Hands up if this sounds all too familiar. You’ve been working up the courage to leave your job, only to be paralysed once the stark reality of working on your own kicks in. Or, you might be in the camp that have toyed with idea of joining forces with a friend, only to be put off by advice warning against mixing work and pleasure.
As we’re sure you’ve already realised, we’re constantly raiding the offices and lives of some of the most powerful and downright inspiring women in the business – hello Roberta Benteler and Olivia Wayne. But aside from being inspired by their personal stories, if there’s one takeaway we’ve got from all of the women we’ve spoken to (okay, there might be more than one, but stay with us here), it’s that the path to success often comes with collaboration. You’re only as good as the people you surround yourself and that’s true whether you’ve chosen to go into business with someone else, or gone out alone.
You might share similar passions and love spending time with someone but does that mean you should go into business with them? There’s no right or wrong way answer but in our quest to really figure out what type of considerations to go through, we asked six women who have already done it to impart some wisdom on us. So sharpen your pencils and take out your Smythsons because they’re laying down the groundwork.
Lauren Stevenson, co-founder of Aisle8 Communications
I have always loved being around people and being part of a team. I’ve never been very comfortable working on my own. I think it’s being an only child. I couldn’t imagine starting a business on my own and have loved sharing the journey with Virginia. We and very different in many ways, but it works.
You share the high, lows, celebrate the successes and review the lessons together. We’re always bouncing ideas off each other too. You challenge each other and I think our team benefit from having two people with different skillsets to lead them. It means they’re constantly learning and both Virginia and I are always learning from each other too.
Going into business with someone means you have to have honesty, trust and transparency like with any relationship. There are always times when you won’t agree on something, so you have to be able to compromise and see the other person’s point of view. My advice would be to make sure to understand each other’s vision and goals and strengths and weaknesses before you start. You want to have a partnership where you complement each other and both bring something unique to the table.
It’s just as important to have a clear understanding of what your business partner wants to achieve from a brand, financial and exit perspective because you want to be clear from the beginning that you’re both on the same page about where you want to the business to go. Make sure you draft and sign a legal partnership agreement, as you never what will happen two years down the line. It might sound official but it will actually help protect your friendship because all of the legal framework of your business is clearly set out, which will help avoid any issues or disagreements that could arise.
Pip Black, co-founder of Frame
Joan and I met on holiday and immediately clicked. We had a very similar ethos but the idea to join forces was all down to Joan. Having come over from New Zealand where it’s seen as natural for everybody to exercise all the time, she arrived in London and saw that a huge gap had opened in the market for Frame – she just needed to find the perfect person to do it with. When she met me, she realised she had, and her ideas resonated with me enough to persuade me to come on board.
This is not something that I would ever have embarked on by myself. There is so much pressure, so many details and as we didn’t have any investors for the first five years, we had a workload that would have been impossible to cope with alone. When there are two of you who want to work as hard as you can, it makes a huge difference. Also, everyone has off days – and it’s great to know that when they happen, you have another person there to pull you around. There is a lot of support and positive vibes between Joan and I, and as we both spent time playing sports, working as a team comes naturally.
I really can’t think of any downsides to working together. Joan and I have the same passions, and are trying to achieve the same thing. I imagine it would become complicated if we were at different stages in our lives, but she and I have managed to do everything together – we even had our children at similar times, which avoided anyone feeling left behind, which I think is a risk in some business partnerships.
Anneli Bush, co-founder of SustainTheGlow.com
Having run my fashion blog What I Bought Today for the past three years on my own, I was ready to create and share a new venture with someone else. Sustain The Glow launched just under three months ago, and is a collaborative project with my close friend Charlotte Diaz de la Vega. We met in London working in fashion, but quickly developed a strong connection with our love for healthy living, clean eating, fitness, travel and beauty. The idea was to create an inspirational space online for tips and tricks aimed at people on the go, just like us. Working together has been great in terms of splitting the amount of work but also because it’s allowed me to work on something bigger, utilising both of our strengths and ideas.
The main difference with working with someone as opposed to starting a business on your own is the decision making – every idea or concept needs to be discussed and decided by both parties. This can be challenging and time-consuming at times where we disagree but I love the process of brainstorming collectively. It’s so nice feeling like you’re part of a collective unit and being able to watch something grow and expand with a really close friend. After working on my own, it’s nice to have someone to lean on for advice that knows exactly what I’m talking about. It also helps that we can split the workload, which means we both have more time to perfect and create more engaging content for our readers.
The main challenge we found is the fact that we both live in two different countries – I’m based in London, while Charlotte lives in Stockholm. A lot of our communication is done via email, text and Skype so we have stumbled upon a few issues with miscommunication and delays. Everything is always much easier when we’re able to discuss things in person.
It’s often said that it’s not good to mix friendship and business and in some cases I would agree, depending on the level of the project. Generally though, I don’t think there’s a hard and fast rule. Before considering it, just make sure carefully weigh everything up and consider all the factors: the kind of relationship you have, whether your personalities match, any existing work obligations and the financial implications. Once you’ve gone through that, it’s important to map out each other’s roles and responsibilities – keeping things clear from the start will avoid differences at a later stage. Divided opinions and debates are inevitable but if you’re set on what your roles and day-to-day tasks are from the beginning, things will be a lot easier. Keep an open dialogue along the way and be honest with each other to avoid any crossed-wires!
Petro Stofberg, co-founder of WardrobeIcons.com
Laura came up with the idea of Wardrobe Icons; she had been thinking about the concept for a while. She mentioned it to me whilst on maternity leave and I thought it was brilliant, so brilliant that I was surprised no one else had done it. There where sections of some retail sites that had dedicated ‘basic’ ranges but no one had done it in a curated, editorial way and there certainly wasn’t a website dedicated to essentials. My first thought was, “Fantastic I get to work with Laura” and I think she was relieved to share the burden of starting a new project.
We started working on Wardrobe Icons very slowly – both of us had other commitments and it wasn’t a top priority. If I am honest, I think we were secretly trialing working together to see if we liked it and it turns out we really did. I think had either of us embarked on a project like Wardrobe Icons on our own, we wouldn’t have seen it through – there were so many moments when I would have thrown in the towel but Laura spurned me on. I like to think I did the same for her.
The one thing I would say is to get it all out in the open before you start the journey. Make sure you talk about as many eventualities as you can dream up. Understand what you and your business partner need and want out of the business long term and make sure they are realistic aspirations. Have the awkward talks about money, death and taxes. If you can get through all of this before you launching, you are half way there. Starting something from scratch can be a daunting experience; I am glad I have someone’s hand to hold through all the scary bits.
Caren Downie, co-creative director, Finery London
We worked together in previous roles years ago and remained friends ever since. When I was approached to start Finery I wanted to move away from the way I had worked at previous British High Street brands. After the recession, I was concerned the focus had become more on margin and cost, which meant that the love, care and attention was missing from the product.
I brought Emma and Rachel on board as we all have a great deal of respect for each other and I knew that they have the same vision for Finery as I do. We wanted to build a brand that has at the heart, a team who are passionate about the brand and who love the collection. We work well together because we have the same fashion ethos yet we all have slightly different but complimentary styles – I think this allows us to create our unique collections and also cater to a broader consumer.
We work differently to other high street brands in that we have brought the process and culture of a design house to the team. What we love about Finery is that we are such a small team and this means that we work closely together and we are so much closer to the product – we make decisions as a team and we hope we’re creating collections that people will really fall in love with.
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