For startups, partnership can be a business accelerant

Over the years I've approached partnering in business several times. Done for the right reasons, with the right people, it can be an accelerant for growth.

I started my first business on my own. Being a designer, I had a skillset that easily translated to working as a soloist. However, my goal was always to grow the business. Even when I was the only full-time employee, I talked about our "team."

Being the sole owner of the business provided me the freedom to make decisions fast, trust my instincts, and reap the financial rewards.

In the first few years, we won some key accounts and I quickly outsourced a significant portion of work. While in this business model, I touched every project.

However, the autonomy that was crucial to our early success turned into a liability. I became a bottleneck. Getting work done while feeding the pipeline of new business is one of the great challenges in a growing service business.

I considered taking on a partner. The goal was to share the load that I was carrying. Seeking counsel on this topic, I turned to my lawyer and longtime friend, who provided sage advice: "Never partner with someone who has the same skillset as you." Simple. Brilliant.

As a result, I began building out a full-time, dedicated team, which allowed us to scale, without me giving up ownership.

In our fifth year, I noticed a flattening of the growth curve. Our singular focus on physical retail experiences wasn't an expanding market. From my observations, businesses either grow or they die - they don't stand still. I didn't like the forecast looking five years out.

Meanwhile, we were turning down work in areas of web development and branding - the exact areas I wanted to expand into. Due to a lack of expertise, I wasn't comfortable accepting work in this space. As fate would have it, this coincided with a good friend of mine, Jim Myers, considering the leap into entrepreneurship. He had built his career in branding and advertising.

Over the course of about a month, Jim and I discussed how we might go to market and what partnership may look like. We talked about our goals for the work, for the agency, and for ourselves. This included candid conversations about finances.

Hint: For those who are contemplating going into business together, my experience is that these conversations shouldn't go on for long. If they do, it is an indication that there isn't a fit.

As a result of our conversations, by 2015 I was back in startup mode. Jim and I partnered, and it was time to reinvent the agency. Previously a design shop that specialized in retail, today Simon/Myers is a full-service marketing agency that specializes in home improvement brands.

It was clear that Jim and I are different in a lot of ways, not just in our work experience. And that is a good thing (remember my lawyer's advice). I'm a business-focused introvert (although I hide it pretty well). Jim is a pure creative and an extrovert.

When it comes to running the business, my emphasis is on finance, HR and marketing. Jim is all about our creative product and new business development. There are two things we share equally, overall strategy and a healthy obsession in building our leadership team.

Ever since partnering, we've had significant year-over-year growth. We continue to reinvest earnings into the agency, we are fortunate to work with a best-in-class team, and our culture is like no other I've experienced.

While our success is attributed to much more than the two people whose names are on the door, I know for a fact that partnering with Jim has helped us build an agency that has been able to go further, faster.

• Lou Simon is the Principal/Founder of Simon/Myers, a marketing agency with offices in Wheaton and Chicago.

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