A business partnership is almost like a marriage. There are vows that must be made and kept for the joint venture to succeed.
In 2019, businesswomen Cheryl Mayberry McKissack and Desiree Rogers accepted the ultimate challenge: They partnered to purchase not one, but two cosmetics companies. McKissack and Rogers acquired Black Opal and then, Fashion Fair, two brands that were culturally affirming to Black women.
McKissack is a serial entrepreneur and head of her own digital consultancy firm, Nia Enterprises, LLC. Rogers is the former White House Social Secretary for President Barack Obama’s office and former chief executive officer of Johnson Publishing Company.
Then the pandemic hit, challenging the partners on how to operate and market their newly-acquired companies in a new and untested business environment.
“Whenever it got really hard I read that manifesto, and it was a beautiful salute to all that is and will be and has been Black women,” Rogers told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Our fashion, our glamour, our beauty. We wanted to honor the historical past but we wanted to be cognizant of what 2020 and beyond looks like.”
McKissack and Rogers’ commitment to the legacy of Fashion Fair and managing their partnership allowed them to find success despite a global pandemic. As a result, Fashion Fair relaunched as a brand and is sold at Sephora. And Black Opal, a staple in drugstores, expanded its distribution to Target.com and Ulta. Black Opal’s product line was also expanded to add an eyeshadow palette as well as an array of powders, lip, and eye pencils.
“We decided to align the talents of each partner that was best suited to address the issues with the secondary support of the other partner,” McKissack and Rogers said in an interview with Finurah. “Switching up who is leading was helpful in creating a balance of the required work.”
Partnerships are not easy to launch, grow and sustain. According to the most recent data shared by the IRS, an estimated 4 million business owners filed taxes as partnerships. However, studies have shown that partnerships have a failure rate of 50 to 80 percent.
But what does it take to run a successful partnership?
“The ingredients to a successful partnership are respect for each other’s strengths and understanding and patience on your differences,” said McKissack and Rogers. “Open and constructive communication is the secret to getting past some of the differences and moving forward.”
In addition to McKissack and Rogers, several Black business owners operating in partnerships shared their insight and experiences with Finurah.
Establish a Clear Mission and Vision
For a business partnership to start on the right foot there needs to be an understanding of objectives and methods. The first step in developing a partnership is to define your company’s mission and vision. A mission statement will cement the purpose of operating your business. A vision will establish where the partners want the business to go in the future. This is such an important step because if partners do not possess the same mission and vision for their business they’re laying the foundation for conflict.
“Don’t forget what brought you to this idea,” said the founders of Atlanta-based TurnSignl. “Whatever problem you’re solving or people you want to help, keep it as your North Star. Trust the instincts that brought you to it.”
Understand the Unique Skills That Each Partner Possesses
Every business needs experts — leaders and team members — who can support the growth of the business. As partners, it is important that the members have complementary skills and strengths. This way, they are naturally launching as a powerful team.
Marissa Atiya is the CEO of 4Curls, a company she founded with her mother, Lisa Swift Young. The natural hair care company targets women between the ages of 25 and 37. Since Atiya is much more attuned to the demographic than Swift Young, she taps their needs and desires when developing products. Swift Young focuses on business operations.
“I would advise other entrepreneurs working a partnership to appreciate the talents of the team,” Atiya told Finurah. “It is important to assign tasks based on current skills.”
Define Partner Responsibilities
One of the easiest ways to avoid disagreements in a partnership is to define each partner’s responsibilities. From the moment the co-founders launch the business they need to identify the roles each person will play. This will also help their employees, vendors, and clients understand the critical role that each person plays in the business.
When Taylor Tankson and Kareem Wallace launched the luxury home essentials brand Tribe & Oak they realized that while they were both perfectionists, they also each had specific skills that could be helpful in the business’s success. While Tankson focuses on business operations and accounting, Wallace handles social media, photography, and email marketing campaigns.
Establish A Legal Agreement
McKissack and Rogers are not only business partners, they also have been friends for 20 years. Their advice: Put everything in writing.
Starting a business with your best friend? Sign a contract. Launching a business with your family? Sign a contract. The easiest way to ruin a long-standing relationship is to not have formal agreements in place. Establish the business’s structure, the financial contribution that will be the responsibility of each partner, how decisions will be made and disagreements resolved. Finally, anticipate the end of the business partnership by creating an exit agreement. By considering the unexpected, the team will be preserving relationships and heading off potentially expensive disagreements.
“When deciding to go into a partnership, sit down and discuss how both of you will run the business, and have an independent party prepare a contract that you both will provide input and sign,” said McKissack and Rogers. “Putting your thoughts in writing is a critical process in setting the foundation of the business.”
Be Honest With Your Partner
More than anything, partners need to be honest with each other. Without honesty, how can you carry out the mission and vision of your business?
In business — especially when working with others — there is no space for dishonesty. Share your opinions and be willing to listen to your partner’s needs as well. Sometimes it is difficult to discuss business matters — especially when there are financial struggles. But face the business’s challenges and be ready to find solutions.
“Always remember that you are on the same team,” Tankson told Finurah. “The goal is to work together to put out the product or service. If you all keep high respect for each other, it will be much easier to trust decisions made by one person according to their strengths and the other according to theirs.”