Partnerships – Good or Bad?

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Many of the 6,000 healthcare professionals I have met over the last 27 years have asked me my thoughts on partnerships:

  • “Should I go into partnership?”
  • “Should I get out of my partnership?”
  • “Are partnerships doomed to failure?”
  • “My partner won’t agree to the changes in staff that I would like to make.”
  • “My partner is close to retiring and I am just starting and I want to upgrade the antique equipment and outdated décor but he doesn’t want to spend any money at this point; what do I do?”
  • “My partner and I can’t agree on our branding and marketing strategy so we are at a standstill and not promoting.”

The thing about most professional partnerships is that you are married together for money, not love.  And that subject (money) can cause an awful lot of stress on partnerships.  However, not all partnerships are bad by any means.  It’s just that, like anything else, there have to be rules and agreements.

The Rules of Partnership

Definition of Partnership:  “A partnership is an arrangement where parties, known as partners, agree to cooperate to advance their mutual interests.”

  1. The first rule is to decide WHY you want to do a partnership?

There are many reasons, good and bad, why professionals go into a partnership:

  • You are an associate and a partner of the practice is retiring and offers you his share.
  • You want to have someone share the burden of management and costs of running a practice.
  • You can’t get the financing on your own to buy a specific practice so you ask your best friend to go in on it with you.
  • Your wife or husband is the same profession and you want to share a practice.
  • You really admire the potential partner’s skills and business style and feel honoured that he/she asked you to be a partner.
  • … Any one of a million more reasons.

As you can see, not all of the above are bona fide reasons for becoming a partner.  So be sure you are doing it for all the right reasons.

  1. Know before you go.

Really get to know the potential partner.  Spend lots of time together to get to know each other.  Each of you should sit down separately and work out the goals you have for the practice, your idea of the mission statement, rules that you would like to have, and so on.  Then meet and see if you are on the same page or miles apart.  A large difference in age, short term and long term goals, financial condition, family … all these can be definite deal busters and must be confronted analytically and unemotionally.  This is a business decision.

  1. “Till death do us part.”

All partnerships must have legal, written agreements.  Do not go to a general lawyer but rather, find one that has been specializing in partnership agreements for some time.  There are a lot of fine points that must be covered, even to the extent of how to end a partnership if one or the other partner has had enough and wants to leave.

  1. If it isn’t written, it isn’t true.

If the partnership is a “go”, then you need to put those mission statements and goals together into a mutually agreed upon form and you must always present a unified front on all decisions and issues.  Never let your staff get between you and cause a division or play one off against the other (like kids do to their parents).

  1. Talk and Share a lot.

Have frequent partnership meetings to discuss business matters, marketing directions, staff issues, ideas in general, how each other is doing generally, etc.  You need to keep on the same page and work out differences in a gentlemanly way.  Letting issues build up steam until you are mad at each other is a huge mistake.  Do not make unilateral decisions or go behind your partner’s back.  You agreed to the partnership which included agreeing to work things out amicably.

To Summarize:

I am in a great partnership with my husband and we are married for love AND money.  However, we are a rarity and have followed most of the rules above.  Hence we have made it work successfully for 27 years so far.

Therefore, if a partnership seems to be for you, go through the above processes to be sure it is the right and logical thing to do and then follow the above rules and any others you care to mutually create!

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