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Professional speaker/author/business consultant plus painting contractor
Seattle, Washington
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Do I Really Need A Partner in Business?

From 1938 to 1940, when I was six to eight years of age, I somehow knew that it was going to be much easier to sell corn and eggs door-to-door with a partner than without one.

Written May 24, 2008, read 2646 times since then.


Do I Really Need a Partner in My Business?

Let’s explore the importance of having a partner in business. From the years 1938 to 1940, I was six to eight years of age. Even at those tender years, I somehow knew that it was going to be much easier to sell corn and eggs door-to-door with a partner than without one.

Just two blocks away from our home, in Minot, North Dakota, lived one of my friends, Joey Rutten, a few years younger than I. Right off, I enlisted him to be a partner with me selling the produce my dad grew on a small farm outside of town. We sold eggs and corn for 10 cents/dozen, and we got to keep all the money. Little did I know that some 25 years later, we would hook up again in Seattle, Washington and venture out as partners in our Farrell’s franchise adventure.

I had attended Seattle University and had received a degree in civil engineering. Joe went to Gonzaga and obtained his college degree in accounting. After college, we both ended up working at The Boeing Company. After I had opened The Blue Banjo Night Club, Joe saw that I was having a lot more fun than he ever had working at Boeing, and asked if he could join me in partnership at the Blue Banjo. We eventually opened two more businesses in the same area, but neither was as successful as The Blue Banjo. We even called one of them our “$10,000 wind tunnel” as it was a great learning experience for both of us.

When we opened our first Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour Restaurant, we did a very wise thing. On a piece of paper, we drew a line down the middle and divided up the responsibilities we would share in running our establishment. Joe’s side included anything relating to the handling of money, lease negotiations, insurance, purchasing, hiring cashiers, fountain and kitchen staff. My side included anything relating to promotion, advertising, construction, maintenance, signage, interior design/décor and the hiring of waiters and busboys.

Each of these tasks involved a certain level of skill and we both were on a very steep learning curve otherwise we knew we would probably be out of business in less than a year. The first six months we were each working and learning at a rate of about 80 – 100 hours/week. Most people don’t realize that in order to be successful in any business, it will often require as much study and training as it would in order to be a surgeon or a lawyer. Of course, one is studying a different area of expertise, nevertheless, it can be just as grueling and demanding as the other. There are no shortcuts.

There is another element that is of the utmost importance. It would be what Michael Phillips refers to as ‘tradeskill’ in his book, Honest Business. He refers to tradeskill as the most important attribute anyone can have in business. It is not the same as ‘business ability’. ‘Tradeskill’ would be a word to describe the innate qualities that make one individual more effective than another in starting and operating successfully a small business.

I didn’t realize it when I quit my career as a Boeing engineer and opened my business that since both my parents had been entrepreneurs in their own ventures, I already had a significant advantage in creating a successful business. My father had created and operated a successful meat market in Minot, ND. My mother was always creating some kind of craft and always sold them for significant profits. Even when I was very small, my mother would run a food stand at the State Fair every summer, and I was right there as her number one assistant. Even back then, I was absorbing the ways of an entrepreneur.

On a scale of 1 – 10, Michael Phillips would give me a 10 simply because running a business was a natural element of my everyday life. If one parent has been an entrepreneur, you would receive a ‘6.’ So what if neither parent, nor any other family member was operating their own business…are you doomed for failure? No! Take heart, there are some simple choices you can make to compensate for this.

Some fifteen years ago, I met John Avinger, whose parents were both school teachers. He is the owner and operator of John’s Music Store in the Wallingford District in Seattle. He was really struggling to stay afloat. As John sold drums made in countries all around the world, and I also loved drumming, I became John’s business mentor. We met on a regular basis for a couple of years until he had the tradeskill to carry on alone.

As of this writing, John’s Music Store has been going now for some 26 years with no end in sight! When we met, every month looked like his last. I can honestly say that John has taught me through the years as much as I have been able to teach him.

