(This is the third in an occasional series.)
Liz and Monica have a successful partnership doing all aspects of design and social media marketing. So far their clients have been small-to-medium sized businesses, but they’re eager to work with bigger organizations. Both women are hard-working and good at what they do. They’re equally committed to the success of the business and both put in long hours. On a personal level they get along well but sometimes see things differently.
For example, they were recently approached by one of the big national payday loan firms to put together a proposal for a complete re-branding project. Liz feels that the payday loan business harms the community. She doesn’t want to bid on the project because she feels that, by working for them, she would be complicit in the harm. Monica believes that “a dollar is a dollar” and that they’re not in a position to be so picky. This job might be their stepping stone to bigger projects. She wants to bid on the job. The two women are at an impasse and it seems there is no way to resolve it.
To my mind, shared core values are the single most important factor in a successful business partnership. Partners don’t need to be best friends; they don’t need to have similar personalities or even much of a shared history. But if they don’t share some basic values, the partnership is doomed.
Can Liz and Monica’s partnership be saved?
Maybe: If Monica is comfortable selling their services to anyone who can afford them, and Liz isn’t, then they two women won’t be in business together much longer.
Yet while Monica might have no problem with the payday loan business, there are likely to be at least some types of organizations she wouldn’t want to support. For example, she might not be comfortable working for certain political parties, or for businesses that test products on animals, or tobacco companies. But thinking this out before every new project and having to debate about every potential client is simply not efficient.
Liz and Monica need to have a conversation and come to an agreement about their business practices. Will they refuse to work with certain kinds of clients? Will they accept all potential business until they reach a certain level of success, and then start to be more choosy? The same causes that are important to Liz might not be important to Monica. They might have different priorities and different moral intuitions. That’s OK – as long as they present a united front, agree to support one another, and jointly reject clients on their “disapproved” list.
For more about business partnerships, see:
Can this Partnership be Saved (1) – Martin & Eli have different management styles
Can the Partnership be Saved (2) – Sam’s idea; John’s work. How will they share the profits?