New Employee On-boarding Tips

Hiring a new employee is a time-consuming process. You need to define the position, promote the job, evaluate candidates and decide on the right hire. You must think through your hiring plan carefully and then act fast, as other businesses may be interested in hiring your top candidates, too. This process doesn’t end when you offer someone a job and he/she says yes. Now you need to prepare for your new employee’s first day.

The first 90 days on the job are critical for an employee’s success. You want the new person to feel welcomed, engaged and ultimately be happy in the role and committed to your business for the long term.

new employee

Here are some tips to consider when you hire a new employee.

Create an on-boarding plan

Map out how you will orient the new employee to the new job and the business.

  • What will his/her first day, week and month look like?
  • What information about the responsibilities and internal systems will you share when?
  • How will you introduce the new person to key contacts?
  • How will you communicate the business culture and key values?
  • What will be the new employee’s first assignments?

One approach is to create a calendar and/or checklist with key tasks to be learned and/or completed during the first week, month and quarter. This will give both you and the new employee a roadmap to follow so that expectations are clear.

Have the work environment ready

The new hire’s desk or physical area must be ready, with computer set up and e-mail configured. Have payroll figured out and any related new employee paperwork prepared. A welcome packet can include the employee’s job description, a schedule for the first 2 weeks, important contact information, and your business policies and procedures. (Consider creating an employee handbook that explains the company culture, benefits packages and the “rules and regs” of the business.)

Make the first day special

The new employee will probably show up excited but also a bit nervous on the first day. You want him/her to have a positive feeling about the business and co-workers right away. Set a welcoming mood and show the new hire that you are ready. Call employees together to introduce the new hire, or introduce to others one-on-one. Have a lunch plan for the new employee on the first day to help him/her feel welcome.

Train in small modules

There is so much to learn when starting a new job. To be effective, training sessions shouldn’t feel like marathons. Take breaks. Segment the orientation into manageable blocks no longer than 90 minutes. Use time between training sessions for the new employee to meet more staff, tour a particular area, and get started on meaningful but simple or straightforward work.

Check back on a regular basis

Make time for check-ins with the new employee — both during the training process and beyond. This can take the form of a regularly scheduled meeting, a weekly meal, or an informal chat. Discuss concerns, answer questions, share your feedback and address any negative issues before they fester.

Your good planning and continued support will create a lasting, positive environment for this new employee. Remember, you are making a long-term investment in this most important business asset!

Paul Terry & Associates helps clients hire new staff. We can advise on the best hiring steps or completely manage the hiring process from outreach to on-boarding. Are you thinking about hiring someone? We are here to help you hire and train the best person for the job.

Family Business Advice

Owning and operating a small family business – whether you are a business founder or part of the next generation to operate the business – is very different from running a small business with people who aren’t family members. We asked two of our clients to share their thoughts and advice related to the family business experience. One is part of a multi-generational family business and the other has been in business with her husband for over 20 years.

MARTY SANCHEZ, third generation of Casa Sanchez

As a part of the third generation of a successful San Francisco Bay Area family business, Marty understand the dynamics of multi-generation family businesses and shares this advice:

On playing to your your strengths

In every family business, each person has a strength that really helps the family – it could be related to sales, bookkeeping, organization, etc. Learn who you are and figure out your strengths. Engage in the parts of the business that you are good at and where you can make a difference.

On communication and compromise

With family, you sometimes speak without thinking first. Nagging is a common way of communicating in family businesses. This is not the best way to communicate, but it can be effective! You must not forget that the strength of the relationships is the strength of the business. Family business means compromise. This goes for out-laws (in-laws), too, who may not fully understand the family dynamics and have their own ideas for the business.

On personal vs. business time

One holiday many years ago when the family was together, we couldn’t stop talking about the business. Someone said, ‘Let’s not talk about business at all on Thanksgiving and Christmas’… and we’ve stuck to it! This makes holiday time extra special.

On growing up in a family business

Kids get involved with a family business organically. They hang out at the business after school every day and start to help out. They learn about it without even knowing it. It’s ‘Take Your Kid to Work Day’ every day! As kids get older, they can feel obligated to help their parents, siblings or other family members. Guilt can play a large role as they don’t want to abandon the family. We need to be sensitive to these feelings and make sure that those in the next generation feel comfortable talking to someone in the family about the business and their role in it.

