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Business Partners 
4imprint.com
Finding Mr. or Ms. Right: How to find 
a business partner 
Committing to a business partner is a big decision. It’s a lot like getting married 
and most don’t recommend rushing into either one too quickly. After all, 
choosing the wrong partner could damage your business and a separation could 
be costly. And sadly, research shows most business partnerships end in divorce— 
estimates from 2011 found that a shocking 80 percent don’t make it.1 
That’s probably why an estimated 72 percent of small businesses get cold 
feet when they consider forming a relationship with a business partner and 
subsequently remain sole proprietorships.2 Yet, if done correctly, the right 
business partner can be a match made in heaven. Although finding that 
match isn’t always easy … you have a lot of choices, from general to strategic 
partnerships, all of which come with their own set of obligations and rules 
for decision-making and responsibilities. 
You can get a lot of great advice to help you with your decision from companies 
that have “been there-done that.” Some have produced products they never 
would have been able to otherwise. Others have shared the costs of highly 
innovative projects. However some of the less fortunate have found themselves 
in lengthy court battles when things have gone wrong. Like most things in life, 
there are the good and the bad. Bottom line: There’s a lot to consider when 
seeking the perfect union. 
This Blue Paper® examines how to determine if a business partner is right for your 
company. It will provide you with the questions you should ask before making 
this commitment. It will walk through the advantages and disadvantages of 
partnerships and outline the main types. The paper will also discuss what to look 
for in a partner and what to avoid, as well as provide some simple checklists along 
the way to help you through the process. 
For better or worse: Partnership benefits 
To truly be a partnership, you must actually give someone else a stake in your 
business. It may mean teaming up with Mr. or Ms. Right to pursue your next big 
idea or bringing in the ying to your yang to assist in areas of the business you 
need help developing. No matter why you feel you need a business partner, 
1 “The 80% Rule of Business Partnerships - The Power of Collaboration.” The Power of Collaboration. N.p., n.d. 
Web. 10 July 2014. <http://www.petersimoons.com/2013/07/the-80-percent-rule/>. 
2 Tabita, John. “Partnerships: Boon or Ruin for Your Business?” SitePoint. N.p., 13 Nov. 2011. Web. 10 July 2014. 
<http://www.sitepoint.com/partnerships-boon-or-ruin-for-your-business/>. 
© 2014 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
you really want to make sure you are compatible because you’ll be spending 
time together. Just like when you plan a wedding, you can go big or small with 
partnerships. Whether choosing someone to help with a portion or division of 
your business or to fully share in every aspect, for better or worse, a partnership 
can help: 
• balance skill sets, 
• split costs and share risks, 
• develop better ideas, 
• share responsibilities, 
• leverage greater expertise and knowledge, and 
• expand networks.3 
When searching for the perfect partner, you’ll want to look for someone 
who excels in areas that complement your strengths in order to balance 
the business responsibilities. That might seem like a simple statement but 
it forces you to be brutally honest about both your strengths and your 
weaknesses. That can be a hard thing to do, especially for those that 
possess that burning entrepreneurial spirit. 
As well as helping balance skill sets, there is often a financial benefit to taking 
on a partner. It’s not only married couples that pay less tax—partnerships do, too. 
With some forms of partnership, there is no need to file separate tax returns for 
the business and its owners, saving not only on taxes but also on the forms you 
have to complete. Oftentimes, you can even split your income and avoid double 
taxation.4 To learn more about the partnerships’ tax benefits, check out the IRS 
site on how partnerships are taxed. 
For newer companies, partnering can reduce the financial stress of start-up costs. 
And strategic partnerships can provide emerging companies with access to new 
tools and technologies. Even large corporations can benefit. Take the case of 
partners Coca Cola® and Heinz®, for example. Together, they worked to develop 
the environmentally friendly, PlantBottle™ made completely of plant-derived 
materials and residues. Coca Cola has prototyped the design and is collaborating 
with Heinz for bottling.5 
If you are running a business on your own, a partner can help relieve some of the 
associated stress by sharing responsibilities. No longer do you have to go it alone 
3 “Start a Business with a Partner.” Smarta RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 July 2014. <http://www.smarta.com/advice/ 
starting-up/business-ideas/start-a-business-with-a-partner/>. 
4 Latham, Andrew. “The Tax Benefits of Forming a General Partnership.” Small Business. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 July 
2014. <http://smallbusiness.chron.com/tax-benefits-forming-general-partnership-19353.html>. 
5 Turiera, Teresa, and Susanna Cros. “Co-Business: 50 Examples of Business Collaboration.” Co-society.com. Co- 
Society, July 2013. Web. 20 Aug. 2014. <http://www.co-society.com/wp-content/uploads/CO_business_2013.pdf>. 
© 2014 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
when making decisions that carry a hefty price tag. For example, Leo Laporte, 
who founded the TWiT network, describes his biggest mistake as trying to do it 
all himself.6 According to LaPorte, he thought he knew everything about media 
and content. But he didn’t know anything about finance, marketing, advertising 
or human resources—all things needed for a viable business. When his company 
stalled after a few years of stellar growth, he found himself spending more time 
fighting fires than doing the stuff he loved. So, he took on a business partner 
and granted her full authority to get the job done—something he says that 
although it felt as if he were giving up a piece of the business, was a vital step 
toward success. 
Partners can also provide access to greater expertise and bigger networks, in 
many cases simply by sharing employees and clients. 
Marital discord: Disadvantages of partnerships 
With the good comes the bad; and there’s bound to be some marital discord 
at one time or another. Marriage isn’t always a bed of roses, and the same can 
be said about partnerships. Obviously, the first disadvantage is that you will 
probably have to share profits. This can be a big adjustment, especially if you have 
enjoyed the profits alone for many years. But some organizations also find that 
partnerships can: 
• put existing relationships at risk; 
• negatively impact financial standing; 
• significantly shift business ideas or operations; 
• contribute to discord that jeopardizes the company; 
• reduce corporate independence; 
• challenge the leadership framework; and, 
• make it difficult to resolve conflict7. 
