The popular image of the successful entrepreneur is that of a hardworking risk taker who acts on his own.
The reality is different. Successful entrepreneurs work hard, but they are not risk takers and they seldom act alone.
If you want to triple or perhaps even quadruple your chances of success, partner up with someone who will work with you toward your goal.
Many of the most successful businesspeople of the Industrial Revolution had partners. John D. Rockefeller’s oil empire, for example, was built by his partner, Henry Flagler. And the improved steam engine responsible for fueling the Revolution was designed and manufactured by the team of James Watt and Matthew Boulton.
The same is true of the computer revolution. Hewlett-Packard, the first IT company to report revenues over $100 billion, was co-founded in 1939 by two Stanford graduates. Larry Page and Sergey Brin started Google together. David Filo and Jerry Yang co-founded Yahoo. Bill Gates co-founded Microsoft with Paul Allen… and Apple Computer was co-founded by Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs.
Warren Buffett, the world’s most successful investor, attributes a great deal of his success to his partner – who makes most of the investment decisions – Charlie Munger.
Moving down a few steps on the success ladder, many multimillionaire business owners I know made their fortunes by working with partners. Of the 12 top investment advisory publishers that came to the industry’s most recent symposium, nine of them were headed by partners.
In my own career, partnerships have been the way to go. Except for one case, every significant business success I’ve enjoyed has been the result of a partnership.
Why Partnerships Work
Partnerships work because two heads are better than one. My head, for example, is good at spotting opportunities and marketing, but not so good at mulling over key decisions or paying attention to details. My partners tend to make up for my deficiencies. And I, theirs.
That’s how partnerships are supposed to work: a division of labor, starting at the top. After all, no one can claim to be a perfect businessperson. We all have shortcomings and foibles. Without a partner to spur you on or rein you in, you would miss valuable opportunities or make costly mistakes.
Besides allowing for an efficient division of labor, partnering provides you with someone to vent to, someone to confide in, and someone with whom you can enjoy your success.
Looking at some of the partnerships cited above, it’s easy to see how they divvied up the responsibilities:
James Watt was an inspired inventor, and he improved upon the steam engine design, while Matthew Boulton was a shrewd businessman. Watt couldn’t handle the business end – he had tried and failed – and Boulton needed Watt’s invention.
In the famous partnership of Flagler and Rockefeller, Rockefeller had the name and the venture… but he needed Flagler’s capital and shrewd business sense. It was Henry Flagler’s idea to offer rebates, which gave Standard Oil an advantage over all competing oil refineries.
Looking at my own situations, you would see that in some cases I am providing capital and marketing advice while my partner is running the business. In other cases, my partner and I oversee business operations that are run by other people entirely.
Just to give you a quick idea:
• With “Quincy S.,” I have an interest in a commercial real estate development company. He tends to be the worrywart and cost-cutter. I’m the one who makes the properties attractive and takes care of renting them out.
• With “Carl T.,” I have an interest in an advertising agency. When the business was young, I provided capital and mentoring. Now he runs the business and I do nothing but have lunch with him once a month and collect a substantial check.
• With “Brandon T.,” I have an interest in a health publishing company. I provide marketing and editorial advice. He runs the business.
• With “Audrey M.,” “Eddie N.,” and “Owen G.,” I have a career-training company. I provide advice on strategic planning. Eddie keeps his eyes on the bottom line. Owen focuses on the marketing. And Audrey runs it.
• With “Cal C.,” I have an interest in a large publishing business. He focuses on the quality of the published ideas. I focus on the quality of the marketing efforts.
• With “Tina T.,” I have an interest in a commercial art dealership. I buy the art. She sells it.
I couldn’t possibly be involved in all these businesses if I didn’t have partners. One business is more than enough for one person. But with partnerships, you can have an interest in many more than that. I’m not exactly sure why. It has something to do with how the partnership decisions – early on – lead to lots of other decisions that make the business almost automatic.
There is no question in my mind that partnership relationships are good for business. But it’s also clear to me that some people can’t be good partners. A good partner must be…
• Fair-minded: You must want the partnership to be good for your partner. You can’t be the sort of person who believes that “you-win-I-win-more” is better than “you-win-I-win.” You must have your partner’s best interests at heart.
• Flexible: People who argue about the details don’t make good partners. You can’t go tit for tat with your partner. You must believe that, in the long run, the two of you will be able to work things out.
• Loyal: Good partners don’t betray each other in any way. They don’t steal from each other. They don’t badmouth each other. They don’t make side deals with other people who might undermine the partnership.
Think about your current business goals. Pick one that you are not making great progress toward. Now ask yourself, “Who is helping me achieve that goal?”
If the answer is “nobody,” you have a great opportunity open to you. By hooking up with the right partner, you’ll have a chance to finally get your idea into action, do the sometimes difficult things that need to be done, make the progress that your goal requires, and one day – maybe sooner than you might believe – be able to sit back and say, “Hey, I did it!”
So… who are your partners? Who are your coaches? Who is urging you to get up earlier, work harder, and think smarter? Who is giving you good ideas? Who is praising your successes and warning you about pitfalls?
Don’t be afraid of partnerships. Pick a partner you trust and make sure you agree on how any problems you run into should be fairly worked out. Ask a few “What if…?” questions before you sign the contract. Then get started and enjoy working with each other.[Ed. Note: Having a partner can triple or even quadruple your chances of success. If you don’t have one yet, now’s the time to start looking. You can begin your search at ETR’s 2008 Info Marketing Bootcamp. Not only will our 12 expert presenters offer you specific strategies you can use to make $1.2 million in 2009… you’ll also meet more than 200 men and women who could be potential partners for your business ventures.] [Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]