On compensating family members

There needs to be a clear understanding about how compensation is handled for family members and how pay and raises are calculated. Imbalances in pay or a lack of clarity lead to resentment. Create clear compensation rules that are related to roles, tasks, hours worked, etc. and put it in writing.

On getting outside support

When an issue comes up, it can be hard to talk about it openly, and in a way that leads to resolution. A family member may be unhappy but may not feel comfortable talking about it. It has been really helpful for us to meet with a mediator to discuss issues, find ways to compromise, and move forward.

On family pride

People love to support family businesses and they love to hear that I am the third-generation in our family business. Customers recognize the commitment, passion, dedication and hard work and want to support us. I’m very proud to be a part of a family-owned business.

DEBORAH BOWES, co-owner of Feldenkrais Center for Movement & Awareness

Deborah has co-owned Feldenkrais Center for Movement & Awareness with her husband, Cliff Smyth, since 1996. Here are her tips for other businesses owned and operated with a life partner:

On communication, compromise and sharing the load

  • Agree on the steps to take next. Be willing to compromise and sometimes follow your partner’s dream.
  • Share the stress. Be attentive to when your partner needs a break and give it to him/her.
  • Be honest with what you want to do and the kind of support that you need.
  • Allow each other to work from his/her strengths.
  • Give a lot of support when your partner is doing something the he/she doesn’t like to do or doesn’t want to do. After all, there’s always going to be some of that!
  • Make specific times for work meetings and take notes. It’s so easy to forget who agreed to what.

On managing conflict

  • Don’t talk about work before going to bed.
  • Go for walks to talk out difficult issues.
  • When you both are around your employees, be professional with each other.
  • Keep any private issues at home.

On work/life balance

  • Home support is essential. Share tasks related to cooking and cleaning, and use a housecleaner if that is helpful.
  • We get grouchy if we have worked all day, come home hungry and there’s nothing to eat in the house. Have food in the freezer ready for a quick meal or get take out once a week.
  • Your business depends on your own self care and health. It is as important as everything else you do. Stay hydrated and try to fit some type of movement or exercise into your day.
  • Laugh together and relax together.

Deborah’s last words of advice are applicable to ALL of us – “Be the kind of boss you’d want to have and the kind of employee you’d value!”

At Paul Terry & Associates, we are familiar with the challenges specific to family business owners and joint ventures. We help new joint ventures define the terms of their relationship and established partners address current issues and update agreements. Learn more about our services.

Check out these tips and resources for family-owned businesses.

Operating a family-owned business

At Paul Terry & Associates, we understand family-owned business dynamics. Paul worked for his father’s sawmill manufacturing business while in high school and college, and his first two businesses in San Francisco were partnerships with a married couple. Today Paul’s daughter Jenny is a part of the Paul Terry & Associates team, when she’s not running her family farm with her husband.

family-owned business

We know that owning and operating a business with family can have a lot of advantages, especially related to trust and a joint commitment to the enterprise. This is often essential in the early stages as the business is getting off the ground. Everyone in the business is driven by their passion for creating the product or providing the service.  But once the “honeymoon” stage is over, things can get more challenging and complicated, as additional business skills are required. Careful attention must be given to operating the business and relating to one another as business partners and not just family members.

Roles and responsibilities

Every business needs clearly defined roles and responsibilities for the people associated with the business. This is especially important when the owners or the employees are family members. With a family business, every issue affecting your business relationship could easily spill over into your personal life. It is essential to:

  • Create job descriptions outlining each person’s role and specific responsibilities, and revise when necessary.
  • Set regular meetings (monthly/quarterly) to discuss tasks, responsibilities and how decisions are made.
  • Confirm that employees who aren’t part of the family know how to deal with the family lines of authority.


When you have a personal and a business relationship with someone, communication requires extra care. It can be easy to be critical with a relative in ways that you never would be with a non-family member colleague. You probably know how to push his/her buttons! Simple rules of good communication must still apply.