Partnership can at times put stress on an existing relationship. Whether the 
potential partner is a family member, long-time friend, business associate, investor 
or supplier, issues may arise that must be addressed before you can live happily 
ever after. 
But relationships aren’t the only thing that can be negatively impacted. 
Partnerships can take a toll on your financial standing, too. Under some mergers, 
6 Cooper, Belle Beth. “The 13 Biggest Failures From Famous Entrepreneurs And What They’ve Learned From 
Them.” Businessinsider.com. Business Insider, 5 Sept. 2013. Web. 20 Aug. 2014. <http://www.businessinsider. 
com/startup-failures-learning-2013-9>. 
7 Start a Business with a Partner.” Smarta RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 July 2014. <http://www.smarta.com/advice/ 
starting-up/business-ideas/start-a-business-with-a-partner/>. 
© 2014 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
you will have to take on existing debts. Or, in the case of a general partnership, 
which can be set up without any paperwork if two people agree to conduct 
business for profit, you will be held responsible for any business debts8. Limited 
partnerships, too, have to have at least one general partner who is liable for 
debts9. Make sure you take all these factors into consideration before things 
get serious. 
Joining with another party can also cause business ideas or operations to shift. 
You may have to give up some pet projects and move away from what you 
see as your organization’s core values and objectives. How do you feel, for 
example, about relinquishing a certain amount of independence and changing 
the leadership framework? On top of that, you’ll need to consult with your 
partner and perhaps negotiate to meet in the middle to satisfy both parties. 
Flexibility and accommodation are a must when it comes to decision making in 
partnerships—this can be a big adjustment for some independent thinkers. 
Whether big or small, conflict is inevitable and will probably surface at some 
point during the partnership, even if you and your partner seem to have found 
the perfect match. You will need to determine how to resolve conflict quickly and 
fairly. Ultimately, if partners fail to resolve conflicts, it can lead to a dramatic and 
traumatic breakup—cue the demise of what was perhaps the greatest band of all 
time, The Beatles. 
Before you take the plunge consider 
your dating options 
So, you have looked at the advantages and disadvantages of a partnership— 
what now? First, you need to decide if you really need a business partner 
in the first place. And you need to know with absolute clarity the values, 
mission, purpose and goals of whatever business partnership you are 
considering. Only then are you ready to start considering your options to 
determine what type of business partner is right for you. BizFilings® What 
type of business partner is right for me is a great place to start. It will walk 
you through some of your options and help you to appreciate the tax and 
profit sharing implications, along with the pros and cons. 
Next, you will need to consider the type of partnership best suited for your 
business and situation. Here are some of the more common options to consider: 
8 “Are You Personally Liable for Business Debts?” Nolo.com. NOLO, n.d. Web. 20 Aug. 2014. <http://www.nolo. 
com/legal-encyclopedia/personally-liable-business-bebts-business-bankruptcy.html>. 
9 “Are You Personally Liable for Business Debts?” Nolo.com. NOLO, n.d. Web. 20 Aug. 2014. <http://www.nolo. 
com/legal-encyclopedia/personally-liable-business-bebts-business-bankruptcy.html>. 
© 2014 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
• General Partnership (GP) 
• Limited Partnership (LP) 
• Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) 
• Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) 
• Limited Liability Limited Partnership (LLLP) 
• Strategic partnerships 
Figure 1. outlines the basic requirements of the main partnership types. 
Figure 1. Partnership summary and requirements 
© 2014 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved 
General Partnership (GP) 
A general partnership involves merging with general partners who agree to 
share in the profits and losses of the business. GPs are taxed at the individual 
level, not the entity level. And each partner takes part in managing the business 
and sharing responsibility for all liabilities. So, for example, if one partner is 
sued, all partners are held liable and the debts are shared. For some, this makes 
a general partnership an unattractive option. But there are good reasons for 
considering it as well. For one, you don’t have to worry about state filing, making 
it the easy choice. And start-up costs can be lower, too. There are no formation 
filing fees, state fees or franchise taxes, for example. Plus, there is a lot less 
red tape than with other options. You are under no obligation to hold annual 
meetings with owners, issue partnership interest or keep personal assets separate 
from business assets.
The split between partners under GPs is usually 50/50, but those terms are not 
set in stone and can vary. Partners could, for instance, agree to work without pay 
from the start until a revenue target was hit. Or one partner could agree to hand 
over more money if the other brings in expertise or business contacts. The payouts 
can change as the business grows—it’s this flexibility that makes GPs the preferred 
choice for many. 
© 2014 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved 
Limited Partnership (LP) 
If not a GP, then maybe an LP is right for you. Under an LP, there has to be at least 
one general partner who will be liable for any business debts. The other partners 
are generally not involved in the day-to-day running of the business and their 
liability risk is limited. These limited partners are really investors who are most 
interested in picking up their share of the profits. 
This set up can leave you with more freedom to make decisions to manage the 
company and keep control of your business. Partners benefit by sharing in the 
profits while keeping their personal assets (homes, cars, investments, etc.) out 
of the equation. This makes LPs popular for short-term projects, ventures or 
special situations, such as movie production or family estate planning. Under this 
structure, partners are taxed at the individual level. 
Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) 
Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs) are another option, combining the limited 
liability of a corporation with the taxation obligations of a partnership. Unlike 
corporate shareholders, the owners can participate in the management of the 
company. There can be an unlimited number of owners all of which have limited 
liability, making this an especially desirable option for small businesses. And 
partners are taxed at the individual level. 
Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) 
Limited Liability Partnerships (LLPs) may fit the bill if the other options are not 
desirable. LLPS set limits for everything other than personal accounts. Partners 
define exactly what liabilities they are prepared to take on for errors, omissions, 
negligence, incompetence or malpractice committed by partners or employees. 