Having someone who can lead you, mentor you through all the ups and downs of running a business is of the utmost importance. In the book, Honest Business, it states:

“There are several alternatives to consider if you don’t have tradeskill: You can go ahead (and probably fail), you can find a partner, get special training or find a boss.”

I would add one other thing and that is to hire a mentor or coach that has business savvy. It is far too difficult to go it alone unless you have no employees and you are working independently….and even so, it is still difficult.

Your partner could be what we call a ‘silent partner’, usually one who puts up the money, and with whom you meet on a regular basis. The most important thing would be that they know more about creating a successful business than you do, or they will not be much good for you in the long run.

What is wrong with not having a partner? It could possibly mean that your idea was not good enough to attract even your own friends who know you best. I will say it again: Starting a business is difficult for one person. In my own case, I needed someone who was present and available to talk me out of some dumb decision I was on the verge of making. I needed someone to bounce ideas around with and mostly, I needed someone to cheer me on when things were going south.

It is not much different than being in a marriage. Select your business partner with the similar care and consciousness as you would your spouse. Joe and I stayed partners for 17 years. We had many arguments and differences along the way, of course, but being in alignment with a common vision and goal with designated separate responsibilities helped us stay the course. I have had other more powerful and less powerful partners through the years, but when all is said and done, the partnership with my boyhood friend was probably the one where I learned the most and was by far the most fulfilling.

Look at all the great businesses listed in Jim Collins’ book, Built to Last, that were founded with complimentary partners: Walt Disney, HP, Proctor & Gamble, Marriott, Nordstrom, and now Microsoft.

If you don’t have a partner in your business at this time, write down the characteristics and the skills needed to be your partner. It is sort of like marriage…opposites attract. The things that are not easy for you, or that you don’t enjoy doing are exactly the skills and attributes that your business partner needs to possess.

Go hunting and be open to finding that great and long-lasting business partnership.

Professional speaker/author/business consultant plus painting contractor 
Seattle, Washington 
Jack Fecker

Jack is well known for his franchise development (NW) of Farrell's Ice Cream Parlours, and some 20 successful companies. He is considered one of the finest business consultants in the market place today.

100 Ideas an Hour

Learn more about the author, Jack Fecker.

Comment on this article

  • Personal Coach, Life Exfoliator, Public Speaker 
Bothell, Washington 
Andrew Delany
    Posted by Andrew Delany, Bothell, Washington | May 24, 2008

    Excellent, Jack! Way to go! Great references as well.... I have to keep reading to keep up with you....


  • greeting card puzzle manufacturer 
Stratford, Connecticut 
Monica Y. Dennis
    Posted by Monica Y. Dennis, Stratford, Connecticut | May 24, 2008

    Thank you, Jack! I was in this frame of mind myself! :-) I can't believe the amount of negativity my business partner and I have come across when people talk about partnerships. But she and I look at each other and shake our heads because we know we are SO glad to have each other. We have totally different gifts which work together to make the whole needed to do what we do. Just as important, we see eye-to-eye on what the business is and should be and we know each other's taste well enough to know what will pass muster with the other and what won't. This was a very important article (and I may still put my spin on the topic a little later on. ;-D)

    Thanks for writing it!

  • Intuitive Coach: For Business and Personal 
Seattle, Washington 
Banu Sekendur
    Posted by Banu Sekendur, Seattle, Washington | May 24, 2008

    Great article Jack. I totally believe in partnerships! I have been telling people lately that I want to do some kind of online business selling something and I needed a partner I could get along with who is also business savvy. Your article just conformed that. I am putting it out there to the universe and hope the right person will come along. :)

  • Health Coach and Certified Healer 
Seattle, Washington 
David  Tejeda
    Posted by David Tejeda , Seattle, Washington | May 24, 2008

    Hey Jack, Thanks! Great article. My business partner and I are still trying to figure things out. We have already separated much of our business and now he's having to learn much of what I was doing. I want to help him and I also need to focus more on my own business right now. If we had a clearer roles description like you described, it probably would have helped.