  • Address issues as they surface in a respectful, honest and open way.
  • Approach your interactions from a place of respect and trust.
  • Refrain from talking about personal issues during work time, especially when around people who aren’t family members.
  • Spend time with your family members when you don’t talk about the business.
  • When needed, bring in an outside mediator to help resolve the issues that you can’t fix alone.
  • Use an experienced business advisor to help build your management skills.

Governing structure

Just like any other business with more than one owner, it is very important to have written agreements. This can include both the governing and operating structure of the business as well as the roles and responsibilities of each owner, particularly related to decision-making. Everything may be working fine… until it isn’t. For a family business, it is very important to consider these questions:

  • How will family partners evaluate each others’ work? Will there be performance reviews?
  • How will family partners be compensated? Does everyone make the same amount?
  • What happens to profits from the business and how are they divided?
  • What happens when one partner no longer want to own/run the business? Who gets the first right of refusal?
  • What is the policy for bringing other family members into the business?

Like all joint ventures, every family-owned business needs an ownership operating agreement in writing. This agreement should include an operating agreement as well as a succession or exit plan to protect both the business and the personal relationship of the owners.

Getting support

It is tempting to try and “go it alone” and take care of issues within the family instead of discussing your problems with outsiders. But outside support – whether from a trusted business advisor or another family-owned business – can bring different perspectives and solutions. An advisor or mediator can help you address underlying issues that may be difficult to bring up or handle without support. They can also help you implement and maintain better business systems and make adjustments as needed.

Here are local resources for family businesses:

Gellert Family Business Resource Center
This University of San Francisco center provides family-owned businesses with access to networking and practical family business information, and helps promote next-generation leadership.

Family Business Strategies Summit
The San Francisco Business Times sponsors an annual breakfast and conversation with family business owners every July. Family-owned businesses share some of the common challenges they face, as well as strategies and best practices for effectively managing and growing a family business.

 Check out our services to see how Paul Terry & Associates helps family businesses and other joint ventures and business partnerships to launch and grow, as well as plan for transition or succession.

Ready to Hire? Create a plan.

There are many ways to manage expected business growth. You can improve or streamline your systems, sub out work to independent contractors, or take on more work yourself. Yet at some point, sustained business growth may mean hiring full-time or part-time employees.

ready to hire

When you decide to hire a new employee, it’s tempting to get someone (anyone!) into the job as soon as possible. We recommend that you FIRST think through what you need, who you want, and what you can afford. Then, create a hiring plan. Proceeding carefully can make the difference between finding a temporary fix or hiring the right person for the job.

Before you hire, think carefully about:


  • How much will a hiring process cost you?
  • How will hiring a new employee add value to your business?
  • What are you able to offer in terms of salary and other benefits?

Job description

  • What are the specific tasks that need to be handled by this position?
  • What are the basics of the position (full/part-time, on-site/remote, etc.)?
  • What skills and experience are necessary to do this job well?

Be clear about the “must-have” v.s. the “would-be-nice-to-have” qualifications for this new hire.


  • Where are potential candidates looking for jobs?
  • Who might know someone great for this job?

Diversifying your outreach will help you find the most qualified candidates. Online job sites may be the best way to promote the job but be sure to do your research. Some sites are industry-specific, some are free and some are pricey. Let colleagues, friends and customers know exactly who you seek. Word-of-mouth can be powerful! Social media, your website and e-newsletters are great ways to spread the word.

Screening candidates

  • How will you communicate with applicants?
  • What are the steps in your screening process?
  • What interview questions will help you identify the best applicants?

Consider asking applicants to answer questions by email first, and then interview select candidates by phone. Only bring the best candidates in for face-to-face interviews. Adding these screening steps may save you time in the long run. Choose your interview questions carefully. You want to explore the candidate’s range of experience and skills, how they will handle challenging situations or conflict on the job, and how they will fit into your business culture.

Evaluating candidates

  • How do you decide which applicant is best for the job?
  • How does your hiring team agree on who to hire?

Often the “right” hire isn’t completely clear. A candidate may have great qualities/skills in one area but deficiencies in another area. (We use evaluation tools with our clients to assess the pros and cons of each candidate.) Be sure to request at least three professional references and then call to confirm that your impressions match others’ experiences. When you finally come to a decision, be sure to act fast. If you love this candidate then chances are other employers do, too! Call or email to offer the job and then follow up with an offer letter.