This helps protect personal assets from being touched to pay debts or lawsuits, 
unless partners are personally liable for wrongful or negligent acts. 
Doctors tend to like this option, as it limits liability for third-party lawsuits, except 
for personal malpractice. So, if partner A is sued for malpractice, partner B’s
personal assets are not at risk, unless partner B supervised or directed partner A’s 
actions that led to the claim. This form of partnership is restricted by state law— 
only a limited number of professions including accountants, attorneys, architects, 
dentists, doctors and other fields treated as professionals under state law can 
organize this way.10 
Beyond these three approaches, there are some other forms of partnerships 
worth taking a quick run through. 
Limited Liability Limited Partnership (LLLP) 
A relatively new option, a Limited Liability Limited Partnership (LLLP) is made 
up of general partners who manage the organization and limited partners 
who simply have a financial stake. You have to be living in one these states 
to qualify though: Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, 
Maryland, Nevada, Texas and Kentucky. With LLLP’s, partners are taxed at the 
individual level. 
© 2014 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved 
Strategic partnerships 
Sometimes organizations may come together to form a strategic partnership 
to share resources or supplement aspects they do not have in-house. There are 
not necessarily legal obligations with this option, so it can be a win-win for 
engineers, manufacturers and product developers. It’s also popular with smaller, 
entrepreneurial firms or inventors who make specialized products. The larger 
partner provides cash or some other form of support, while the smaller partner 
brings technical or creative expertise to the table. You can also form a strategic 
partnership if you’re looking to team up for advertising, marketing, branding, 
product development or other business functions. 
Time to set expectations 
Once you have decided that a partnership is the right move and you’ve chosen 
the type that works best for you and your organization, you’ll need to paint a 
clear picture of your expectations for your partner and what you’re willing to 
bring to the partnership. To start this process, it’s a good idea to answer a few 
questions about yourself and your organization to help hone the process: 
• What do I really need from a partner in the first place? 
• What do I expect from a business partner? 
10 “Choosing the Right Type of Business Partnership.” BizFilings. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 July 2014. <http://www. 
bizfilings.com/learn/form-partnership.aspx>.
• What are the partner’s expectations? 
• How will I know when I find the right partner? 
© 2014 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved 
What do you want? 
To start, you’ll need to dig deep and reaffirm that you are positive you want a 
business partner. Clearly outline what you need and be specific in answering this 
question so you can make sure that a partner is the right decision. Can you fulfill 
these needs through additional hiring or training? If so, perhaps giving up a stake 
in your organization is not necessary. Once you decide exactly what you need, you 
can begin to narrow down the list of candidates. 
What do you expect? 
Next, you should outline exactly what you need from a partner. Perhaps you 
want a partner that brings something different to the table. If you’re a creative 
organization, you may desire a more detail-oriented partner that can assist 
with day-to-day operations. If you have capital to invest, you might want to 
find a partner with access to other markets or a solid customer base. The 
objective is to find a partner that complements the skills and overall 
personality of the organization. 
What does a partner expect? 
Equally, while you might not know exactly what your significant other expects 
at first, it’s important to make sure you are both on the same page from the 
get-go. Think about what a potential partner might expect in terms of time, 
resource commitment and task division. Look at the partnership from the other’s 
perspective to anticipate what he or she might ask for before ever going on that 
first date. 
Identifying the ideal partner 
Finally, identify parameters, characteristics and behaviors of “The One” so you’re 
in a better position to notice when Mr. or Ms. Right is standing before you. 
There are some business partner checklists available online to help you work 
through this process. Your Business Partner Checklist is a tool you can use to 
stimulate thought-provoking conversations among partners. Or, The 12 Step 
Checklist For A Successful Business Partnership can help you identify key partner 
attributes and contributing factors to a successful partnership.
If after all of this, you are not confident in finding your own partner, there are 
some “dating services” you may want to turn to. Many of these broker services 
are similar to the likes of eHarmony™ but for entrepreneurs. Alliance Experts 
provides you with a quick overview of potential strategic partners at home or 
abroad. Simply fill out your profile outlining what you have to offer and what 
you are seeking. Or if you’re up for some speed dating, you could try a company 
like Onevest, which brings together a vibrant community of entrepreneurs 
and investors looking to build, fund and launch successful startups. Think 
crowdsourcing for a business partner. Go it alone or use a service—there are 
many ways to get a date. 
Before you propose: What you need to know 
about potential partners 
Once you’ve dated for a while and you think you’ve found the perfect match, 
you may be ready to pop the question. Before you take that final leap, step back 
and make sure you know everything you need to know about your partner. You 
will need to have a deep understanding of your potential partner’s operations, 
performance and economic standing. After all, you don’t want to partner with 
someone who is unstable or has a questionable past—these are things that can 
doom your partnership both now and in the future. 
© 2014 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved 
Be sure to ask: 
• What is your potential partner’s financial situation? 
• Is your potential partner’s commitment to the business as strong as yours? 
• How would a partner handle a tough situation? 
• What is the potential partner’s standing in the community? 
• Is your partner willing to put everything in writing? 
If you want to explore these questions in detail, check out the online article 
10 Questions to Ask Before Committing to a Business Partner. Author Lisa 
Girard notes that “… a business partnership often begins with enthusiasm 
and high expectations—only to end in acrimony and legal proceedings. It’s 
important to know as much as possible about a potential partner, including 
how his or her finances and family life may affect the business, before signing 
on the dotted line.”11 
11 Girard, Lisa. “10 Questions to Ask Before Committing to a Business Partner.” Entrepreneur. N.p., 26 July 2013. 
Web. 16 July 2014. <http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/227576>.
© 2014 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved 
Know what to avoid 
Keep in mind that not all companies are the marrying type. Just as you need 
to know what to look for in a partner, you also need to think about what 
partnerships to avoid. These include:12 
1. Mr. Employee: A first-time entrepreneur who enjoys a regular 
paycheck and being home for dinner. 
