Haralee Weintraub has a business arrangement she considers ideal. For the past five years, she and her partner Shelby Schefstrom at Haralee Sleepwear, which manufactures clothing for menopausal women, have been dividing up responsibilities befitting their roles as founders based on temperament and aptitude.
“I am responsible for sales and marketing,” explains Weintraub, whose company has a skeletal staff of two, plus myriad independent contractors, “while my partner is responsible for shipping, receiving, inspection, and folding of the products.”
“[Shelby] is very easy going,” says Weintraub. “When we have to go to our manufacturer, he is the best person for the job. We meet with all our independent contractors together and get a sense of whom they relate to better and that's who works the relationship. Sometimes it’s a good cop, bad cop routine. If someone does not perform well or meet a deadline, I am the person that does the talking: I am the bad cop so to speak. It works out well for us.”
In the small business sector, where both human and financial resources may be severely limited, sometimes divvying up all the tasks to two persons can be a viable shorthand solution. What are then some tips that small business owners can employ to split up roles to improve their business flow and ROI?
Map out each owner’s respective areas early on
Jeff Kear, owner of Planning Pod, a software company that serves small businesses, says clearly defining each owner’s role is a critical best practice “because if you're both working on everything all the time you will duplicate efforts and be constantly stepping on each other's toes.” Kear, who shares co-CEO duties at Planning Pod with his partner Steve Feingertz, is well versed in the protocol of partitioning responsibilities of a specific job. In addition to launching Planning Pod with Feingertz, both have been co-CEOs with each other since starting the Denver, Colorado-based branding agency Kear Stevens in 2001. They also run MyWeddingWorkbookPro.com, an online software company for event and wedding planners.
As is the case with Haralee Sleepwear, Kear and Feingertz have also found that a successful division of labor is predicated on knowing and leveraging each person’s talent.
“One of Steven's strengths is product development,” explains Kear. “At the beginning of a project, he and I will sit down and make the big decisions such as the assets required to complete it. We will then agree on timelines. Then he manages that portion of the business, gives me daily updates and consults me when he needs my opinion or when a larger decision needs to be made.” While product development is underway, Kear works on sales and marketing, which includes market research, branding and positioning, search engine optimization, social media, and public relations. He’s also responsible for legal matters, such as contracts. Not only does this collaborative arrangement prevent a repetition of labor, but it also allows each person to concentrate on specific areas of the business. “We have another set of valuable ears and eyes when decisions need to be made,” Kear notes. “We used this process when building Planning Pod and shaved about three months off what it took to build our previous software tool.”
Dare to separate and be “virtual”
Jay Turo and his partner Dave Lavinsky co-founded Growthink, a small private equity firm for small business entrepreneurs, in Los Angeles 13 years ago. “For the first five years of Growthink, we worked in the same small office, with our desks literally across from one another,” recounts Turo. But in 2004, the pair took the company bicoastal and hasn’t looked back since. “When Dave moved to New York, our personal productivity soared along with the growth and the success of the business.”
According to Turo, who says he handles the investment banking and consulting components of the business while Lavinsky helms the publishing side, the physical separation between them resolves a problem that Turo sees with many co-founders/partners. “They invest way too much time in talking with each other when they really should be out independently talking to employees, customers, partners, investors, and other key stakeholders,” he explains.
Find a partner with a different skill set
You remember the old adage about opposites attract? Well, as in a romance, sometimes in business pairing up different personality types can be a blessing.
“I can’t tell you how many people I know who started a business with someone who had an identical or very similar skill set as they had,” says Kear. This can often lead to disputes over control of one facet of the business while other critical aspects are left to languish, he adds. “Sometimes you need to subordinate what you want to do for the success of the business and you have to learn new skill sets. Going into my first business I was a copywriter but had to quickly become a salesperson because I was pretty good at it and the business needed me to go out there and generate revenue.”
Communicate, communicate, and communicate
This may sound like a business platitude but it bears repeating: If you want to be adept at carving up the workload of small business ownership between you and another party, you will have to master the complex nuances of communication. This can entail ongoing web or IM chats, daily updates via e-mails and phone calls and (if you’re geographically near) face-to-face discussions. Not being in the loop could culminate in disastrous decisions leading to lost revenue and clients.
Kear agrees, and says he and his partner operate a “CEO hotline,” which he likens metaphorically to a “batphone” or a “red phone in the President’s office.”
He further clarifies: “My business partner and I are always available to each other via phone and text because you never know when a decision needs to be made and something needs to be discussed. Since we run several Internet-based businesses, we often have emergencies in the early morning that need to be addressed. It may seem like a drawback or challenge, but that's part and parcel of being a co-CEO, and it makes decision-making much more efficient.”
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