Business Monitor Two heads are better than one

Two heads are better than one. A problem shared is a problem halved, plus any number of analogies comparing a successful business with a successful marriage. There is plenty of evidence that a partnership works better than a sole leader and it just feels right. Marketing expert, Paul Clapham, explains why.


f business people are honest about themselves (which of course they are not always) they will recognise gaps in their skill-set.

As a classic case in printwear you might be brilliant at making the product but far weaker on sales and marketing, or indeed the other way round. You might end up successful anyway with a weakness like that but I wouldnʼt bet on it. So a partner fills a big gap. In an ideal world, which itʼs not unfortunately, the two heads would be in place from the outset, but it isnʼt essential. Once the business is well established it becomes clearer what additional skills would be most valuable. It is also highly likely that the skill requirements will have changed since set-up. A study published last year by the Octopus Group and surveying 500 businesses (which is a decent sample size) said that nine out of 10 entrepreneurs who had a co-founder believed that had made their company more successful. Just as important, eight out of 10 solo founders believed that a partner would have improved the business. Cut them how you will, those figures say ʻdonʼt go it aloneʼ.

No mini-me

Alliott Cole chief executive of Octopusʼs venture capital division said that the team a founder is building is the clearest demonstration of ambition. “There is nothing more impressive than an entrepreneur who has recruited against their weaknesses”. The last thing you want is a mini-me. It is clear that this works with both investors and banks. Having a partner (assuming you have chosen carefully) means that you will both be busy doing things you are at least competent at, hopefully good at virtually all the time. By contrast I have seen business owners invoicing work which they know nothing about because they were not involved in the project. Crazy!

Owners of small businesses have bad days from time to time, some of them very bad days. On such days the solo owner has a problem. If the manure is hitting the air conditioning unit, you want a friendly face to give you a hand up from the trenches.

Consider mindsets Iʼve referred above to skill sets. Consider too mindsets. For instance I am naturally an optimist as many, perhaps most small businessmen are. Donʼt you have to be? But having two wide-eyed optimists running a business could be a recipe for A sibling partner?

Could the answer be a sibling? In many ways this is perfect because you know the personʼs strengths and weaknesses inside out. They canʼt pull the wool over your eyes, or if they can itʼs the wrong person. Family firms are successful because they have a long-term viewpoint. If not a brother or sister (donʼt discount a cousin either) how about an old, old friend – again someone you know inside out. Some friendships are deeper and more reliable than family connections and some just plain arenʼt. My personal experience is in the second group.

One idea I came across which I liked and which would again work better for women than men was a partnership questionnaire asking all those searingly difficult questions about how you react to tough circumstances or ʻwow, arenʼt we brilliant circumstancesʼ and demanding honesty in the replies. As a rule of thumb in these circumstances, women actually are honest, while men try to game their responses.

July 2019 | 39 |

failure as you egged each other on. You couldnʼt persuade me to invest in Pollyanna and Pollyanna Inc, no matter how much fun visiting the premises might be. On the other hand I wouldnʼt fancy having Mr or Mrs Doomandgloom around the place on a daily basis, but I admit that it could be argued that that is exactly what an optimist like me needs.

How essential is a business partner? Iʼd say it is very valuable for most people, but essential? No, not really. I read a comment in the Times that it is better to have a hole in the business rather than an a***hole and I agree entirely. I suspect that women would benefit more than men from having a partner or co- founder. They are much more likely than men to have a collaborative style, to think ʻteamʼ rather than ʻcompetitionʼ. They tend to like a scenario where no one person is responsible for success or failure, because decisions are balanced

between two people. So where do you find this elusive unicorn of a person? Itʼs not easy but nor is it impossible. Start by writing down for

your own clarity what skills this person needs to bring to the party. Some will be very specific others more general.

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