2. Ms. Perfectionist: Someone who always wants one more 
comprehensive survey. 
3. Mr. College Buddy: He had a great idea in a bar, needs your help, 
but is unable to commit to the project. 
4. Ms. Inventor: A brilliant academic who wants to commit everything 
into research and development but doesn’t understand the need 
for profitability. 
5. Mr. Right: A “my way or the highway” guy who makes decisions 
without telling anyone. 
6. Ms. Dreamer: She dreams of a big payday but has no idea how to 
keep a business in the black. 
7. Mr. Spender: Someone who needs a big salary and doesn’t care 
about getting the most from every dollar for the business. 
8. Ms. CEO: Someone more interested in her title and its trappings than 
in real work. 
9. Mr. Vacation: Someone who never seems to be around. 
10. Ms. Personal Issues: Someone who always has a sad story and seems to 
need a babysitter or psychiatrist. 
If you want to read more about these guys and gals, have a look at The 10 Worst 
Partners from Entrepreneur®. You’ve weeded out the bad seeds. Now it’s time to 
put in in writing. 
You need a prenuptial: Put a partnership 
agreement in place 
You have decided to commit and you’re ready to walk down the aisle. There is still 
a tricky conversation to be had: the prenup. Unfortunately, without a prenuptial 
agreement, you can end up paying a pretty penny if your marriage doesn’t work 
out. And in business partnerships, you’ll want a legally binding document to 
protect your organization from being taken to the cleaners if things go south. 
Enter the partnership agreement. 
12 Gerber, Scott. “The 10 Worst Partners For Your Start-Up.” Entrepreneur.com. Entrepreneur Media, Inc., 29 
June 2014. Web. 6 Aug. 2014. <http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/202434>
Having a solid partnership agreement in place can make things a lot easier in the 
event things don’t work out, and it’s pretty much a red flag if a potential partner 
doesn’t want one. A clear partnership agreement should be drafted by attorneys 
and signed by all parties involved. At a minimum, it should address: 
© 2014 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved 
• percentage of ownership, 
• allocation of profits and losses, 
• binding the partnership, 
• the death of a partner, 
• how to make decisions, and 
• resolving disputes. 
Sharing ownership 
As you draft a partnership agreement, take a hard look at the percentage of 
ownership. You’ll need to record how much each partner is contributing to the 
partnership both in terms of cash and sweat equity. The exact percentages of 
ownership should also be outlined here. For instance, a partner who works the 
business full-time may get a larger percentage or vice versa—there’s a lot of ways 
to determine this number, but it needs to be included in the agreement upfront. 
Sharing the rewards 
An agreement must also look at how profits and losses will be allocated. Will 
they be shared in proportion to a partner’s ownership interest, or will partners 
be permitted to allocate profits from the business prior to the actual distribution 
among all partners? This practice is commonly known as a draw. 
What is binding? 
Formal partnership agreements should also outline what is binding in the 
partnership. For example, make sure you know what would happen if one partner 
purchased expensive machinery without explicit permission and approval from 
another partner? Would the partnership be on the hook for the cost? And do 
partners have the right to make decisions that could upset the financial stability 
of the business? 
What happens in a death or separation? 
No one wants to think about the worst-case scenario, especially at the start 
of a joyous, hopeful union. However, it’s important your agreement addresses 
what will happen to the company in the event of death, separation or financial
bankruptcy. For example, what if one partner experiences an untimely death or 
simply wants to leave the partnership? Oftentimes these situations are addressed 
with a buy/sell clause. 
© 2014 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved 
Making decisions and handling disputes 
Last, but certainly not least, partnerships should agree beforehand how decisions 
will be made and disputes will be resolved if you can’t agree on a course of 
action. Avoid a stalemate by outlining a decision-making process in the initial 
agreement to ensure business operations progress smoothly. A well thought-out 
process for resolving disputes is far less costly than going to court and far less 
risky than relying on the mercy of the judicial system. You also may want to 
include a mediation clause for resolving major conflicts. For a simple checklist 
to help you prepare your partnership agreement, check out this Partnership 
Agreement Checklist. 
A love story: Ben & Jerry’s® Ice Cream 
True love, soul mates and happily ever afters really do exist. The story of one of 
America’s most famous ice cream brands, Ben & Jerry’s, highlights just what can 
be achieved with the right business partner. 
In 1963, Ben Cohen met Jerry Greenfield in seventh grade gym class. They 
became quick friends, and 14 years later decided to take an ice cream-making 
class. The rest is pretty much history. That same year, they opened their first Ben 
& Jerry’s Homemade® shop in a renovated gas station. By 1983, Ben & Jerry’s was 
a franchise and flavors like Cherry Garcia® and Chunky Monkey® became staples 
in homes across America. A year later, the company reported sales topping $4 
million. In 2000, the pair sold the company to Unilever® for $326 million.13 
What made this partnership so successful? While it’s true they were essentially 
lifelong friends, as business partners they relied on complementary skills to 
find success. Each brought a different skill set to the partnership—Ben was the 
creative one while Jerry ran more of the daily business functions.14 If you ask them 
about what made the partnership successful, they say it’s a combination of trust, 
complementary skill sets and shared business values. 
Like any partnership, the company had its share of bumps, literally. Some of the 
biggest disagreements related to the size of chunks in certain flavors of ice cream. 
13 Perman, Stacy. “Famous Business Partnerships.” Businessweek.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 July 2014. <http:// 
images.businessweek.com/ss/08/11/1121_famous_partnerships/10.htm>. 
14 “Ben & Jerry’s Recipe For Success.” Motivated Online RSS. N.p., 18 Mar. 2012. Web. 17 July 2014. <http:// 
motivatedonline.com/ben-jerrys-recipe-for-success/>.
