What You Need to Know Before Starting a Soap Company with a Partner (Spouse, Sibling, Friend, etc.)
They say two heads are better than one, but in business, is that really true?
It's extremely common for soapmakers to consider starting a soap company with a partner - whether it's a friend, spouse, sibling, or other person who has a previous relationship with them. And believe it or not, I talk to soapmakers often who get approached by someone else to enter their established business as a partner.
Before you move forward with starting a soap company with a partner, you need to consider:
- what's in it for each party involved
- what each person brings to the table
- how well you work together
- if you truly are complementary enough to be in business together
If you have the same strengths and weaknesses, you'll lose out on having a balanced business machine. If you are so ridiculously different, you might spend more time tearing each other down than building each other up.
Michelle and Caron, a dynamic duo of sisters that manage Two Blooms Design Studio, recommend getting out of your comfort zone together before starting a soap company with a partner. For example, going camping together on a weekend when rain is in the forecast. Getting pushed out of your comfort zone happens daily in business, and the adventurous day will help you evaluate how you interact with one another, how you communicate, and bring to light any problems or challenges you might have working together.
If you decide to move forward with starting a soap company with a partner, you will want to make sure to do a lot of prep work to make sure business goes as smoothly as possible. (I'd be lying if I said business goes smoothly, period - but hey!)
Whether it's a spouse, friend, sibling, or other colleague... here's some tips and advice to make the most out of partnerships!
Here's different tips and advice you may want to consider about partnerships, what steps you should take, and how to create a successful business with more than one person at the helm:
Establish your partnership legally.
Each of you should hire a lawyer to specifically represent you and your interests in forming a mutually beneficial arrangement. You'll want to explore your options and make a decision together about what type of company to establish with respect to taxes, ownership, control, and legal structure.
Preston and Tyler, partners in crime & in life over at Sudz by Studz and Gratitude Soapery, initially started their business as a partnership and eventually moved to an LLC structure. They advise that a lot of time, money, and headache could be saved if you tackle the legal side of your business with your partner in the beginning.
Create an operating agreement and put it in writing.
You'll want to outline what each person's investment in the business is, what their roles and responsibilities are, and what decision making capacity they have. Don't forget to consider how the partnership could or should dissolve, if necessary, and any exits a partner might take, whether voluntarily or involuntarily. You should have a plan in place for if a partner wants to leave, if a partner passes away unexpectedly, or if a partner wants more or less control.
Consult a lawyer and a CPA (certified public accountant) while writing your operating agreement to ensure that you've covered all your bases and are fully in compliance with applicable laws and regulations.
Let's say this again: establish clearly defined roles and responsibilities.
Identify your strengths and weaknesses, and account for them together. Make a list of responsibilities and tasks that each of you feel that you are qualified to handle and are interested in taking over. Discuss each area of the business, the tasks involved in each area, and have each person take ownership of roles that support the person's strengths. Have a clear outline of what how much decision making power the responsible party has, how they will be held accountable to their responsibilities, and what the indicators of success are for those responsibilities.
If you both have a strong weakness in an area of business, or don't feel a task is appropriate for either of you to handle, get educated through training, classes, etc., or outsource the task.
Discuss values, needs, expectations, and goals thoroughly.
Sit down and really discuss each other's values, needs, expectations, and goals thoroughly... and often. Everyone involved with the business ownership should have a clear understand of the long-term goals of the business. Each person should be working towards the same end-game, together. When one person is winning in their role, the other should be, too.
The same goes for expectations and needs - it's ridiculously important to be honest, and put forth the effort to satisfy the needs of each person involved. Each person's reason for being in the partnership is likely different, and those reasons need to be honestly on the table.
Lastly, Tyler & Preston recommend brainstorming and listing all of the values that you share as a partnership and creating a mission statement for the partnership as well as a resource guide to resort to when conflict arises. For example, if your mission is to treat each other with kindness and respect, then you're implicitly agreeing to listen when your partner is speaking without interrupting, not lashing out at them over the mistakes they make, helping them when they need it, and so forth.
Create boundaries, and communicate ridiculously so.
Every partnership is going to be different, but it's important to set boundaries on personal life and work life. Depending on the nature of your partnership, you may need to communicate if something is happening in your personal life that affects your professional performance, or you may decide together where to draw the line.
If the partnership is between close personal relationships like family members, you need to ensure that you set working schedules and dedicated time for both personal and professional activities. You don't want to throw off the balance of a good personal relationship and sacrifice a healthy working environment, or vice versa.
Both or all partners should know what is going on at all times, and communication should be a top priority. Make sure to specify in person meetings regularly, and stick to a schedule to ensure you stay on the same page. Michelle & Caron recommend deciding how and when you'll communicate, whether that's through email, text messaging, verbally, or through a notebook that gets passed back and forth.
Anne-Marie of Soap Queen recommended the book, Crucial Conversations, to me a couple years ago when I was considering a partnership opportunity myself, and while that partnership didn't worked out, the lessons I learned from reading that book stick with me.
Don't let disagreements come to head in verbal (or physical!) battles - communicate, set boundaries, and keep each other in the loop.
Tackle problems head on.
No disagreement, issue, or bump in the road is too small to talk out with a partner. If it bothers you, speak up. When you try to sweep an issue under the rug, it doesn't go away - it sits under that rug, tripping you up, and nagging at you. It will affect your working relationship with a partner, and that's the last thing you need!
Michelle & Caron mentioned that being partners is great, but they can be challenging since there are multiple people involved with differing ideas. They recommend finding a third person to meet with to get an outside perspective, whether that's a mentor or business coach. They also recommend figuring out now what you’ll do when you both crash from exhaustion, because it will happen!
Preston & Tyler admit that there will inevitably be a time that one partner will take out their frustrations on the other, whether they mean to or not. Don't let that tear your partnership apart, get it on the table and talk it out.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T one another.
Every person involved should support and appreciate the other, and always show respect. As common sense as it seems, disrespectful behavior crops up in partnerships often. It should go without saying that one partner shouldn't ever take advantage of or exploit the weaknesses of another, and that your biggest cheerleader should be the other person with their hands in the pie!
Do you have a partner in your biz? I'd love to hear any other tidbits of advice or information you can offer up from experience! Leave a comment below, and share it up!
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