By Natasa Cvijanovic
In my first Street SmartsSM article, I mentioned that my husband and I run a family-owned ISO. It is only natural that our children are involved in our business. The younger one handles the mail, scans and files documents, and provides general assistance to other office employees; the older one handles receptionist duties, data entry, inventory control, proofreading marketing communications, and other routine day-to-day tasks. And, yes, we rehired the employee who quit via text message only because she shares our last name.
Many of my industry colleagues also run some of the most successful ISOs and merchant services companies with their family or friends. You may have thought about forming a business partnership with your spouse, relative or close friend, but maybe you're not sure if it's a good idea.
Nobody can tell you whether it is indeed a good idea. You have no choice but to evaluate a family member or friend as you would a potential partner you've just met. Can their skills help your business? If an individual appears to be an ideal business partner, being related to or friends with them should not prevent you from working together.
While I cannot tell you whether you should go into business with a relative or friend, I can share suggestions that have helped protect relationships and ensure business success for many partnerships in our industry. Consider, for instance, prevention versus retention. One requires less time and stress than the other, so it is critical to establish ground rules for your business before a rift develops.
Most couples don't marry simply because they enjoy spending time together, and the same goes for business partnerships. Just because you share the same favorite movie or food doesn't guarantee you will agree on how to run your company. If you and your partner don't share the same business objectives, the fact that you trust him or her more than any other potential partner probably won't be enough to ensure success—and working together may even ruin your relationship.
Personal and professional success are built on the same basic principles, so don't take communication for granted or assume you and your business partner are on the same page simply because you know each other well. Even though you may be intimately familiar with each other, you must communicate frequently and clearly about everything, especially difficult business matters. When running a business (or at any time) ignorance is never bliss.
This may seem obvious, but you need a written business plan regardless of who your business partner is. If you don't already have a business plan or are considering registering as an ISO, write one yourself or hire a business lawyer to help you. Make time for uncomfortable but necessary discussions about what could go wrong in your partnership or business. Having a business plan will serve as a back-up plan if your relationship changes.
Define your roles and responsibilities. Consider each other's strengths when assigning responsibilities. Make every effort, despite the possibility of occasional overlap, to establish and maintain clear boundaries. You won't always agree on everything but defining your roles early can help prevent conflict and power struggles. It will also prevent your personal relationships from leading to poor business practices that impact your merchants.
Establish clear boundaries. Employees don't like being micromanaged, and neither will your business partner, particularly if the person is your spouse, relative or close friend. You and your partner should be open to each other's ideas, but you each have the final say in your respective areas of responsibility.
Also, are you committed to running a business as a partner? Doing anything out of obligation or expectation can lead to resentment. Avoid this by maintaining your dedication to the company and the partnership. If your commitment is compromised, be open about it and expect the same honesty from them.
Respect each other. When running a business with someone you have a personal connection with, your thoughts and emotions can become clouded or irrational. To conduct business professionally, you must keep your emotions in check. When you're in an emotional frame of mind, you may be tempted to say things you don't mean, resulting in unproductive conversations. If a discussion becomes too heated, take a break. Allow your mind to cool down by spending time alone. When my business partner and I disagree on an issue and reaching an agreement appears impossible, our emotions can run high. What works for us is having a code word that informs the other person that we are leaving the argument to regain our composure. After clearing our minds, we can typically approach the conflict differently.
Leverage the trust you've established in your personal relationship to strengthen your business relationship. Set aside time for weekly team meetings. Even if there are only two of you, regular meetings with agendas should be on your calendar.
Comparisons are often made between business partnerships and marriage, and if you run a business with your spouse, you will undoubtedly be able to relate on both counts. Mutual respect, trust, and open, honest and frequent communication are a must in both business partnerships and marriages.
If you embark on this adventure, you will experience both highs and lows throughout your partnership. You will have fun building your brand, selecting products that will benefit your merchants for years to come, designing or building your products or POS, establishing a loyal merchant base, and more.
But you will also work on less enjoyable tasks (and rehiring your teenager after they quit may be one of them). Because there is a strong possibility you will spend more time with your business partner than with your life partner, make sure you and your business partner can maintain a pleasant, productive working relationship for many years.
Managing a business with someone you know well can be challenging but extremely rewarding and special if the proper foundation is laid. By implementing some of these proven partnership strategies, your relationship will grow alongside your business.
Natasa Cvijanovic, co-founder and CEO of Tesla Payments, has a proven track record within the payment industry of cultivating successful relationships with ISOs, MLSs and strategic partners. In developing national sales channels, she provides training and coaching to sales partners to enable them to become better business partners and advocates for their merchants, and to assist them in building portfolios producing steady residual streams. She is also dedicated to consistently delivering high levels of professionalism, integrity, dependability and trustworthiness. Contact her at email@example.com.
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