But, they persevered with Jerry saying they were aided by shared core values. He 
told Motivated Magazine: “I think that getting people into the company who 
had some business expertise but who were also entrepreneurial—who shared the 
values of the company—was critical. I think the part about sharing values was 
really the most critical piece.”15 
The key to a successful partnership 
Just like marriage, there’s not just one thing that guarantees success in 
a business partnership. Some things come easily while others remain a 
challenge. But once you’ve decided to enter a partnership following these 
guidelines can help you achieve your happily ever after. Just be ready for 
the ins and outs, and the ups and downs—like any marriage, really. 
4imprint serves more than 100,000 businesses with innovative promotional items throughout the United States, 
Canada, United Kingdom and Ireland. Its product offerings include giveaways, business gifts, personalized gifts, 
embroidered apparel, promotional pens, travel mugs, tote bags, water bottles, Post-it Notes, custom calendars, 
and many other promotional items. For additional information, log on to www.4imprint.com. 
15 “Ben & Jerry’s Recipe For Success.” Motivated Online RSS. N.p., 18 Mar. 2012. Web. 17 July 2014. <http:// 
© 2014 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved 
motivatedonline.com/ben-jerrys-recipe-for-success/>.

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Business Partners Blue Paper

  • 2. Finding Mr. or Ms. Right: How to find a business partner Committing to a business partner is a big decision. It’s a lot like getting married and most don’t recommend rushing into either one too quickly. After all, choosing the wrong partner could damage your business and a separation could be costly. And sadly, research shows most business partnerships end in divorce— estimates from 2011 found that a shocking 80 percent don’t make it.1 That’s probably why an estimated 72 percent of small businesses get cold feet when they consider forming a relationship with a business partner and subsequently remain sole proprietorships.2 Yet, if done correctly, the right business partner can be a match made in heaven. Although finding that match isn’t always easy … you have a lot of choices, from general to strategic partnerships, all of which come with their own set of obligations and rules for decision-making and responsibilities. You can get a lot of great advice to help you with your decision from companies that have “been there-done that.” Some have produced products they never would have been able to otherwise. Others have shared the costs of highly innovative projects. However some of the less fortunate have found themselves in lengthy court battles when things have gone wrong. Like most things in life, there are the good and the bad. Bottom line: There’s a lot to consider when seeking the perfect union. This Blue Paper® examines how to determine if a business partner is right for your company. It will provide you with the questions you should ask before making this commitment. It will walk through the advantages and disadvantages of partnerships and outline the main types. The paper will also discuss what to look for in a partner and what to avoid, as well as provide some simple checklists along the way to help you through the process. For better or worse: Partnership benefits To truly be a partnership, you must actually give someone else a stake in your business. It may mean teaming up with Mr. or Ms. Right to pursue your next big idea or bringing in the ying to your yang to assist in areas of the business you need help developing. No matter why you feel you need a business partner, 1 “The 80% Rule of Business Partnerships - The Power of Collaboration.” The Power of Collaboration. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 July 2014. <http://www.petersimoons.com/2013/07/the-80-percent-rule/>. 2 Tabita, John. “Partnerships: Boon or Ruin for Your Business?” SitePoint. N.p., 13 Nov. 2011. Web. 10 July 2014. <http://www.sitepoint.com/partnerships-boon-or-ruin-for-your-business/>. © 2014 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
  • 3. you really want to make sure you are compatible because you’ll be spending time together. Just like when you plan a wedding, you can go big or small with partnerships. Whether choosing someone to help with a portion or division of your business or to fully share in every aspect, for better or worse, a partnership can help: • balance skill sets, • split costs and share risks, • develop better ideas, • share responsibilities, • leverage greater expertise and knowledge, and • expand networks.3 When searching for the perfect partner, you’ll want to look for someone who excels in areas that complement your strengths in order to balance the business responsibilities. That might seem like a simple statement but it forces you to be brutally honest about both your strengths and your weaknesses. That can be a hard thing to do, especially for those that possess that burning entrepreneurial spirit. As well as helping balance skill sets, there is often a financial benefit to taking on a partner. It’s not only married couples that pay less tax—partnerships do, too. With some forms of partnership, there is no need to file separate tax returns for the business and its owners, saving not only on taxes but also on the forms you have to complete. Oftentimes, you can even split your income and avoid double taxation.4 To learn more about the partnerships’ tax benefits, check out the IRS site on how partnerships are taxed. For newer companies, partnering can reduce the financial stress of start-up costs. And strategic partnerships can provide emerging companies with access to new tools and technologies. Even large corporations can benefit. Take the case of partners Coca Cola® and Heinz®, for example. Together, they worked to develop the environmentally friendly, PlantBottle™ made completely of plant-derived materials and residues. Coca Cola has prototyped the design and is collaborating with Heinz for bottling.5 If you are running a business on your own, a partner can help relieve some of the associated stress by sharing responsibilities. No longer do you have to go it alone 3 “Start a Business with a Partner.” Smarta RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 July 2014. <http://www.smarta.com/advice/ starting-up/business-ideas/start-a-business-with-a-partner/>. 4 Latham, Andrew. “The Tax Benefits of Forming a General Partnership.” Small Business. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 July 2014. <http://smallbusiness.chron.com/tax-benefits-forming-general-partnership-19353.html>. 5 Turiera, Teresa, and Susanna Cros. “Co-Business: 50 Examples of Business Collaboration.” Co-society.com. Co- Society, July 2013. Web. 20 Aug. 2014. <http://www.co-society.com/wp-content/uploads/CO_business_2013.pdf>. © 2014 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
