Partners For Profit

From limited partnerships to corporations, forming a successful business alliance takes time, planning and research.

and was comfortable with his work style and personality, the two native Georgians still asked each other a lot of personal questions before setting up their Atlanta-based company, Jones-Worley Inc. For instance, Jones, who was banking on there being plenty of business for a woman- and minority-owned design firm, anticipated that this might be a sensitive area for Worley, who is white. She probed to find out whether he would be uncomfortable with his “minority” role in a traditionally white, male-dominated field.

Satisfied there would be no problem, the two agreed up front that to enhance the firm’s image of uniqueness, Jones, who owns 65% of the business, would be the more visibly prominent partner. Two years ago, Jones-Worley garnered recognition for being the only woman-and black-owned graphics firm on the design team responsible for creating the overall “look” of the 1996 Summer Olympics, the “Quilt of Leaves” theme. The firm’s work designing signs, clocks, a poster and the look of specific venues helped push the company’s revenues well into the seven figures. Other clients include AT&T, Delta Air Lines, Coca-Cola and Turner Broadcasting. Since forming their partnership, the two have experienced a steady revenue growth of 25% annually.

Jones and Worley are both single, have no kids and can devote as much time as needed to the business, which was another factor Jones considered when taking Worley on as a partner. The two have different work styles but feel they complement one another. “Cynthia is impatient to see results and I’m more laissez faire,” says Worley. As vice president of Jones-Worley, he oversees signage work projects while Jones, who is president, brings in business and manages finance. “If we wer
e both the same, I think our employees would have a difficult time with us, which might have a negative effect on our ability to satisfy clients, Worley says.

By resolving potentially sticky issues beforehand, Jones and Worley have paved the way for a smooth-running partnership. Asking the tough questions can give you enough information to make the right decision about your choice of partners. What you find out may not discourage you from partnering, but it can help you decide how to set up the business to protect your assets or structure responsibilities around the person’s liabilities or weaknesses.

There are several ways to form a partnership, ranging from a general partnership to a corporation (see sidebar, “How to Legally Set Up”). The structure you choose should be the best possible fit for your liability, capitalization and taxation requirements. To help you determine what will work best, be sure to pull financial and legal advisors in before you start making decisions that might limit your options.
In addition to setting up the business, you may also need to look at additional ways to protect your own assets from possible attachments or liens generated by your partner down the line. If, for instance, your potential partner is planning a divorce in the near future, you can minimize impact on your own

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