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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!)

What You Need to Know Before Starting a Soap Company with a Partner
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.
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‚Äôll 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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8 Responses

  1. Thank you so much for such a valuable post! It’s very timely for me. It seems like people throw around the word “partner” without fully understanding the implications.

    1. YES!! Exactly what Katie L-P said. When I started making soap (“hobby with potential” at the time), it was with a friend (at the time), and she saw it as an equal partnership. It really wasn’t, but I was too cowardly or polite to say anything. I did all the research, buying, and mostly making. She participated a little bit, but seemed to take a lot of credit when we talked about it with other friends. This was okay, then. I figured that since she was so outgoing, and I’m more introverted, she’d one day work a market table, while I could manufacture and it would balance out in that way. Then she decided to move pretty far away for a solid year. She had the expectation that I’d put everything on hold and wait for her…. Every single time I think about it now (years later), I’m SO grateful she moved away… We could have ended up in a business partnership that would have been disastrous. Thanks for posting this article Kenna! I really dig the idea of camping on a rainy weekend for seeing if a partnership will float.

  2. We paid quite a bit of money for a lawyer to help us draw up the Operation Agreement, but it was well worth it. She asked us questions that no one had thought of – like what happens if one of us dies? What happens if one of us goes off the deep end and the others want them out? What happens if the company goes bankrupt? They were questions we didn’t want to think about, but we’re glad that we did & they’re all down on paper now, in case a worst-case-scenario comes about.

  3. This is an EXCELLENT article and an extremely important one. I think it’s all too easy to get lost in Mica Swirls and take you eye off the ball of selling. But like husbands, good business partners are hard to find! I recently had a friend (mum I met at school right) who don’t get me wrong, is very lovely and has her own successful business, but is a force of nature and motivated only by money. Heart in the right place kind of person but no self-awareness. You know the type right! She is definitely my biggest fan, but she started to get so over-excited about it that suddenly she decided she was going to advertise my products, get me a hundred new clients, find a market stall, come to that and sell sell sell…. but on what I might say was to completely the wrong market…anyway I had to politely decline the offer of help. Then it was – she was going to build the website, and was somewhat shocked when I told her it was already done. I’m an ex-IT geek you see. What she didn’t understand was that unlike her business which she does purely for money, I started soap making as a hobby, which became a passion, which is now picking up speed……but at a pace that I control. We soap makers are artisans but suddenly this not-even-in-the-picture friend was pushing me to sell the product without safety assessments, insurance or even before the soap was at 4 weeks cure time!!!! And, what irritated me even more is that our boys are the same age (3) but because she ignores his needs since she has over-grown her business too fast she flippantly thought I was going to do the same. Which brings me to the point (finally I hear you sigh..lol) …I decided to work for myself as a lifestyle choice! Flexible hours which mean I can attend to the needs of my family whilst still earning money and doing what I really love are first and foremost to me. If I stick to that, produce an excellent quality product & focus on client satisfaction …… the rest will follow with careful planning (oh and a good profit and loss spreadsheet!). Personally, I would prefer a silent investor and a few excellent employees over a hands-on business partner.

  4. One of the biggest misunderstandings on part of the new person, and sources of frustration for the experienced person, is the time contribution. I have been approached by several friends to “start a business…it’ll be fun!” And I am glad that I took the time to schedule some work sessions with those people to see if they can stick to a work schedule, if they prioritize the business, and if they can follow through even when they don’t feel “in the crafty mood.” I found that, often, people who don’t already have a part-time or full-time job can be the weakest contributors. You’d think it would be the other way around…but it is crucial that your partners value time as much as you do, I found that, for people that don’t work, tomorrow is always Saturday, and they can be really distracted, late, unfocused. The people who are working at least part-time elsewhere seem to have a deeper appreciation of time as a resource…they show up on time, they are prepared, they make good use of time…in short, they are productive partners and not just idealists or fantasizers. I personally would recommend putting any prospective partners to that same test and make sure that they can handle coming to your house, say, once a week for four straight weeks, at X-o’clock sharp…and commit to working for a pre-agreed number of hours. If they do it and are enthusiastic, you will know for sure. If they have to leave early, can’t be on time, can’t make it because of their friend’s kid’s soccer game, seem bored or fritter the time away with chit chat and little work…then you will have dodged a bullet. I cannot recommend this enough! It’s how you test their ability to commit and tell if this is a serious desire for them, or just a passing fancy that you, in your established business, have made look easy and made them want to “play soap business,” too.

  5. This was such a great article and I also appreciated the comments! My husband and I are working toward starting a bath bomb/ bath fizzy side business. We each have full-time careers- mine being one that I have no desire to leave; his being in a business he has had for approx. 25 yrs, which is physically taxing on his body and so associated with him and his attention to detail, that he hasn’t easily found a way to grow it beyond a certain level that might allow him to take more of a back seat/managerial role. Our industries are completely dissimilar, so there is no way for us to consolidate our strengths and weaknesses into a shared business that maximizes them both…until we began discussing turning this newly developed, shared hobby into a potentially viable joint business venture. I read this article yesterday and shared some of the insights with him last night, which sparked some excellent discussion regarding feelings, expectations, intentions, and goals. The idea of turning this hobby into a business was his and he was taken by surprise when his suggestion/rumination sparked something in me that he has been shocked at how quickly and intensely I took a mere idea and started running with it. (No….I didn’t run headlong into a business I had no clue about. I just started researching it pretty intensely and am informationally already far ahead of him in terms of strategic planning. He processes things more slowly than I do, so he’s still in the “hmm…what would it be like to make this into a business?” place, whereas, I’ve already gone with the assumption that we are going to start a business, so am doing the research into which legal business entity we should select, what insurance(s) we will need, what marketing strategy and business model we will want to utilize, sourcing suppliers and researching the industry and market for our intended product line, beginning to contemplate what types of products we will and won’t want to sell (keeping in mind our full-time careers and available time to invest in creating, marketing, and managing this as a side business), and trying to determine anrealistic timeline for WHEN and HOW our business will launch.

    He forgets/doesn’t realize that obsessive researching is part of MY process, and it doesn’t really mean I’m that much more invested in the he is. It looks different and is a far more engaged and active method of processing than his method of processing is. I eventually do enough research that I am then informed enough to stop and THINK about it all, which is where he will have time to catch up! Lol. (Note to self: EXPLAIN this to him! Ha ha!). Ultimately, this characteristic is one that will benefit us, because I will have cultivated the massive amounts of information out there and will have distilled it down to a degree HE can process more effectively. It’s way more efficient! Research and analytical thinking are key aspects of my profession and skill set being brought to the business pairing, while he will bring a creativity and artistic acumen I lack and am unlikely to be able to fully develop into the mix.

    But, having conversations about each of our strengths and weaknesses, processing methods, ideas, etc., and making sure we are on the same page before we get started, is definitely something we must continue to do. And we both agreed last night that we need to establish some clear expectations and boundaries as it relates to this, even while it is still just a hobby, and especially if we are going to proceed with converting the hobby into a viable business. I’m thankful to have found this website, especially this article, and to be reminded of that!

    So, thanks! I’m just discovering your site and looking forward to reading the other articles- ya know, as part of MY process! Ha ha.

    1. Dana, I love both your excitement and thoughtful approach to this new venture! We have a TON of resources for folks wanting to get started the right way, so I am thrilled you found the site this early in your journey. (Man, I wish Modern Soapmaking was around when I started!) Reach out if you need any guidance toward specific resources. Best wishes.

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