  • 4. when making decisions that carry a hefty price tag. For example, Leo Laporte, who founded the TWiT network, describes his biggest mistake as trying to do it all himself.6 According to LaPorte, he thought he knew everything about media and content. But he didn’t know anything about finance, marketing, advertising or human resources—all things needed for a viable business. When his company stalled after a few years of stellar growth, he found himself spending more time fighting fires than doing the stuff he loved. So, he took on a business partner and granted her full authority to get the job done—something he says that although it felt as if he were giving up a piece of the business, was a vital step toward success. Partners can also provide access to greater expertise and bigger networks, in many cases simply by sharing employees and clients. Marital discord: Disadvantages of partnerships With the good comes the bad; and there’s bound to be some marital discord at one time or another. Marriage isn’t always a bed of roses, and the same can be said about partnerships. Obviously, the first disadvantage is that you will probably have to share profits. This can be a big adjustment, especially if you have enjoyed the profits alone for many years. But some organizations also find that partnerships can: • put existing relationships at risk; • negatively impact financial standing; • significantly shift business ideas or operations; • contribute to discord that jeopardizes the company; • reduce corporate independence; • challenge the leadership framework; and, • make it difficult to resolve conflict7. Partnership can at times put stress on an existing relationship. Whether the potential partner is a family member, long-time friend, business associate, investor or supplier, issues may arise that must be addressed before you can live happily ever after. But relationships aren’t the only thing that can be negatively impacted. Partnerships can take a toll on your financial standing, too. Under some mergers, 6 Cooper, Belle Beth. “The 13 Biggest Failures From Famous Entrepreneurs And What They’ve Learned From Them.” Businessinsider.com. Business Insider, 5 Sept. 2013. Web. 20 Aug. 2014. <http://www.businessinsider. com/startup-failures-learning-2013-9>. 7 Start a Business with a Partner.” Smarta RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 July 2014. <http://www.smarta.com/advice/ starting-up/business-ideas/start-a-business-with-a-partner/>. © 2014 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
  • 5. you will have to take on existing debts. Or, in the case of a general partnership, which can be set up without any paperwork if two people agree to conduct business for profit, you will be held responsible for any business debts8. Limited partnerships, too, have to have at least one general partner who is liable for debts9. Make sure you take all these factors into consideration before things get serious. Joining with another party can also cause business ideas or operations to shift. You may have to give up some pet projects and move away from what you see as your organization’s core values and objectives. How do you feel, for example, about relinquishing a certain amount of independence and changing the leadership framework? On top of that, you’ll need to consult with your partner and perhaps negotiate to meet in the middle to satisfy both parties. Flexibility and accommodation are a must when it comes to decision making in partnerships—this can be a big adjustment for some independent thinkers. Whether big or small, conflict is inevitable and will probably surface at some point during the partnership, even if you and your partner seem to have found the perfect match. You will need to determine how to resolve conflict quickly and fairly. Ultimately, if partners fail to resolve conflicts, it can lead to a dramatic and traumatic breakup—cue the demise of what was perhaps the greatest band of all time, The Beatles. Before you take the plunge consider your dating options So, you have looked at the advantages and disadvantages of a partnership— what now? First, you need to decide if you really need a business partner in the first place. And you need to know with absolute clarity the values, mission, purpose and goals of whatever business partnership you are considering. Only then are you ready to start considering your options to determine what type of business partner is right for you. BizFilings® What type of business partner is right for me is a great place to start. It will walk you through some of your options and help you to appreciate the tax and profit sharing implications, along with the pros and cons. Next, you will need to consider the type of partnership best suited for your business and situation. Here are some of the more common options to consider: 8 “Are You Personally Liable for Business Debts?” Nolo.com. NOLO, n.d. Web. 20 Aug. 2014. <http://www.nolo. com/legal-encyclopedia/personally-liable-business-bebts-business-bankruptcy.html>. 9 “Are You Personally Liable for Business Debts?” Nolo.com. NOLO, n.d. Web. 20 Aug. 2014. <http://www.nolo. com/legal-encyclopedia/personally-liable-business-bebts-business-bankruptcy.html>. © 2014 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
  • 6. • General Partnership (GP) • Limited Partnership (LP) • Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) • Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) • Limited Liability Limited Partnership (LLLP) • Strategic partnerships Figure 1. outlines the basic requirements of the main partnership types. Figure 1. Partnership summary and requirements © 2014 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved General Partnership (GP) A general partnership involves merging with general partners who agree to share in the profits and losses of the business. GPs are taxed at the individual level, not the entity level. And each partner takes part in managing the business and sharing responsibility for all liabilities. So, for example, if one partner is sued, all partners are held liable and the debts are shared. For some, this makes a general partnership an unattractive option. But there are good reasons for considering it as well. For one, you don’t have to worry about state filing, making it the easy choice. And start-up costs can be lower, too. There are no formation filing fees, state fees or franchise taxes, for example. Plus, there is a lot less red tape than with other options. You are under no obligation to hold annual meetings with owners, issue partnership interest or keep personal assets separate from business assets.
