Joy Taylor grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. She spent summers working alongside her grandfather, a ferry operator, and watched her father grow his medical practice while her mother ran a real estate brokerage firm.

When it came to her career, Taylor forged her own path in public relations before becoming an entrepreneur in the ferry business. Later she worked in corporate America before launching a management consulting firm serving the life sciences industry. In 2008, Taylor merged her company with another consulting firm, entering into what she describes as “one of the most important relationships of her life.”

Building a business partnership

As an entrepreneur, Taylor learned that having a business prenuptial agreement and a shared value system with your business partner are the most important tools for dealing with the inevitable challenging situations.

“I wanted to have the best business partnership we could have,” says Taylor, “so I recommended that we go to ‘marriage counseling,’ minus the priest or minister. We met every two weeks with our accountants and lawyers. They would pose scenarios and we would work together to solve for them.”

Scenarios like, what happens when you employ one of the owner’s children and they do not meet expectations? How do you handle issues with a disgruntled client? Or, what if members of your leadership team are compensated the same, but some are outperforming others?

“Running a business isn’t simple and scenarios change,” Taylor says. “Through these ongoing discussions, we learned that transparency from the beginning is extremely important. You must put policies and procedures in place.”

More than one of these scenarios played out in real life. Taylor and her partner were able to navigate each situation, including selling their business in 2018, thanks to the clear picture they painted of how the business would operate. They also received counsel from a team of lawyers, accountants and bankers to ensure the agreement remained fair for both parties over time.

It’s never too late to memorialize agreements

“Family businesses are extraordinarily intertwined with the personal finances of those business owners,” notes Anna Vitelli, head of Wealth Strategy for PNC Wealth Management. “It’s important to work with professionals who are knowledgeable and comfortable straddling the worlds of business and personal wealth. Someone who can see the total landscape of business and personal issues and help create an integrated blueprint for bringing them all together. Taking an integrated approach can ensure that unexpected events do not wreak havoc on all other aspects of your life.”

While many owners plan for their business to be bought or sold, they often don’t consider a death or disability that could force a business to close or cause them to gain a partner they may not have planned for.

“I always ask my clients how well they get along with their partner’s spouse. If something were to happen to the partner, there’s a strong likelihood that their spouse would become the new business partner,” says Vitelli. Business owners must properly plan for and document these scenarios and what their expectations are in case something happens. It’s never too late to memorialize the agreements partners have in place informally.”

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