÿ™‚

    ~ Catharine

    1. Yeah, I’m glad my self that I discovered internet marketing at this age. Have learnt to so much from all of it and also earned some money ๐Ÿ™‚

      Great quote!

      Thank you for curating it, appreciated ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Those are great lessons to learn at such a young age. I’m especially impressed with the suggestion that you not re-work your partner’s work. Not only is it a waste of time, but trusting your partner, or a team member, to do their job is a big part of good leadership. Constantly ripping down someone else’s work will cause them to stop working if they think you’re just going to re-do it anyway.

    1. Hi Kathryn,

      It was exactly how I felt. I didn’t really wanted to do anything for the business, because it was usually re-worked, if it didn’t fit the vision of my partner.

      Thank you for the comment ๐Ÿ™‚

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