Once you complete the hire, it’s time to create a plan to on-board this new employee!

Are you thinking about hiring someone? We help small businesses hire new staff. We develop job descriptions and interview questions, and help design the right hiring process. We can help manage the hiring process from outreach to interviews to selection. 

Stepping away – a management transition

Sometimes “getting out” of a business doesn’t mean giving it up completely. It may just mean letting go of a certain amount of control. Stepping away from day-to-day operations. Delegating management responsibilities to someone else so the business can continue to function smoothly. For this type of transition to be successful, the business owner needs to be ready to give up control.

stepping away

Your business = Your identity

As a small business owner, your whole identity can be wrapped up with your business. If you step away, you could lose that identity. You could lose a reason to stay involved with a merchants group, or you may no longer be invited to participate in certain business networks. Without your business identify, you have to redefine or reinvent yourself.

In any business exit or succession—whether it involves transitioning out of business ownership or just management control—a gradual process is ideal.  We encourage business owners to:

Assess your current business first

Before rushing into a change, you need to understand the value of your business and the strength of your systems. Are you building or have you built business assets that have real value? Do you have operational systems that can be understood by others? Do you have key employees that will stay and take on increased responsibilities?

Share your knowledge

Employees or junior partners will need to be prepared to become majority owners. Family members need to know what they are getting into. You may need to hire new senior management who must get up to speed. Any new manager (or eventual owner) needs to get to know the business inside and out and develop the skills needed for success.

If the transition is gradual, a new manager/owner will have time to grow into his/her role, gain confidence and also credibility in day-to-day management. As time goes on, you can take on more of an advisory (or backseat) role… and by then you will be ready to be in that new role.

Get support

It can feel impossible to focus on a future transition when there is so much to attend to with the business right now. You are managing products or services, employees, cash flow, marketing and day-to-day operations. How do you focus on your transition goals when so many other aspects of the business need your attention right now?

An advisor, support partner or support group can help you stay accountable to your transition planning. We work with small business owners who want to step away from a full-time management role but are struggle to figure out how to do it.

We help clients:

  • Put the right management systems in place to step away
  • Hire or promote the right management staff
  • Work with family members to build skills and create a succession plan
  • Gain confidence in the new management team
  • Create financial projections for the transition
  • Clarify their new role apart from the business

As small business owners, we pour our hearts (as well as lots of time and often lots of money) into our businesses to make them succeed. After that huge investment, we want to be remembered for our excellent products and valuable services. We want to see our businesses continue to flourish even after we step away from full-time management or are completely out of the picture. Creating a plan for how to transition will help make it happen, and can help make our desires a reality. Start now!

Wendy’s Wisdom

As the coordinator and teacher of Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center‘s Business Planning Class, I help small business entrepreneurs create solid business plans focused on management, marketing and money. Students learn, struggle and grow through the process… and many return to Renaissance to share their lessons learned as guest speakers, consultants and mentors.

At the last Business Planning Class graduation, Wendy Lieu, graduate of the Fall 2012 Business Planning Class, shared her wisdom. As of owner of Socola Chocolatier, Wendy Lieu handcrafts delicious artisanal confections.

Hiring great professional support

In every stage of small business, whether you are an emerging or an established business owner, it is important to have trusted relationships with professionals who know you and can support and direct your business growth and long-term sustainability.

professional support

Why get professional support?

As a small business owner, you will hire outside experts for many reasons — for technology support, social media development, financial planning, bookkeeping, legal issues, personnel reviews, or to improve your business management. You may also benefit from contracting with a business advisor who can be an expert sounding board on business decision-making, holding you accountable and helping you to meet your goals.

What to consider first

First, you need to be clear about why you want help and what you want from any professional. What is your challenge or opportunity?

Next, identify the qualities that would make a professional a good match for you and your business. You want to find someone who:

  • Has skills and experience that exceed your needs
  • Is ethical, transparent and trustworthy
  • Has an approach that fits with your style
  • Is available when you need them

How to find “the right one”

It can be hard to know if someone will be a good match just from looking at a website. We recommend asking for referrals from people you know and trust, and who are also in small business. After getting referrals, though, you must still do your own due diligence! You are not just hiring someone for an hour of their time (even if for now that is all you need). You want to find someone who can be a great support person for your business for months and years to come.

