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Partnerships

Pondering a Partnership?

When is the right time to enter into a partnership, and what structure should that partnership form?

Ed Hatton

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This Month’s Challenge

A hard-working and dedicated sole proprietor with a successful PR, events and hospitality business that has been operating for almost four years plans to take on a full-time employee. The potential employee, who offers specialist skills in graphic design, has expressed an interest in investing in the business to become a significant minority partner.

Our advice

The entrepreneur has been approached to sell part of her business to a potential employee who would then become her partner. She has requested advice on whether she should agree to this approach or explore other partnership options, which would allow her to retain her ownership and achieve growth for both parties.

There are a number of key issues the entrepreneur should consider before reaching a decision. For instance, what are her reasons for looking for someone to join the business? She is clearly a successful and extremely hard-working business owner. The business is entirely dependent on her knowledge, skills and reputation right now. This means that she cannot expand because she has run out of time to do so. So I assume that she wants someone to take part of the workload and provide room for the business to expand.

If expanding the business is a part of the plan, then what type of growth is desirable? For instance:

  • More clients of the same type as she has now? And if so will they be local, national or international?
  • Adding new services to offer to existing clients, so that the per-client income increases?
  • Diversification into new market sectors with new services?
  • Some other expansion concept?

Once she has cleared all these issues in her mind, and preferably put them down in a plan, she can consider what resources she needs to achieve her goals. Incidentally, the plan should show how much, from which source, in what time frame and all the other measurable projections that a good plan would include.

For example, if one of the goals is to expand the business by adding new services, then the person she takes on board should have the skills to add new services for the clients. Equally, if her goal is to expand to more clients then the incoming person or people should be able to form relationships and deliver the services she offers today – and probably have a similar work ethic to the entrepreneur.

Design your business structure to fit the strategy

About 50 years ago Alfred Chandler proposed a construct that suggested that the road to business success was Environment → Strategy → Structure → Economic Efficiency. The emphasis was on strategy fitting the environment in which the business operated and structure designed to fit the strategy. While Chandler was thinking about large corporations, there is still merit today in entrepreneurial business following his construct. Once the strategy to grow has been planned the structure often becomes obvious.

Now, the entrepreneur needs to decide if the proposed partner has the right skills, knowledge and reputation to achieve the desired outcome or can grow quickly into that state? If not, he is the wrong person, whether a partner or an employee.

If he does fit, the second key question is: Is the interpersonal chemistry also right? In a pressurised environment like events management the entrepreneur will probably be spending more time with her business partner that with her spouse. Many great businesses have been founded on trusted partnerships, so it could be the start of a major expansion of the business. However, if the partnership fails because of interpersonal conflict, the results could be catastrophic. This is especially true in a service business where the core of the business is the skills and client relationships of the owners.

Back to the original question: Should she offer him a share of the business? I suggest she defers that decision until she has worked with him for some time. After a year of working together they should know if the business relationship is sound, if there is trust and if the partnership adds to the development of the company. Then she would have the choice of offering him shares in the main company or setting up an operating company in his field specialisation in which he is a shareholder. The latter option would allow her to retain full ownership of the core of the company she founded.

She should involve her accountant and remember that the structure must support the strategy. In the meantime she could offer the potential employee a profit share to motivate him.

Ed Hatton is the owner of The Marketing Director and has consulted to and mentored SMBs in strategy, marketing and sales for almost 20 years. He co-authored an entrepreneurship textbook and is passionate about helping entrepreneurs to succeed.

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The Foundations Of Growth

How Jurie Venter has focused on working with the right partners and doing thorough market research to achieve business success.

Introstat

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Vital stats

  • Player: Jurie Venter
  • Company: umAfrika Gaming Technology
  • Est: 2014
  • About: umAfrika is the provider of Gaming Products and Services to South Africa and all other countries in Sub-Sahara Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands.

Three years ago, umAfrika Gaming Technology co-founder, Jurie Venter split from an international company to start a more locally focused business. umAfrika bought a going concern in the South African gaming market. It was a great opportunity with one big catch: They had to launch with an ageing international infrastructure.

Look for opportunities

Although leaving a large international brand and all the support it offers can be daunting, Jurie understood his goals, and how he aimed to get there.