  • 7. The split between partners under GPs is usually 50/50, but those terms are not set in stone and can vary. Partners could, for instance, agree to work without pay from the start until a revenue target was hit. Or one partner could agree to hand over more money if the other brings in expertise or business contacts. The payouts can change as the business grows—it’s this flexibility that makes GPs the preferred choice for many. © 2014 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved Limited Partnership (LP) If not a GP, then maybe an LP is right for you. Under an LP, there has to be at least one general partner who will be liable for any business debts. The other partners are generally not involved in the day-to-day running of the business and their liability risk is limited. These limited partners are really investors who are most interested in picking up their share of the profits. This set up can leave you with more freedom to make decisions to manage the company and keep control of your business. Partners benefit by sharing in the profits while keeping their personal assets (homes, cars, investments, etc.) out of the equation. This makes LPs popular for short-term projects, ventures or special situations, such as movie production or family estate planning. Under this structure, partners are taxed at the individual level. Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs) are another option, combining the limited liability of a corporation with the taxation obligations of a partnership. Unlike corporate shareholders, the owners can participate in the management of the company. There can be an unlimited number of owners all of which have limited liability, making this an especially desirable option for small businesses. And partners are taxed at the individual level. Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) Limited Liability Partnerships (LLPs) may fit the bill if the other options are not desirable. LLPS set limits for everything other than personal accounts. Partners define exactly what liabilities they are prepared to take on for errors, omissions, negligence, incompetence or malpractice committed by partners or employees. This helps protect personal assets from being touched to pay debts or lawsuits, unless partners are personally liable for wrongful or negligent acts. Doctors tend to like this option, as it limits liability for third-party lawsuits, except for personal malpractice. So, if partner A is sued for malpractice, partner B’s
  • 8. personal assets are not at risk, unless partner B supervised or directed partner A’s actions that led to the claim. This form of partnership is restricted by state law— only a limited number of professions including accountants, attorneys, architects, dentists, doctors and other fields treated as professionals under state law can organize this way.10 Beyond these three approaches, there are some other forms of partnerships worth taking a quick run through. Limited Liability Limited Partnership (LLLP) A relatively new option, a Limited Liability Limited Partnership (LLLP) is made up of general partners who manage the organization and limited partners who simply have a financial stake. You have to be living in one these states to qualify though: Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Nevada, Texas and Kentucky. With LLLP’s, partners are taxed at the individual level. © 2014 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved Strategic partnerships Sometimes organizations may come together to form a strategic partnership to share resources or supplement aspects they do not have in-house. There are not necessarily legal obligations with this option, so it can be a win-win for engineers, manufacturers and product developers. It’s also popular with smaller, entrepreneurial firms or inventors who make specialized products. The larger partner provides cash or some other form of support, while the smaller partner brings technical or creative expertise to the table. You can also form a strategic partnership if you’re looking to team up for advertising, marketing, branding, product development or other business functions. Time to set expectations Once you have decided that a partnership is the right move and you’ve chosen the type that works best for you and your organization, you’ll need to paint a clear picture of your expectations for your partner and what you’re willing to bring to the partnership. To start this process, it’s a good idea to answer a few questions about yourself and your organization to help hone the process: • What do I really need from a partner in the first place? • What do I expect from a business partner? 10 “Choosing the Right Type of Business Partnership.” BizFilings. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 July 2014. <http://www. bizfilings.com/learn/form-partnership.aspx>.
  • 9. • What are the partner’s expectations? • How will I know when I find the right partner? © 2014 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved What do you want? To start, you’ll need to dig deep and reaffirm that you are positive you want a business partner. Clearly outline what you need and be specific in answering this question so you can make sure that a partner is the right decision. Can you fulfill these needs through additional hiring or training? If so, perhaps giving up a stake in your organization is not necessary. Once you decide exactly what you need, you can begin to narrow down the list of candidates. What do you expect? Next, you should outline exactly what you need from a partner. Perhaps you want a partner that brings something different to the table. If you’re a creative organization, you may desire a more detail-oriented partner that can assist with day-to-day operations. If you have capital to invest, you might want to find a partner with access to other markets or a solid customer base. The objective is to find a partner that complements the skills and overall personality of the organization. What does a partner expect? Equally, while you might not know exactly what your significant other expects at first, it’s important to make sure you are both on the same page from the get-go. Think about what a potential partner might expect in terms of time, resource commitment and task division. Look at the partnership from the other’s perspective to anticipate what he or she might ask for before ever going on that first date. Identifying the ideal partner Finally, identify parameters, characteristics and behaviors of “The One” so you’re in a better position to notice when Mr. or Ms. Right is standing before you. There are some business partner checklists available online to help you work through this process. Your Business Partner Checklist is a tool you can use to stimulate thought-provoking conversations among partners. Or, The 12 Step Checklist For A Successful Business Partnership can help you identify key partner attributes and contributing factors to a successful partnership.
  • 10. If after all of this, you are not confident in finding your own partner, there are some “dating services” you may want to turn to. Many of these broker services are similar to the likes of eHarmony™ but for entrepreneurs. Alliance Experts provides you with a quick overview of potential strategic partners at home or abroad. Simply fill out your profile outlining what you have to offer and what you are seeking. Or if you’re up for some speed dating, you could try a company like Onevest, which brings together a vibrant community of entrepreneurs and investors looking to build, fund and launch successful startups. Think crowdsourcing for a business partner. Go it alone or use a service—there are many ways to get a date. Before you propose: What you need to know about potential partners Once you’ve dated for a while and you think you’ve found the perfect match, you may be ready to pop the question. Before you take that final leap, step back and make sure you know everything you need to know about your partner. You will need to have a deep understanding of your potential partner’s operations, performance and economic standing. After all, you don’t want to partner with someone who is unstable or has a questionable past—these are things that can doom your partnership both now and in the future. © 2014 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved Be sure to ask: • What is your potential partner’s financial situation? • Is your potential partner’s commitment to the business as strong as yours? • How would a partner handle a tough situation? • What is the potential partner’s standing in the community? • Is your partner willing to put everything in writing? If you want to explore these questions in detail, check out the online article 10 Questions to Ask Before Committing to a Business Partner. Author Lisa Girard notes that “… a business partnership often begins with enthusiasm and high expectations—only to end in acrimony and legal proceedings. It’s important to know as much as possible about a potential partner, including how his or her finances and family life may affect the business, before signing on the dotted line.”11 11 Girard, Lisa. “10 Questions to Ask Before Committing to a Business Partner.” Entrepreneur. N.p., 26 July 2013. Web. 16 July 2014. <http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/227576>.