Due diligence

Whether you find a professional from a Google search or a trusted colleague, you need to do your homework. When interviewing potential people to work with, it is important to:

  • Honestly represent who you are and what you are looking for
  • Ask lots of questions to verify this person has the expertise you need
  • Read their testimonials and/or reviews
  • Understand the terms of the relationship and any contract, including fees.
  • Pay careful attention to the questions he/she asks you. (They should be assessing if you are the right fit for them, too!)

(Once you are working with someone, be sure to continue to re-assess your needs and the professional relationship so that you get the outcomes desired as your business grows and your needs change.)

Finalizing the match

Take your time to make a good decision. You need to feel confident that this professional understands you and your needs, will be available when you need them, and will help you implement effective solutions. This person will be an essential business asset – giving you advice that you can use, and helping you to develop systems for your business. With the right support, you will be able to focus your energy on your clients, customers, employees and business goals… and see long-term positive results for your business!

Managing my business in partnership

The first business I owned in San Francisco was a gourmet cheese shop, called Cheshire Cheese, located in the Fillmore District. In a previous blog post I shared how my business partner, Michael, and I decided to go into business together and start Cheshire Cheese. Here’s the story of how we managed and expanded our business partnership.

Seize the opportunities

Six months after we opened Cheshire Cheese, the retail space next door became available for lease and the primary lessee offered us the master lease. (He also gave us his Pacific Heights mailing list and all his demographic studies on the neighborhood!)  We discovered that our sublease was already 75% of the master lease so we jumped at the chance to take over the entire lease.  We successfully negotiated a new 10-year lease with the building owner.  Now we could double our size with the security of a long-term lease.

With limited capital to cover the expansion, Michael and I created a new partnership.  We found two women who could bring new strengths and additional capital to the business.  Tara was a graphic designer and display expert and Lynn was experienced with HR and motivating employees.

With the new next-door location, we added a small café and expanded our identity.  Cheshire Cheese became Cheshire Cheese & Mad Hatter Tea.  With the infusion of additional capital, we could now afford to hire more part-time employees.


Communicate openly

We were now four owners who each brought different skills-sets and personalities to the business.  We had our differences but we were in agreement where it mattered most: our vision for the business, the impact we wanted to have in the community and, most importantly, how we would manage the business together.

We decided on a consensus-driven approach to management.  (An early philosophical decision was to continue only offering vegetarian items and to not expand into wine sales.)  We created a written agreement that reflected our values and our equal ownership.

We held “official” business meetings every Wednesday after the store closed.  We used this time to plan work schedules, discuss personnel, review financial statements, prepare for holiday celebrations, and eat all the free samples that new vendors would drop off for us to taste.  Transparency and honesty was essential for us, so we made sure we talked about money — how we were doing both by the day, the month and based on our annual budget.

Build on lessons learned

Every day was a team learning experience.  We learned about the subtleties of food products, how to serve customers well, how to make strong relationships with vendors, and how to follow health department codes.  Through a lot of trial and error, we were also getting better at running the business profitably, managing it jointly, and working through management and personnel challenges along the way.  The best lessons learned were from hands-on experience.

Plan our exit

After running the business together for five years, two of the partners wanted to move on – one to another business and the other to go back to school.  We all decided we would sell the business.  To get ready to sell, we had to learn how to value our business as an asset, organize our internal systems, leverage our long-term lease, and negotiate with potential buyers.  After several months of planning and negotiation, we successfully sold the business to new owners!  (Cheshire Cheese & Mad Hatter Tea continued to operate for 15 more years.)

Business partnership means attending to both the business and the relationship

Like a business with one owner, a  business with multiple owners must be based on a viable business concept and a solid plan for marketing, money and management.  Unlike a business with just one owner, co-owners must be constantly attuned to the needs of both the business and the owner relationship(s).

Starting off, Michael, Tara, Lynn and I were aware of the qualities that each of us brought to the business – our personalities, passions, purpose, work styles and areas of expertise.  Once we were in business together, we had to pay attention to the dynamics between us — how well our individual strengths or weaknesses meshed, and how well we communicated and made decisions together.  Our written partnership agreement was key — both as a guide for managing the business and as a road map for how we would approach our business exit.

