Photo: Ken Carbone & Leslie Smolan
The strength of the relationship you have with your business partner is a major determining factor in the success of your business as a whole.And the key to building that strength is having a continuous, open dialogue with your partner.
In their recent book “Dialog: What Makes A Great Design Partnership,” Ken Carbone and Leslie Smolan, partners at the design and branding company Carbone Smolan Agency for 35 years, create a time capsule of their work together and what has made their relationship such a success.
Carbone and Smolan share with us their best tips for creating a lasting business partnership, and how to keep that dialogue going.
You may not know if you have the right partner at first.
“I don’t think you ever know if it’ll work before you get into the relationship and you see how it works,” Smolan says. “People are complicated, and people have different drives, they have different schedules, like being a night person or being a day person. There’s so many ways of being, and being a company.”
“As human beings, relationships are difficult in any way, shape or form,” he adds. “Business can put a lot of strain on a personal relationship.”
Smolan says the way to make sure it works is to constantly engage your partner. “The danger is that if you don’t engage your partner and you’re not debating and you’re not voicing your differences, then you’re in trouble. If people retreat from the conversation, it’s not going to work.”
Two things you definitely need in common are aligned ambitions and trust.
“That is the foundation,” Carbone says. “Leslie and I may have different ways of approaching the business, but I think at the same time our sense of what we value in life, what we place value on, is pretty close.”
You and your partner can be radically different, but you both have to have an undying commitment to your cause without keeping score.
“Everyone contributes in different ways,” notes Smolan, “But it’s not like one of us is here full time and one is here part-time. We’re both 150 per cent engaged in this. You need that kind of commitment to make it a success, and to make it work.”
You and your partner should complement each other, even if you do things differently.
“We’re constantly learning from each other, and I think that’s the task of a good partner, is that you feel like there’s a contribution and exchange from both sides,” says Smolan.
The way you and your partner handle the business day-to-day, expenses, and even clients, can be completely different, but it doesn’t mean the business won’t work. But the way you handle it “has to come from your person,” Carbone says. “You can’t be something that you’re not. It’s important to acknowledge the differences in traits and then manage where you both provide value to running the business, hiring people, working with clients.”
It’s OK to disagree, but you need to respect your partner’s opinions and ideas.
“Were any bumps in the road at first? There were bumps about 15 minutes ago,” Carbone jokes. “It’s not that it goes away, but you actually work it to your favour. We call that ‘creative friction.'”
“You can be dramatically different, and that works,” Smolan says, but you need to support your partner, and be his or her biggest fan. “There’s something about finding someone who continues to just intrigue you and interest you, and you look at them and say, ‘wow, this person is amazingly talented, and I’m so privileged to be their other half.'”
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