“Although there was a shift from an international focus to a local one, the foundation of the business stayed the same, with the added benefit that we now had local shareholders and could service local businesses.”

Related: Listen And Learn: Why Podcasts Aren’t Just For Start-up Founders

Jurie knew he could build a strong business because he had done thorough research into the South African market. The international market was similar enough to South Africa to prove the concept, and research revealed the local market was large enough to offer a great opportunity.

The Lesson: Make sure there is a need for your offering. By international standards, South Africa is a relatively small market. Jurie and his team needed to ensure there was a large enough local market before they invested in support, staff or infrastructure.

Partner for success

“It’s very important to work with the right partners,” says Jurie. “Focus on developing long-term relationships wherever you can. You want a partner that is reliable and has the right tools to help and enhance your business. I want to know that whenever I pick up the phone to a supplier, there is always someone on the other side who can help me.”

What’s the secret to building such great partnerships?

“Be honest and open in your business and partner with companies that are honest and open with you,” says Jurie.

“For example, we have an excellent partnership with Introstat, which had been building momentum for a few years — long before we created our own independent business. What’s been phenomenal is how we’ve grown together. When they first came onto our radar they only supplied printers. Over the years Introstat has grown into the areas that we needed to grow and enhance our business. We’ve been able to walk this path together.”

The Lesson: As a start-up or SME, you will often work with service providers who are also on a growth path. Work together — with the right relationship and support, you’ll actually grow together. This can work in a number of ways. Your support allows your suppliers to grow and extend their product and service offerings, which then helps you to expand, or in other cases, clients expand overseas and can take you with them. Partner with a business that you can develop a close relationship with, someone who is reliable and has your best interest at heart. The best way to do this is to ensure your values are aligned. Relationships and support are the foundations of business. Build these with your suppliers and your clients — look at business holistically.

Related: The 10 Best New-Age Business Ideas You Haven’t Heard About Yet

What Introstat can do for you:

  • Years of ICT sector experience brought forward to help you grow your business
  • As an HP Platinum Partner Introstat has access to the full range of HP products from Hardware, Software, Networking  to HP Financing and leasing options
  • Through its consulting expertise, Introstat determines the finest solution for your business
  • Introstat has a team of qualified engineers  that can service and maintain your printer fleet and ICT environment nationwide
  • Offers both onsite and remote technical support
  • Provides services within IT Security, Managed Print, Networking, Server/Storage, Cloud, Hosting, VOIP and IoT Connectivity
  • Introstat is a Premium supplier of PCs, laptops, printers, ink and toner with a national distribution infrastructure
  • A BBBEE level 1 company.

Let Introstat show you the new HP A3 Multifunctional range, the most secure printing devices in the world.

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Partnerships

What To Do When Partnerships Go Bad… Very Bad

What do you when the honeymoon is over and you discover that you’ve gone into business with a snake?

Alan Knott-Craig

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Q: My business partner is trying to screw me out of my business. I approached him a month ago to say I wanted to chase a different path, and sell my minority stake. It’s worth R1 million, but the shareholder agreement says that if I resign he has a call option to buy the shares for nil. His response to my request to exit was that he would exercise his option and pay me nil. What should I do? Should I stay? Should I walk away from the shares with no money? Should I fight for what he owes me? I’m not happy in the company, but I can’t bring myself to write-off the value of my shareholding. — Anonymous

Know who you’re partnering with

I have bad news for you. You’ve lost your money. Kaput. Gone. Minority shareholdings in unlisted companies are worthless, unless you’re in bed with honourable people.

If your majority shareholder is a crook, you’re screwed. You can’t sell to someone else, and a crook won’t do a fair deal to buy you out. If you stay, you’re delaying the inevitable.

You will be screwed. Rather leave now than later. Rather be happy than hang onto the promise of a pot of gold that never materialises.

Focus on creating new wealth

You’re an entrepreneur, so you have the instinct to fight. To never give up. To persevere. This is one of those times where your instinct is wrong. If you fight, you’ll end up in the mud with a pig. Pigs love the mud. He’ll enjoy it, you won’t. Worst of all, you’ll invest energy in trying to regain what you had rather than creating new wealth.

It’s a bit like trying to win back the girlfriend who cheated on you, rather than going out and finding a new girl. Rather find a new girl.

