Globe and Mail Small Business – April 15, 2015

Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. These are a few examples of some of the greatest business partnerships in recent history. And while businesses built on a partnership are far more likely to success than those that aren’t, they must be well managed.

Sue Pridham and Veronica Marsden, As co-presidents of Tri Fit, a company that works with some of Canada’s largest brands to offer creative wellness solutions, we have beat the odds and established a 37 year partnership that is as strong today as it was in 1978.

Treating our business relationship like a marriage, we’ve endured the ups and downs of growing a business, numerous economic recessions, and growing families, yet we’ve figured out how to divide responsibilities, communicate effectively and build a thriving business. Here is a guide to our modus operandi and business success.

1.    Formalizing aspects of the partnership
Similar to a pre-nup, partnership agreements are a necessity and best to do these at the beginning. Many move forward in a business partnership with good intentions, but skim over the hard conversations about how they will handle the business if the partnership should dissolve. Bringing in the right legal professionals at the beginning will help you to work through some of the hard questions to start you off on the right foot.

2.    Deal with the ups and downs of the business
With ebs and flows in the business cycle, managing workload and the division of work takes constant attention. When dividing work, understand one another’s unique competencies, interests and workload. Keep each other abreast of your progress and ask for help when needed. It is important to support one another in good times and bad. Recognize that business failure is inevitable. Learn from your experiences and move on. It is easy to get caught up in the day to day and lose sight of your most important role; to grow the business. Always keep business development a top priority.

3. Joint Decision Making
Communicate openly and frequently and look for opportunities to build consensus. When making important business decisions, remember that it’s okay to agree to disagree. Working together for many years can create a co-dependent mindset. Like in a marriage you start to finish each other’s sentences. Build a diverse team around you and foster innovation and new ideas. Challenge assumptions. Don’t fall into the trap that if an idea didn’t work in the past, it won’t work now.

4. The importance of supporting one another personally and professionally
When we started Tri Fit we were also starting our families. We respected that at times family came first regardless of what was going on in the business. At various stages we reduced our work load to balance work and family. We respect one another’s individuality and personal interests and value time away from the business to rest and rejuvenate.

5. Building a business that they both feel passionate about
We both love what we do and do what we love. We come from similar backgrounds where fitness and healthy lifestyle is at the core of everything we do. Our mantra in our personal and business lives is health, energy and performance. We are active runners, cyclists and healthy eaters, and passionate about wellness. We bring this knowledge and enthusiasm to our clients and staff team on a daily basis. We also like to give back to the community participating in team ‘fun raising’ events such as the Ride to Conquer Cancer and we are corporate sponsors of the Shoebox Project for Women in Shelters.

6. Bring in the experts
When we felt our business needed a little injection of fresh ideas, we hired an executive coach who helped us to ensure we were on the same page when it came to business goals and strategic planning. We also recognize our strengths and weaknesses. Neither of us have a business background so we have built up our leadership team and partnered with industry experts to bridge the gaps.

7. Check in with each other once in a while
Don’t forget to nurture the relationship just as you would your marriage. Check in on goals, are you still on the same page? Has your tolerance for risk changed? Is there anything you need to get off your chest? Are you still having fun? We are at different stages in our personal lives which makes this even more important.

8. Take care of the pennies…
Money matters is one of the most common causes of marriage and business break down. We connect regularly to review the bottom line and financial projections to ensure we are on track. Take a reality check when it comes to setting financial projections.

9. Valuing the contributions each partner brings to the business and recognize success
We have chosen to maintain somewhat similar roles in the business. We both enjoy the variety of business development, consulting and providing leadership to our staff team. This has helped us to keep engaged and continue to grow. It also gives us the flexibility to take time off and step in for each other when needed. This ensures clients have ongoing support.

We always like to recognize success whether is it personal or business related.

10. Keeping the family growing
We have grown our team like a family with the same tenants as our partnership – trust, respect, caring, a shared value system, and fun! This has resulted in Tri Fit being a 5 time winner of the Great Place to Work Award™.