I always knew that one day, I would start a business. My mother has launched several businesses, watching Shark Tank on Friday night is my idea of a good time, and a quick chat with Sallie Krawcheck about her professional women’s network, Ellevate, made my day.
But, I didn’t have any serious plans until I “met” my business partner six months ago.
I use “met” in quotes because for those of you that know me and Maggie, you’ll know that we didn’t just meet; we worked together at a financial services company for a couple of years before we started Keyword Marketing. At that time, she was reporting into me, but we hit it off from day one and I always felt like we were more partners than direct reports.
Needless to say, I was pretty devastated when Maggie told me she was leaving the company (and me) to return to her native Minnesota. But, just like Lucy and Ethel, we couldn’t stay apart for long and a year later, we got to talking and it turns out we shared a mutual passion for helping small businesses thrive through marketing. So, here we are.
"Luck? I don't know anything about luck. I've never banked on it and I'm afraid of people who do. Luck to me is something else: Hard work and realizing what is opportunity and what isn't."
Of all the things to think about when you start a business, who you choose to go into business with should be at the top of your list. In all honesty, I didn’t give much thought about why I should have a business partner or who it should be. Everything happened pretty quickly.
When I first started writing this article, I kept thinking about how lucky I was to end up with a great business partner – one that compliments me, challenges me, and cheers me on. But, Lucille’s quote made me realize that it really wasn’t luck that brought us together - it was all the work that we had put in years ago and an opportunity that was just too good to pass up.
Why you need an Ethel in your life
Business partners are great sounding boards
Some ideas are great, most are terrible, and like a great friend, a great business partner will help you distinguish between the two. Just like Ethel, who played the voice of reason to Lucy’s crazy ideas, you need to find someone that counterbalances you.
Whether you’re the one with the outlandish ideas or you’re the voice of reason, the greatest partnerships are the ones that balance both people out. It's in the middle space between wild/crazy and practical/rational where innovation comes to life.
Business partners can help divvy up the work
“What state do we incorporate in?”
“What business structure should we choose?”
“What forms do we have to fill out? And, HOW MUCH is that going to cost us? “
Early on, I set out to answer these questions and before I knew it, I had a million more questions, had Googled “benefits of a corporation vs. partnership” at least 50 different ways, and scheduled multiple meetings with lawyers and accountants in two separate states.
My head was spinning and it was pretty clear that the administrative stuff was taking over my life and taking time away from the business. And in the midst of all that, it was a relief to hear Maggie say, “How can I help? How about I take some of this on?”
Another time, after I spent a defeating weekend trying to figure out the daunting task of the accounting, Maggie offered to take it on the next month. I know there’s no way we would be as far along with Keyword if we hadn’t had leaned on each other and divided and conquered in all of our efforts. . . except for the accounting, which we just decided to outsource.
Business partners cheer you up and on
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt complete exhilaration from trying something completely new followed by the fear and doubt of not knowing what the hell we are doing – all on the same day, usually within 5 minutes of each other.
A good business partner will provide you with the right support at the right time - whether it’s cheering you up when that client conversation didn’t go the way you expected or when you have completely f’d up Quickbooks. And likewise, that same person will be there to celebrate when you had the most amazing meeting of your life or you had a moment that reinforces why you’re doing what you’re doing.
You’ll do the same for them over and over again because that’s how you’ll keep each other sane in the craziness of launching a business. That’s one of things I love about Lucy and Ethel’s relationship; regardless of how outrageous Lucy’s idea was or how much trouble they got into, they could always count on each other for mutual support.
What to look for in your Ethel
One of the things that sets “I Love Lucy” apart from other sitcoms during that era was that Lucy did not represent the typical 1950’s stay-at-home wife. Not only did she not act the way that she was supposed to, but she acted the complete opposite.
Lucy was constantly challenging the status quo (in this case, Ricky) and never took “no” for an answer. Essentially, the entire premise of the show relied on her creativity to get what she wanted or to make a point. I think of this admirable and endearing trait as creative persistence and it’s something that you just need to possess if you’re going to start up a business.
For Maggie and I, I’m not sure if creative persistence is something that we both inherently have or if we’re developing it over time, but for us, creative persistence is this unspoken rule that to make THIS work, we can’t let the naysayers of the world bring us down and to be really successful, we have to defy the normal convention, challenge each other openly and honestly, and get creative to do and be different.
I mentioned this before, but it’s so important that I’ll mention it again in a different context: You have to find a partner that compliments you on multiple levels. Not only do Maggie and I balance out each other’s personalities in a Lucy and Ethel sort of way, but we have very different skills, styles, and strengths.
If you find someone with the right mix of personality and skills that compliments you on multiple levels, you'll also find that the sum of your work is so much better than the individual parts. Always.
For example, Maggie’s creative, so she can take my customer insights or my half-baked campaign ideas and execute them in a way that I never even imagined. On the flip side, I’m better at marketing and business strategy, so I can market research, develop messaging and positioning, or run financial projections all day long. It’s the compilation of our experiences that enable us to create better deliverables for our clients.
A strong foundation
I’ve seen friends and family go into business together. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, the relationship always changes. Think about it: If work and fun were the same thing, they wouldn’t have two different names. Having fun with someone is pretty different than working together and just because you have fun together, doesn’t mean you’ll work well together, especially when your livelihood depends on it.
Or, maybe you spend so much time together that you may not want to spend any more time with that person on your “off” hours.
And, it’s natural to have disagreements and different ideas about how to do things, but it’s impossible not to take things personally if the foundation of your relationship is personal.
Maggie and I have always been co-workers first - our reporting relationship mandated it. So, we went into this with a foundation built on our work experiences together and trust that we had built over several years. And because of that foundation, we can have those open, awkward conversations without letting it affect our personal friendship.
I already touched upon this, but Maggie and I both share the same passion to help small businesses succeed through marketing. While we might have different ideas of how to do that, we are both bound by the same mission which helps us stay true to the business, even as it grows and evolves.
The fun factor
Okay. You can’t write an article referencing Lucy and Ethel without talking about all the fun that they had together. And, while “having or being fun” is not a reason to go into business together, it is so important to be able to laugh and have fun with your business partner.
While Maggie and I don’t see each other often because we’re in separate states, we talk multiple times a day and we always end up laughing about the most random, dumb stuff like the night we drank ourselves silly with French martinis, the way my iPhone innocently yet perversely autocorrects my text messages, or that Maggie began her marketing career with a Hilary Duff fan page.
So, why is fun such a factor in all this?
Because you’ll be spending more time with your business partner than your spouse, family, or friends. Because having fun and laughing makes life more enjoyable and makes everyone happy. Because who doesn’t want to work someone who is having fun, laughing, and is just plain happy?
And most importantly, because you decided to make a choice to pursue a dream, leave your footprint on the world, and create something that didn’t exist before. And, those are all reasons to be happy.
“I'd rather regret the things I've done than regret the things I haven't done.”
And, in case you’re wondering, here’s one of my favorite “I Love Lucy” scenes. What’s yours?
Keyword Marketing inspires creators, builders, and self-starters to bring their company to life. We help businesses develop their identity, share their personality with the world, and connect with their customers through education, coaching and workshops, and personalized consulting.
Image: Flickr/Hey Paul Studios