Don’t seek revenge or short term satisfaction

Once you’ve accepted that staying is not an option, and nor is fighting, the next reaction is revenge. “Damn it, I’m going to punch him in the head!” Short-term satisfaction. Long-term, it makes you look bad. And maybe you go to jail.

The best outcome you can hope for is that your story gets traction in your industry/circle of friends/town before his story. Believe me, he has already told everyone he knows that you’re unethical and screwed him. That’s what crooks do.

Related: 7 Ways To Quickly Spot The Wrong Partner (And 3 Tips To Get It Right)

Good luck fighting the war of whispers. Rather don’t. It’s bad energy. Who cares what people think. The people who care don’t matter, the people who matter don’t care.

Let your reputation define your achievements

In the end your reputation will be defined by your life’s achievements, not by the words of a crook. If you are a nothing, no one will care about his words. If you make it big, no one will care about his words.

If you want revenge, be successful. Success is the ultimate revenge. The rule for partners is this: Make it easy for them to screw you early. That way you don’t waste a whole lot of time with the wrong partners.

Whatever happens, remember this: Life is an adventure. It’s your choice how you describe your story. Is it a sad drama (‘Oh woe is me’), or is it a funny story with some speed-bumps and a happy ending? Frame your story as the latter. You hit a speed-bump, not fun. But not the end. The truth is that business is rough and tumble. So toughen up.

Don’t lose faith in your abilities

This is where it’s useful to have a loving spouse. With him or her at your back you can withstand anything. Whatever happens, don’t lose your self-belief. You have the magic.

You’ve had a bad experience in business. So what? You trusted someone. That’s not such a bad thing. You just got a bit unlucky that he was a crook. Next time lucky. But there is no next time if you lose your self-belief.

Winston Churchill lost all his savings to financial con-men in 1929. He said he was faced with two choices: Fight to get back what he lost, or make more money. He decided to make more money. Keep moving forward. Don’t look backwards.

PS: The best way to deal with a crook is to play dead. Cut him loose. Don’t engage at all. Just play dead.

Related: 5 Things to Do Before Saying ‘I Do’ to a Business Partner

Listen to this

Alan’s audible book Be a Hero: Make Life an Adventure is now available on amazon.com and Audible.com

Read by Alan himself, Be a Hero is a collection of stories on how to make your life an adventure but also changing your mind-set and tackling adversity.

Ask Alan
Do you have a burning start-up question? Email: alan@herotel.com


Read ‘Be A Hero’ today

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Company Posts

Make Absa Your First Business Partner

Thinking of starting your own business? We’ll help you think further with a start-up plan, funding, payroll guidance and Enterprise and Supplier Development solutions for your business.

Absa

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Thinking of starting your own business? We’ll help you think further with a start-up plan, funding, payroll guidance and Enterprise and Supplier Development solutions for your business.

Firstly, consider opening an Absa Business Banking Account by choosing from our range of tailored transactional account options online. You’ll be able to make and receive payments through multiple channels that make your banking as hassle-free as possible with our cash handling solutions and merchant services.

Plus, if you are a new business owner you can open any of the business accounts we offer online, register your new company with the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) and get a South African Revenue Service (SARS) tax number in one go.

Related: Business Partners Limited Explain What It Takes To Have The X (Fundable) Factor

A business plan is also essential for every entrepreneur, as it forms the roadmap of how your business will achieve its goals and should include its operational, financial and marketing strategies. Our team of experts will always be available to give you all the assistance you need with your business plan.

Once you’ve drafted a comprehensive business plan and you are ready to venture into the world of business, your next step is to register your business as mentioned. SwiftReg assists with checking existing company names and registering your company’s name, B-BBEE certificates, clearance certificates and more.

We also offer advice to franchisees, whether you’re thinking about buying a franchise or want to turn your existing business into a franchise network. And, if it’s funding you need, we’ll work with you to find the right solution. Our business funding solutions cater for start-ups and existing small, medium and micro enterprises (SMEs) with working capital or expansion finance needs.

Related: 10 Questions to Ask Before Committing to a Business Partner

Lastly, when you need help moving your fully-formed business plan in the right direction, you can visit any of our Enterprise Development Centres across South Africa to build and grow it from inception until maturity through unlocking access to financing, markets and business development support services.

For more information or to open an Absa Business Banking Account online, visit our website.

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