When many see the words “business partnership,” a long sigh, side-eye, or grimace might be the instinctive response. There have been many disadvantages cited, in terms of partnerships; from having an unbalanced execution of responsibilities, to heightened possibilities of lengthy and frustrating legal disputes. When women, specifically, are added to the mix, there’s also the added pressure from negative stereotyping to consider. But, like anything, where there’s a negative side, there’s also a silver lining. When it comes to women partnering up to achieve their business and career goals, magic happens.
Partnerships make up more than 23% of all small businesses that are classified as “large employer firms” by the S.B.A., only second behind corporations. In terms of satisfaction in business, recent findings by the Partnership Resource, a conflict resolution, research, and management consulting firm, shows 90% of those involved in women-only partnerships would “choose the same partners again,” compared to about two-thirds of those in all-male or mixed-gender partnerships.
Even beyond the legal definition of a business partnership, partnering with women in other aspects, like when launching new initiatives or hosting popular events, can help you reach your entrepreneurial goals with a bit more ease than going it alone.
Business partners and friends Sonia Armstead and Rochelle Brown know just how powerful two women joining forces in business can be. In 2003, the two women partnered up to forge their own business path, after working in entertainment for more than a decade managing and creating content for the Food Network and Newstalk Television. Today they are the co-owners and executive producers of Powerhouse Productions, a New Jersey-based, full-service production company that boasts a successful track record of award-winning programming seen on networks such as TV One, BET, Cooking Channel, and Disney.
“Sonia and I were friends first,” says Brown. “Our sisterhood is what has transformed our business. It allows us to run our business in a unique way.”
Armstead counts the fact that they are women as an added and empowering plus. “It helps us understand the needs of other women, and makes us more open to understanding the struggles of women in a male-dominated business world. This equips us to give women an opportunity to get their foot in the door and excel, as well.”
Below, Armstead and Brown share how women can boost their business success by partnering up, and provides tips on how ladies should approach their partnership to ensure a prosperous relationship:
1. Do Your Research Before Agreeing to Partnerships of Any Kind
Be sure it’s a good fit, and that you are joining up with someone’s business that authentically aligns with your mission and goals.
“What is your goal or vision? Consider the pros and cons for all parties, and look at the bigger picture,” Armstead says. “Are you both on the same page? These are important questions to consider.”
2. Be Clear on Your Expectations Up Front, Especially for the Financial and Operational Factors
“We are 50-50 partners, and we set that up from the start,” Brown says.
When it comes to approaching new clients or partners, Brown adds, “Sonia and I are straight forward. We don’t even start putting out ideas, until the deal is done. Talk about the business first.”
Oftentimes, talking about money and legal aspects of a partnership can be a buzzkill. But Armstead says, “You can’t be afraid to have the difficult conversations.”
She also recommends considering factors like salary or rate-of-pay, percentages of ownership (whether it’s the full business, or a branded concept or initiative), the return on investment of resources or prospective work, and the specific roles of each party.
“How can you strategically plan out how you’ll get something accomplished? Establish this from the start,” Armstead adds.
3. Get to Know a Prospective Partner’s Strengths and Understand the Specific Role They Will Play
In Brown’s and Armstead’s case, their strongest traits and talents balance their relationship, like the yin-yang. “Rochelle never takes no for an answer, and is very creative,” Brown says. “She can sell ice to an Eskimo and has ‘the gift of gab.’ She’s strong, smart, and resilient. With those qualities, you have no choice to gravitate toward her.”
“Sonia is one of the most dynamic business women I’ve had the pleasure of knowing,” Armstead says. “She knows the business side of things. When I’m ready to run and just go for something, she’ll say, ‘Hold on—how much is that going to cost us?’ I call her the quiet storm. Her business and money skills are unbelievable.”
Finding someone that is strong in areas you may not be or who succeeds in certain areas that you don’t can make for a great pairing.
4. Keep Communication Open, Honest, and Respectful
“No matter what happens, honest and direct communication is what is most important in any relationship,” Brown says.
Armstead agrees. “If we disagree on an idea or way of approaching something, we talk to one another. No idea is a bad idea. We sit down and talk about ways to execute,” she says.
5. Know When to Step in and Take Charge, And When to Fall Back.
“Even when your partner doesn’t ask, know when to pick up the flack, if needed,” Brown says. “There are going to be times where you’re going to do a bit more, or the partner does a bit more. We don’t look at things that way. Whether the glass is full or half-empty, for us, it’s always [about recognizing] that we’ve got a job to get done, and our business reputation is on the line. Be aware, and act as a true team.”
“We have each other backs, and we remain a united front, come hell or high water,” Armstead says. “You also should encourage each other. Let each other know, as women, that you support one another. And, at the end of the day, be each other’s sister-friends.”