  • 11. © 2014 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved Know what to avoid Keep in mind that not all companies are the marrying type. Just as you need to know what to look for in a partner, you also need to think about what partnerships to avoid. These include:12 1. Mr. Employee: A first-time entrepreneur who enjoys a regular paycheck and being home for dinner. 2. Ms. Perfectionist: Someone who always wants one more comprehensive survey. 3. Mr. College Buddy: He had a great idea in a bar, needs your help, but is unable to commit to the project. 4. Ms. Inventor: A brilliant academic who wants to commit everything into research and development but doesn’t understand the need for profitability. 5. Mr. Right: A “my way or the highway” guy who makes decisions without telling anyone. 6. Ms. Dreamer: She dreams of a big payday but has no idea how to keep a business in the black. 7. Mr. Spender: Someone who needs a big salary and doesn’t care about getting the most from every dollar for the business. 8. Ms. CEO: Someone more interested in her title and its trappings than in real work. 9. Mr. Vacation: Someone who never seems to be around. 10. Ms. Personal Issues: Someone who always has a sad story and seems to need a babysitter or psychiatrist. If you want to read more about these guys and gals, have a look at The 10 Worst Partners from Entrepreneur®. You’ve weeded out the bad seeds. Now it’s time to put in in writing. You need a prenuptial: Put a partnership agreement in place You have decided to commit and you’re ready to walk down the aisle. There is still a tricky conversation to be had: the prenup. Unfortunately, without a prenuptial agreement, you can end up paying a pretty penny if your marriage doesn’t work out. And in business partnerships, you’ll want a legally binding document to protect your organization from being taken to the cleaners if things go south. Enter the partnership agreement. 12 Gerber, Scott. “The 10 Worst Partners For Your Start-Up.” Entrepreneur.com. Entrepreneur Media, Inc., 29 June 2014. Web. 6 Aug. 2014. <http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/202434>
  • 12. Having a solid partnership agreement in place can make things a lot easier in the event things don’t work out, and it’s pretty much a red flag if a potential partner doesn’t want one. A clear partnership agreement should be drafted by attorneys and signed by all parties involved. At a minimum, it should address: © 2014 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved • percentage of ownership, • allocation of profits and losses, • binding the partnership, • the death of a partner, • how to make decisions, and • resolving disputes. Sharing ownership As you draft a partnership agreement, take a hard look at the percentage of ownership. You’ll need to record how much each partner is contributing to the partnership both in terms of cash and sweat equity. The exact percentages of ownership should also be outlined here. For instance, a partner who works the business full-time may get a larger percentage or vice versa—there’s a lot of ways to determine this number, but it needs to be included in the agreement upfront. Sharing the rewards An agreement must also look at how profits and losses will be allocated. Will they be shared in proportion to a partner’s ownership interest, or will partners be permitted to allocate profits from the business prior to the actual distribution among all partners? This practice is commonly known as a draw. What is binding? Formal partnership agreements should also outline what is binding in the partnership. For example, make sure you know what would happen if one partner purchased expensive machinery without explicit permission and approval from another partner? Would the partnership be on the hook for the cost? And do partners have the right to make decisions that could upset the financial stability of the business? What happens in a death or separation? No one wants to think about the worst-case scenario, especially at the start of a joyous, hopeful union. However, it’s important your agreement addresses what will happen to the company in the event of death, separation or financial
  • 13. bankruptcy. For example, what if one partner experiences an untimely death or simply wants to leave the partnership? Oftentimes these situations are addressed with a buy/sell clause. © 2014 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved Making decisions and handling disputes Last, but certainly not least, partnerships should agree beforehand how decisions will be made and disputes will be resolved if you can’t agree on a course of action. Avoid a stalemate by outlining a decision-making process in the initial agreement to ensure business operations progress smoothly. A well thought-out process for resolving disputes is far less costly than going to court and far less risky than relying on the mercy of the judicial system. You also may want to include a mediation clause for resolving major conflicts. For a simple checklist to help you prepare your partnership agreement, check out this Partnership Agreement Checklist. A love story: Ben & Jerry’s® Ice Cream True love, soul mates and happily ever afters really do exist. The story of one of America’s most famous ice cream brands, Ben & Jerry’s, highlights just what can be achieved with the right business partner. In 1963, Ben Cohen met Jerry Greenfield in seventh grade gym class. They became quick friends, and 14 years later decided to take an ice cream-making class. The rest is pretty much history. That same year, they opened their first Ben & Jerry’s Homemade® shop in a renovated gas station. By 1983, Ben & Jerry’s was a franchise and flavors like Cherry Garcia® and Chunky Monkey® became staples in homes across America. A year later, the company reported sales topping $4 million. In 2000, the pair sold the company to Unilever® for $326 million.13 What made this partnership so successful? While it’s true they were essentially lifelong friends, as business partners they relied on complementary skills to find success. Each brought a different skill set to the partnership—Ben was the creative one while Jerry ran more of the daily business functions.14 If you ask them about what made the partnership successful, they say it’s a combination of trust, complementary skill sets and shared business values. Like any partnership, the company had its share of bumps, literally. Some of the biggest disagreements related to the size of chunks in certain flavors of ice cream. 13 Perman, Stacy. “Famous Business Partnerships.” Businessweek.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 July 2014. <http:// images.businessweek.com/ss/08/11/1121_famous_partnerships/10.htm>. 14 “Ben & Jerry’s Recipe For Success.” Motivated Online RSS. N.p., 18 Mar. 2012. Web. 17 July 2014. <http:// motivatedonline.com/ben-jerrys-recipe-for-success/>.
  • 14. But, they persevered with Jerry saying they were aided by shared core values. He told Motivated Magazine: “I think that getting people into the company who had some business expertise but who were also entrepreneurial—who shared the values of the company—was critical. I think the part about sharing values was really the most critical piece.”15 The key to a successful partnership Just like marriage, there’s not just one thing that guarantees success in a business partnership. Some things come easily while others remain a challenge. But once you’ve decided to enter a partnership following these guidelines can help you achieve your happily ever after. Just be ready for the ins and outs, and the ups and downs—like any marriage, really. 4imprint serves more than 100,000 businesses with innovative promotional items throughout the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Ireland. Its product offerings include giveaways, business gifts, personalized gifts, embroidered apparel, promotional pens, travel mugs, tote bags, water bottles, Post-it Notes, custom calendars, and many other promotional items. For additional information, log on to www.4imprint.com. 15 “Ben & Jerry’s Recipe For Success.” Motivated Online RSS. N.p., 18 Mar. 2012. Web. 17 July 2014. <http:// © 2014 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved motivatedonline.com/ben-jerrys-recipe-for-success/>.