How do you stay friends with your business partner?

Going into business with your best friend or longtime buddy can sound ideal. After all, who better to go into business with than someone who already knows and appreciates you, right?

The only problem is that business arrangements can sometimes put a strain on the best of relationships unless both parties know how to establish good personal boundaries and keep a certain emotional distance. Plus, business partners always need to plan ahead to avoid disputes. This means:

  • Get a signed operating agreement. Before you invest a great deal of your time, energy and effort into a business, you need a written agreement about your role in the company.
  • Address the hard questions. Your agreement needs to focus on “What happens if something goes wrong?” What happens if your partner wants out? What happens if you do? Whose decision carries the day if you and your partner are at odds?
  • Plan for changes. At some point in your future, either you or your business partner will get married, get divorced, retire or die. You need to have written into your agreement how those events will be handled if you see your business surviving into the next generation.
  • Know your values. A values agreement helps you both understand your ethical commitments and how you envision the company culture — and it can prevent big personality conflicts over management styles.

Finally, both you and your partner should have your own attorney. Having someone there to advocate for you can help you avoid situations that are prone to cause conflicts — and makes it easy to know where to turn whenever you need help with a partnership dispute.