This is a guest post by Steven Spenser, Principal, Praxis Communication. Steven is a frequent, valuable contributor to the Solo PR Pros group on LinkedIn – we asked him to provide this blog post, based on one of his helpful LI answers. If you have any insights or experiences to add, let us know in the comments!
One of the biggest challenges for an independent practitioner who’s used to working alone is joining forces with another PR professional in a business partnership. Launching a new firm can be a heady experience, full of optimism and energy, as you combine your talents, capabilities and resources to pursue and service clients neither of you would have been able to land by yourselves.
The business papers you both sign will outline the what of your partnership, but before you put pen to paper, take some time to consider the equally important how of your new relationship:
Examine every expectation, assumption and preconception about every aspect of how you’re going to function together. Find out how your partner prefers to structure his/her day. Review and discuss management and working styles. Your partner may have a completely different way of operating from you, and you need to avoid being blindsided by it.
Review interpersonal communication styles. Some professionals will prefer updating the other via e-mail or face-to-face, while others will choose voicemail or texting. Agree on how you will provide information to each other.
Daily sync ups
Make the time to hold regularly scheduled daily briefings, one in the morning to agree on or discuss the day’s action items, and another at the end of the day to debrief each other on results and achievements. Hire an office manager to run your meetings. He/she will be the central repository of your telephoned, texted, e-mailed or in-person account and schedule updates throughout the day, and will use them in creating the agenda for your meetings.
Briefing each other on how your days went in regard to tasks assigned or self-selected that morning will make your A.M. meetings shorter, since they will only need to focus on the required action items for the new day. As you become more used to how each other operates, and if the office-manager update process functions smoothly, the second daily meeting can eventually be dispensed with.
Records and procedures
Document everything! Every meeting and non-trivial conversation should be at least summarized, if not recorded and transcribed, so that (mutually agreed) decisions and action items are available for reference if disagreements crop up. Assuming both partners do not go to the same client meetings all the time, documentation will be easier if you only update your office manager instead of constantly notifying your partner while she/he is working on other accounts.
Review each other’s procedures for documenting account work. Working as a solo practitioner, you each were able to get by with keeping all your account notes and histories in your head, briefcase, computer or mobile device. You will need to design account forms for your partnership so that neither of you will have to rely on the personal notes of the other—or, God forbid, the other person’s memory or on oral briefings your partner gives you. If you don’t hire an office manager, at least hire a secretary to transcribe personal notes, enter them onto the account report forms, and file or pull them as needed. To protect against hardware failures, decide whether the primary version of your client forms will be electronic or paper, and copy the one form into the other as backup.
You should also establish a password-protected, online collaboration site for storing account information, plans, work products in progress that may need joint editing or review, meeting notes, decisions, schedules, updates, etc. Do NOT use your own firm’s Web site for this; having it on another server will preserve critical data if your site encounters problems. Naturally, you will want to back up both your site and your secure collaboration site to another service.
When you determine roles and functions, be aware that many professionals will stake out or shape their desired role(s) based on their own perception of how good they are at various functions. You must be careful not to take your partner’s assurances of skill sets at face value if you have had no opportunity to validate those claimed proficiencies. Since no professional likes to admit weaknesses, ask each other, “What functions do you most dislike doing, and which professional areas, skills or functions are you most likely to need my support with?”
Don’t forget the family
You might spend so much time with your new partner—especially relaxing after work—that your spouses or loved ones become jealous. Take the time to have company social get-togethers for them to meet your partner (and/or employees), and have periodic dinner dates or weekend lunches together with just the four of you.
Getting a new business off the ground can require lots of long nights and lost weekends, so remember that you’re not gaining only a single partner. If you have a husband/wife, or a boyfriend/girlfriend you see almost every night, you already *have* a partner. If your partner is in a similar situation, your new business arrangement actually is adding *two* more partners into your life. In other words, you are now officially a foursome, because your new partner’s personal life is going to affect your business partnership.
If you value your marriage or committed relationship, never give your existing partner reason to doubt that your personal relationship with him/her comes first. You will need to work out with your new business partner how to arrange schedules, work loads and functions so that each of you is able to demonstrate your commitment to your loved one(s).
Good fortune to you.
Steven Spenser, principal of Praxis Communication in Seattle, is an award-winning former editor and writer with The AP and The Seattle Times who specializes in online marketing/PR, public affairs, corporate communications and nonprofit PR. Steven has managed corporate communications and PR for several Seattle-area tech firms, start-ups and nonprofits, and has consulted for PR firms in the Northwest, Silicon Valley, Canada and on the East Coast. His clients have included the Government of the Russian Federation and Seattle’s E.coli victims organizing against Jack in the Box. He can be reached at Steven@Praxis-PR.com. View his LinkedIn profile here.
Steven, thank you so much for the thorough advice on developing partnerships. Many do not consider the myriad of decisions that must be made to form a solid working relationship with another professional, and the tools and processes needed to facilitate working together. Appreciate your insight on this topic, it is very helpful.
I once had a ring-side seat (as a subcontractor) to an agency partnership as it was dissolving. Sadly, it was as nasty as any divorce! Having an exit strategy defined in advance if things aren’t working, along with all the tips here, could have prevented most of the chaos. I think the points about the impact a partnership has on your personal relationships are especially interesting – thanks for sharing, Steven!
The exit strategy is an important point, Kellye. I specifically didn’t include it here because partnership contracts usually address dissolution procedures–and if they didn’t, any competent lawyer can provide that information to a dissatisfied partner.
Exit strategy is hard; no one wants to think about the end but just like any relationship, it’s wiser to plan for it, manage the expectations and have that ‘business’ pre-nup in place for the ‘what ifs.’
“Document everything.” I could not agree more. I run into it often with those who want to do more by phone, even text; I’m like no – we’re putting this in email and making sure we’re clear, which is in both our interests. FWIW.
So true, Davina – putting things in writing is in everyone’s interest. Smart partners are comfortable with this, and there’s no need for mistrust.