  • Engineer of Creative Identity • Author of "Identity Crisis!" 
Portland, Oregon 
Jeff Fisher
    Posted by Jeff Fisher, Portland, Oregon | May 25, 2008

    Jack - Great stories - and it was fun reading about Joe Rutten. I'm a friend of the Rutten family. Joe's son Greg was a fraternity brother in college and is still one of my closest friends. After we'd spend a weekend away from UO at his family home, Greg would tell me that he was never taking me to his home again because his parents liked me more than him!

  • Professional speaker/author/business consultant plus painting contractor 
Seattle, Washington 
Jack Fecker
    Posted by Jack Fecker, Seattle, Washington | May 25, 2008

    Thank you all for your comments. It means a lot to me. And Jeff, I sent a copy of this article to Joe Rutten to get his take on it and for accuracy. When a story is this old I need to check my memory on some of the details. I really had a ball writing this. I need to give much credit to my wife, Jane Bakken, for editing expertise. Sometimes my sentences don't make a lot of sense.

    100 Ideas an Hour
  • Multimedia Designer 
Grand Forks, North Dakota 
Justin Auch
    Posted by Justin Auch, Grand Forks, North Dakota | May 27, 2008

    Nice article. I grew up in Minot, ND too!

    I've never entertained the idea of having a business partner. After reading this article I can see how beneficial it can be. I'm definitely going to keep my eyes open for someone who compliments my style.

  • Web Developer - QA/IT Consultant 
Austin, Texas 
Dave Fecker
    Posted by Dave Fecker, Austin, Texas | May 27, 2008

    Having the unique experience in that the author is my father I can still say I learned a lot from this article. I too have been through the entrepreneurial "experiment" that resulted in failure, but I did learn a lot about myself and my limitations (I'm not an accountant by any means). I also have been extremely resistant to seeking any kind of partnership for fear of losing control of the business. but of course you need to have a successful business first, before someone would even consider taking anything away from it!

    I have learned that a partner, mentor and more training are all things I need to seek out when I start my business back up again. Which I plan to do hopefully sooner than later.

    Thanks Dad! Great article!

  • Business relationship coach 
Blairstown, New Jersey 
Jean Charles
    Posted by Jean Charles, Blairstown, New Jersey | May 27, 2008

    Great article! I like that you included in your scope of partnership not only formal business partners but also mentors, silent partners and coaches. Also, it seems you formed your partnerships very wisely by choosing a partner with compatible skills, dividing the responsibilities and putting things in writing. Written agreements are very important in any partnership. A book I highly recommend for anyone considering business partnership is "The Partnership Charter" by David Gage.

  • Managing Director 
Chandler, Arizona 
James Archer
    Posted by James Archer, Chandler, Arizona | May 29, 2008

    I started out working on my own, and did pretty well for myself, but it wasn't until I merged with another small firm (and took on partners for the first time), that we really began to hit our stride and thrive as a company.

    Finding the right partners can be as tricky as finding a spouse (or more so!), but once you've found those people, you can magnify each other's talents with spectacular results!

  • Co-Founder, Koinonia Business Women 
Olympia, Washington 
Krista Dunk
    Posted by Krista Dunk, Olympia, Washington | Oct 27, 2008

    Some of the most powerful things I've been involved in so far in my life (whether in business, investing or personal), have been while partnering up with other like-minded people. Maybe not like-skilled (which as you mentioned can be a bonus), but like-minded is a MUST HAVE.

    Fun article Jack!

  • Pole Dancing Instructor 
Seattle, Washington 
Angi Carlston
    Posted by Angi Carlston, Seattle, Washington | Dec 31, 2008

    Wow! I have been so reluctant to consider a business partner because of the negative things I've heard. I'm glad I read this because It just hit me like a ton of bricks how much I need a great business partner. Thanks!!!