Owning a business with others took a lot of work!  But it was also incredibly rewarding.  With business partners, we didn’t have to tackle business challenges alone and we all got to share in the business’ success.

Are you starting a business in partnership or already managing a business in partnership? At Paul Terry & Associates we help both new and established business partners understand key business issues and how to work best together.  We help co-owners define roles, address key financial issues and minimize areas of conflict.  We also help business owners write partnership agreements and create business action plans so that they can move forward with clarity.

Partnership advice from small business owners

There are many factors that must be considered when operating a business with others.  We asked some of our clients to share their partnership advice for small business entrepreneurs who are considering business co-ownership.  Here’s what they had to say!

Jane Lin of Urban Field Studio

Partnership adviceJane and her business partners provide a full range of urban design services, including strategy, design, conceptual architecture, and urban design education and communications.

Why did you decide to go into business with other people?

Two or three is better than one!  It is good to share responsibility.  You can do more as a team.  And, it makes life outside of the business more flexible, since we can cover each other when we go on vacation.

What do you love about owning a business with others?

I really like collaborating with my partners.  I learn a lot from them.  They are not just business partners but mentors.  I feel that I contribute to something bigger than just myself when I work as a team.  We all contribute energy, knowledge, encouragement, skill, support, and friendship to each other.

What is most challenging about co-owning a business?

Distributing responsibilities is a challenge that requires daily tending.  But, that’s what running a business is all about!

How do you deal with this challenge?

TALK.  Say exactly what you feel and state what you want.  For tougher moments it’s good to have a third partner who can hear you both out.  And, when you don’t get your way, have a good attitude about getting what you desire next time and understanding that it’s for the long haul.

What advice would you give to entrepreneurs considering a business partnership?

Think of your potential business partner like a travel partner.  Use a similar filter as the one you apply when you are choosing a travel buddy.  This is a long journey.  You are going to get lost.  Can you handle being stuck somewhere with this person?  Will they help you figure out what you’re going to do next?  Will you choose the same path forward?

Write a partnership agreement.  The biggest deal of all is the partnership agreement.  It’s like wedding vows and a pre-nup (but not as romantic).  The value of your business is maintaining a strong relationship between you and your partner every day.  If that is strong, your relationship with your customers will also be strong.

What do you wish you had done differently?

There is not that much I would do differently, but I do need to remind myself to give props to my partners as much as possible.  I want to practice gratefulness in what they do everyday.  And, I want to make sure we are connected as much as reasonable.

Shamita Dhar of Coyote Coast Youth & Family Counseling

partnership adviceShamita and her business partners co-own a counseling business that provides therapeutic support services to teens and families experiencing emotional, behavioral and substance-related difficulties.

Why did you decide to go into business with other people?

Being a part of a team is extremely rewarding.  We each have important strengths, which compliment one another and support a balanced approach when making important business decisions.

What do you love about owning a business with others?

I like the security of knowing that if one of us is having an off day, there are two others dotting “I”s and crossing “T”s.  Building a business is filled with opportunities for both successes and failures.  It certainly feels better experiencing either case when one is not alone.

What is most challenging about co-owning a business?

It is inevitable that tension will build when one or more partners fails to pull their weight or during periods when a partner experiences a crisis of confidence or some ambivalence about the work.

How do you deal with these challenges?

With solid agreements, direct communication and healthy boundaries—without these, we can end up feeling misused and mistreated.  Fairness is essential for a working partnership.

What advice would you give to entrepreneurs considering a business partnership?

Talk through every possibility and establish a solid partnership agreement, no matter how close you may be.  In fact, the closer you are, it is even more imperative to outline clear and specific agreements about how to work within the partnership and exit the partnership.

Deborah Bowes of Feldenkrais Center for Movement Awareness

partnership advice
Deborah co-owns the longest established Feldenkrais Center in the Bay Area offering individual sessions, classes and related wellness services.

Deborah’s partnership advice for other small business owners:

Make a plan.  It is important to plan for the changes that the future inevitably brings.  Not only to decide what will happen, but design a process for working through change.

