Together We Can Do So Much

Rita Richardson

Posted on April 23 2019

KI have a good friend who says, “If you want to lose weight—READ a book about dieting and if you want to make a million dollars WRITE a diet book”!

The same can be said about how to find a good business partner.  There are so many books, articles and blogs with instructions as if it was a science.  “Follow these steps and you and your business partner will lose weight and make a million dollars”!!!  (Oh, wait---wrong goal---but you get the idea!!)

When I had the idea to start a faith-based girls clothing line I didn’t really think about partnering with anyone.  I had started a clothing business with partners before so I felt confident that I knew how things worked and that I could handle whatever needed to be done---so who needed more cooks in the kitchen?

But as I started to lay out the time table and all the steps that had to be completed to get this thing off the ground, I realized that I wanted to share this process with someone. 

I surprised myself.  

I kept thinking that it was a just jitters or a momentary fear of all the work ahead.  If I just put my head down and battled through it would all be ok.  But it wasn’t any of that.  I needed someone to help me.  I’m uncomfortable even admitting it!  I don’t like asking for help.   It’s a fault of mine that’s usually unproductive and always exhausting.

I knew what needed to be done for business, but this was supposed to be a lot more than just a business.  I wanted this to be a movement that got moms and daughters excited to use the power of fashion to express the hope and positivity that comes through faith.  FashionXFaith was going to show that it was possible to be trendy and fashionable and at the same time make a statement about what we believed.  Something bigger and better than Mickey Mouse or an Ice Princess.

I was stuck.  I didn’t have a clue who would want to be a part of this adventure or who would be a good fit.  I felt sure that I needed a partner, but I was nowhere in terms of who that would be!

I thought back to probably the best advice I’ve ever been given in business.   It was about hiring someone, but the same key principle applies to a business partner.   “Look for someone who shares your values…you can teach them everything about the business, but you can’t teach what is most important to you.  This is especially critical for a small business because everything and everyone is so close”.

I spent months thinking and praying about who would be the right person to take this leap.  It would be a challenge for most people.  There would be a financial investment, a time investment and assuming they weren’t already in a girls clothing business, a pretty steep learning curve. 

Then, one day I was flipping through Instagram and I saw a picture of Jill Stoller’s daughter.  She was wearing a top that my first company had made.  Jill had always been a champion of our annual sample sale.  She knew what she liked, and she was smart to take advantage of the great deals.  She’d hold up something, “This is SO cute!  Lill won’t be able to fit into this for years” She’d stand back and look at it some more…“I don’t care---I’m buying it!” 

I didn’t know Jill that well but there was always something about her that I really liked.  She was thoughtful and smart.  She could laugh at herself and take a little teasing, too.  She appeared to have an infinite amount of energy.  She was compassionate in a way that often comes from personal loss and heartache.  She was honest.

I believed we had shared values.  I knew Jill was the perfect person to make FashionXFaith a success.

Even though we knew each other I didn’t think of us as “friends”.   It was a little like “family” but not quite.  (There was a common link---my best friend Joy was her husband’s aunt.)  It was something new:   a hybrid.   Family trust without the messy conflicts and also the uncharted excitement of friendship.

I asked Jill to meet me for brunch so we could talk about it.  I was so nervous because I thought if she says “no” then I’m not sure what I’ll do?  So, I just sort of launched into it.  I gave her an overview of what I wanted the company and the line to be, what I thought her role could be and waited to see if she’d faint. 

She didn’t.

Jill was Jill.  She listened and asked lots of good questions.  She was excited and nervous. 

After some time, we agreed to form our company and jumped in head first.  We did all the legal stuff that you have to do but for my part it all seemed like a formality.  I trusted this person.  I don’t say that lightly.  It’s a serious thing.  But if you don’t believe it to the deepest part of your core you certainly shouldn’t start a company with them.  Trust is the cornerstone of what we’re doing and no matter what happens on any given day we can always run to that corner and reset.

As time went on and we started to work together more the meetings became more comfortable and we became less tentative.  There were disagreements and some hurt feelings, but we kept on going.  Business partnerships are sort of like marriages:  some days are better than others and on the tough days you focus on “the baby”.  The business is your “baby” and you’ll do whatever it takes for this little wonder you’ve created to thrive.

On the other days, the good days, you look at your partner, and like a marriage, you say, “This person is making me better every day.  What we’re doing is better because YOU’RE here”. 

If someone were to ask me to name one thing that we do best I think it’s that we are both quick to address, handle and then move on from a problem.  There’s no “I told you that wasn’t going to work” or “If you’d have done that then this wouldn’t have happened”.  That sort of Monday-morning-quarterback thinking doesn’t do any good.  We also both know that each one of us is trying our best and mistakes happen so let’s work the problem and move on.  

Sometimes I forget that it’s not just the two of us in this partnership but everyone we love plays a part.  Jill’s daughter was so sad that she was leaving for a business trip.  I felt bad for Jill, but we had to go---too late to change the plan now.  Then I heard her explain that she had to go because it was important to our business, but she didn’t stop there.  “I’m doing this for you.  I’m working so hard so that you can see you can do anything you put your mind to.  I love you and I’m doing my best.   I want you to be proud of me”.

We started this company to help inspire girls.  I’m happy to be one of the girls because Jill inspires me!

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