Think of partnerships as the business world’s version of marriage. Just like a relationship, a business partnership requires more than an initial connection. You also need mutual understanding, collaborative agreement and strategies to handle challenges that pop up.

Going into business with a partner? We’ll break down the mechanics of successful partnerships, including how to select the right type of partnership for your co-venture, laying down the legal framework and cultivating an environment for collaborative success.

How to Choose the Right Partnership Structure

Finding the right partner (or partners) for your venture is just the first step. You then need to choose a suitable business structure for your partnership. Although structures differ slightly across states, each type of partnership has a distinct framework that will shape the ways you and your partners collaborate, make decisions and face challenges. 

General Partnership

A general partnership is the simplest form of business partnership. Each partner shares equally in the management, profits and risks of the business. General partnerships are a common choice for many business co-owners: They’re easy to set up and offer a simple, direct approach to running a partnership. 

But there is a downside: Partners in a general partnership bear joint and several liability for the business’s obligations. This means they can each be held responsible for the entire debt of the partnership; not just their own share. Because the liability is unlimited, each partner’s personal assets—including savings and property—are potentially at risk.

Limited Partnership

A limited partnership is a more complex structure than the general partnership. It involves two types of partners:

  • General partners. General partners oversee the day-to-day operations and management of the business. 
  • Limited partners. A limited partner contributes capital and receives profits but isn’t involved in daily management. 

Much like in a general partnership, general partners in a limited partnership have unlimited liability for all the business’s debts and obligations. Limited partners, on the other hand, are only liable up to the amount they’ve invested, and their liability is limited beyond this amount.

This limited liability protection, contingent on the partner not being involved in business management, offers limited partners a safeguard for their personal assets while allowing them to benefit from the partnership’s profits. Meanwhile, general partners benefit from a limited partnership structure because it lets them attract capital while still retaining control over operations.

Limited Liability Partnerships

Unlike general and limited partnerships, a limited liability partnership (LLP) is designed to protect each partner’s personal assets from the business’s liabilities. This arrangement also allows all partners to be involved in day-to-day decision making without compromising their liability protection—a distinct advantage over other partnership models. 

Each partner’s financial exposure is limited to their investment in the business. This ensures that no partner is personally liable for the debts or negligence of another partner.

In addition to this protection from other partners’ actions, which is not available in general partnerships, professionals like lawyers and accountants in many states are limited in their ability to form traditional corporations or LLCs due to regulatory requirements. This makes LLPs a preferred choice over other options for professionals seeking limited liability.

The Partnership Agreement

small business partnership agreements

No matter which type of partnership you choose or how much you trust your partners, it’s essential to put a partnership agreement in place.

Think of this agreement as your partnership’s playbook. It spells out each partner’s rights and responsibilities and sets clear guidelines for daily operations to dispute resolution. This helps prevent misunderstandings and establishes a clear protocol for your operations. 

Every partnership agreement will differ depending on the specifics of your business and partnership structure. Most include these key elements:

  • Roles and responsibilities. Dive into the details of each partner’s role in the business. Clarify responsibilities, duties and who gets the final say in different areas of operations. This can help prevent stepping on each other’s toes and keep everyone on the same page.  
  • Profit and loss distribution. Map out the financial journey of your partnership to sidestep disagreements about money. Define how you’ll distribute wins and share burdens. Detail the exact share each partner takes home, and outline how distributions will be timed.
  • Capital contributions. Lay out the groundwork for investments in the partnership. Clearly state how much each partner will bring to the table, how additional contributions will be handled and the interplay between capital and decision-making power. Include a plan to address what happens if a partner is unable to meet their capital commitments. 
  • Decision-making processes. Craft a blueprint for decision-making within your partnership. Detail how decisions—both big and small—will be made, how votes are allocated, and the threshold of “yes” votes required for various types of decisions. 
  • Dispute resolution. Disagreements are bound to happen, so decide on a method for addressing and resolving disputes. Consider specifying whether mediation, arbitration, or legal action will be used, so all partners know and agree to the approach.
  • Exit strategy. Even though no one is thinking about withdrawing from the business right now, it’s important to specify the terms for exiting the partnership. This includes buyout clauses, the valuation process, and procedures for transferring partnership interests to maintain business continuity. 
  • Dissolution of partnership. Good things often come to an end. Specify terms for ending the partnership to create a clear roadmap for winding down the business. Include a plan for divvying up assets and settling liabilities to ensure an amicable and fair wind-down process. 

Tips for Building and Maintaining a Thriving Partnership

A successful partnership is about more than the division of tasks and the sharing of profits. You also need to create a foundation of trust, collaboration and shared vision. 

Here are some practical tips to help you and your partners work together effectively to drive your business forward:

  • Communicate regularly. Keep the lines of communication open with regular meetings to ensure everyone stays informed.
  • Solve problems together. Create a positive, constructive approach to help partners work through disagreements so they’re resolved quickly and fairly.
  • Keep it professional. Ensure personal relationships don’t mix with business decisions in order to keep things clear and focused.
  • Be flexible. Stay open to changing or adapting plans to keep up with your partnership’s growth and challenges.
  • Celebrate wins. Take time to acknowledge and celebrate your successes to boost team morale. 
  • Welcome feedback. Build an environment where everyone feels comfortable giving and receiving constructive feedback to help each other improve. 
  • Stay united. Regularly check in so that all partners remain aligned with the business’s goals and values. 
  • Encourage wellbeing. Support a balance between work and personal life to keep everyone healthy and happy. 

Like any relationship, the success of a business partnership lies in the strength of its foundation. Whether it’s choosing the right legal structure, crafting a detailed partnership agreement or implementing strategies for collaboration, focusing on these core aspects will create a framework to support your business’s growth and resilience.

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