Communicate openly.  Good communication skills are essential, as well as being able to have difficult conversations and still be friends, and work through different goals and values.  There will be times when you want to go in a different direction than your partner.  If you want the business to grow and develop, you have to accept the difference and see how you can make it work for everyone.  Then you can be happy to be in business.

Trust is essential.  You have to trust each other; you must trust that your partner will be honest, and fair. You may not be best friends but you both must consider each other’s needs and want the best outcome for both of you.

Are you thinking about going into business with someone else?  Check out these three important steps when considering a business partnership or joint venture.  If you currently co-own a business, what partnership advice have you received that has made a difference?  What words of wisdom would you want to share with others about business co-ownership?

My first business partnership

The first business I owned in San Francisco was a retail food business. It was a crash course in how to launch a small business and what it takes to start a business partnership.

first business partnership

Behind the counter at Cheshire Cheese

Know your business partner

My business partner, Michael, and I were good friends before we ever thought to go into business together. We lived in a house with six other people and spent a lot of time in the kitchen. We enjoyed cooking big meals and feeding the rest of the house.

At the time, Michael co-owned a small manufacturing business. As we became friends, I volunteered to help in his business. It was soon clear that we had complementary work styles and had a similar approach to business management. We both saw small business as a vehicle to the principle of “right livelihood” and shared a collaborative approach to decision-making. It didn’t take long before we connected on a common business idea and decided to start a food retail business together.

Start with a good foundation

By the time we agreed to go into business together, we had a solid foundation for a business partnership. Michael had already started a business from scratch and had the technical and computer skills essential for smooth business operation. I had been to business school and had helped other friends start businesses. But what was most important was that:

  • We liked and trusted each other,
  • We knew we could work well together,
  • We had complementary skills,
  • We were both committed to working hard, planning ahead and taking on the risk, and
  • We shared a passion… for gourmet food.

Agree on a viable business model

Our first idea was to start a catering business, making and delivering gourmet lunches to corporate offices. We thought we could use our home kitchen to keep it simple and lower costs. But we quickly learned that making food in a home kitchen wouldn’t be legal. It also couldn’t easily scale.

We then researched taking over an existing restaurant. We found a restaurant that we could acquire. We researched the legalities related to using the kitchen, building out the space, and hiring staff. But the size and complexity of the restaurant was going to require more capital than we had or could raise.
Given our skills, timeline and budget, we decided to compromise and start a gourmet deli.

Do the shoe leather research – street by street

We scouted several commercial strips in the city looking for a location with good foot traffic and reasonable rent. We pounded the pavement on Haight Street, Potrero Hill, West Portal, Noe Valley and Upper Fillmore. Finally, we found an available narrow storefront on Fillmore Street. It was an old laundromat available for sub-lease from the tenant next door, a tennis racket repair shop.

The space was the right price and we negotiated a fair lease. There was a hospital nearby and many new retailers moving into the neighborhood. But now we had another problem – competition! There was already an established deli right across the street. So we pivoted to focus on cheese. We signed the sub-lease and named our new gourmet cheese shop Cheshire Cheese. We were off and running!

Share the load

We spent the next six weeks building out the storefront. It was a community effort. While we focused on legalities and plans, we recruited friends to help with carpentry, plumbing, interior design and graphics.  We figured out how to share responsibility for the business, each taking charge of certain aspects given our interests and skills.

Our partnership success

The success of our partnership and, I believe, any business partnership, was based on:

  • A shared passion and common purpose
  • Compatible personalities and work styles
  • Complementary skill sets and areas of business expertise
  • Good communication and joint decision-making, and
  • A solid plan for how to market and manage the business… and make it work financially!

My partnership with Michael started with Cheshire Cheese and continued on into two other businesses.  This hands-on business partnership experience continues to inform my consulting work today.

Owning a business with others can be an incredibly rewarding experience — but to work well it must be based on a solid foundation and good planning. Are you starting a business with others? Check out these three important steps when considering a business partnership or joint venture.

At Paul Terry & Associates we help both new and established business partners understand and assess what they each bring to the partnership and how they work together. We focus on partners’ expectations, strengths and weaknesses. We help define roles, address key issues and minimize areas of conflict. And then, we help create a written agreement and a plan for how to move forward together.