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My Partner in Design – what I’ve learned about female business partnerships

By Anne Wall, Course Director, My Interior Design School.

My Partner in Design - what I’ve learned about female business partnerships

No matter how brilliant your mind or strategy, if you’re playing a solo game, you’ll always lose out to a team.” Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn Co-founder.

When my business partner Rachael and I launched My Interior Design School ten years ago, I didn’t know this would be one of the most significant relationships of my life.

Female Business Partnerships

Why do some succeed and others not? How do some female entrepreneurs seem to make it work and others fall out so quickly?

Our company (running online interior design courses and workshops) has a 99% female client base and we encourage our students to ‘follow their dream’ of running an interiors business. Often that can be with a female co-founder.

My Partner in Design - what I’ve learned about female business partnerships

What is the Secret to Making a Business Partnership Work?

What should you expect if you’re planning to run things as a team? How are female business partnerships different and how do you avoid falling out?

I think it’s important to take a look at the facts.

The statistics certainly echo the experience Rachael and I have of running My Interior Design School.  

In a study by The Partnership Resource looking at how different gender business partnerships work, the evidence was revealing.

In female partnerships, only 62% were satisfied with the money they were making compared to 91% of mixed-gender partnerships and 87% of all-male partnerships.

But asked if they would choose their partner again?

Interestingly, the results were reversed. The all-female team scored highest, with 91% of female partners saying they would be happy to choose their partner again, about two-thirds of mixed gender agreeing and just 70% of all-male partners.

So, what does that say about female business partnerships? If making money is not the most critical factor in the satisfaction of the business partnership, what is?

Collaboration is Key

My Partner in Design - what I’ve learned about female business partnerships

Collaboration is key. The working together, the relationships women make along the way and the satisfaction they gain from that.

By nature, females are more supportive and so are willing to make trade-offs with profitability against the quality of the work they create, the challenges they set themselves and the work and lifestyle balance they achieve.

We would agree.

Get it right, and a good business partnership can be life-enhancing.

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”

As Sophie Cornish and Holly Tucker, co-founders of notonthehishstreet.com attest: “We believe heartily that when you hit on a great match with someone, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.

Rachael and I have had challenges in the ten years of My Interior Design School of course, but the enduring factor, which has made the hard work pay off has been our partnership. We love our jobs and 99% of the time, we can’t wait to get to work. How many of us can say that?

But how can you get it right? How do you know when you first start out, that you can work together? What is the key to harmony within a business partnership?

“One plus one should equal three”

One plus one should equal three” says Michael Gerber says in his book E-Myth.

Bring different things to the party.” Try and partner with someone who has a different skill-set to you but which can complement the business.

At My Interior Design School, Rachael and I knew from the outset we had different strengths and so used that to our advantage to define our roles. In the simplest terms, I get the students enrolled and she teaches them.

We also have different personality types, so we try and use that to benefit the business.  I’m the louder, more gregarious of the two, so tend to be the ‘face’ of the business. Rachael has the expertise and knowledge of 20 years teaching interior design and is quietly in the background ensuring the high standards of our courses and encouraging our students to reach their potential.

What Advice Can We Give You?

What advice do we give our students starting a business with a partner? Write up a questionnaire. Ask yourselves how you may react in a given situation. Or better still get someone else who ‘doubts’ your business to ask you some tough questions. How much money are you prepared to invest or lose? What if your business fails? How many hours are you going to work? What happens when one of you is ill? What if one of you wants to pull out?

My Partner in Design - what I’ve learned about female business partnerships

Test Your Working Relationship

It’s also advisable to have some sort of legal document drawn up to clarify the commitment both of you have in the business. Once you’ve done that, assuming you still want to run your business together, then ‘give it a go’. You can only really test a working relationship – by doing just that – work together. Perhaps run a small project first and see how you get on.

We’d acknowledge that it’s more fun, rewarding and easier to get on when your business is doing well. We have grown the business organically, been careful with our financial investment and growth, which in turn has taken off some of the pressure and stress. And fortunately, the business continues to expand and thrive.

My Interior Design School has different challenges now. We employ people and have more financial and time commitments with business partners and joint-ventures. But Rachael and I continue to talk through the major decisions and trust each other to take care of the smaller issues.

My Partner in Design - what I’ve learned about female business partnerships

Ask a Lot of Questions

To any partnership starting out on a business adventure, we would say ‘ask a lot of questions’. What are your different strengths and weaknesses? Are you able to talk through any issues without fear of upsetting the other person? Talking in the early days should help you trust each other and in turn strengthen your working partnership for the future.

Try and offer a different skill-set and ensure both your talents can by mutually beneficial to the business. And as we can’t all be good at everything, be prepared to ‘buy in’ any additional help so you can concentrate on what you are good at.

Respect each other’s expertise. Rachael and I now work so seamlessly together that we almost know what each other is thinking. But we never stop respecting what each of us brings to the (boardroom) table. I look on and admire the immense knowledge that Rachael has for interior design and the way she is able to communicate this and her passion, with our students. I know she feels the same about my role in the business as I try and keep up with ever-changing social media, marketing our courses and workshops and seeking opportunities to expand.

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