Episode 322

Why Business Partnerships Fail with Mark Fisher

In this episode, Mark Fisher joins me to talk about why business partnerships fail.

[00:00:00] Hello, my friend on today’s episode, I’m speaking with Mr. Fisher and we’re talking about one of my favorite topics, which is business. Partnerships. Many of you know, Mark and I have been friends for 30 years at this point. We met when we were about 15 years old and we’ve been in a business partnership for about 15 years.

And so in this episode, we share some of our lessons learned, as being in a business partnership. We also share a lot of. Pitfalls we see about why a lot of business partnerships fail. So if you are in a business partnership or thinking about getting in one, this is a great episode for you to learn from our mistakes and hopefully not repeat them.

So keep on listening, my friend.

Welcome to the business for unicorns podcast, where we help gym owners unleash the full potential of their business. I’m your host, Michael Keeler. Join me each week for actionable advice. Expert insights and the inside scoop on what it [00:01:00] really takes to level up your gym. Get ready to unlock your potential and become a real unicorn in the fitness industry.

Let’s begin.

Hello, fitness business nerds. What’s up? Welcome to another episode of the business for unicorns podcast. I’m back again with Mr. Fisher. How are you, my friend? I am good. I just flew back from Chicago and I feel a little out of my mind. So let’s see where this goes. Listener. Perfect. Perfect time to record a podcast when you’re just feeling like you don’t know where you are.

Before we dive into today’s topic, which is all about business partnerships. I just want to give a quick shout out to all of you out there who have not raised your rates for your clients in a long time. Friends, it’s past due. It’s past time to raise your rates for all of you who own gyms. You want to be raising your rates every year, like clockwork to make sure that you are not just making less money every year.

And we make it easy for you to do that. Cause we know it can be a little stressful to tell everyone every [00:02:00] you’re going to cost more every year. We made it easy by making you a playbook. So we have a razor rates playbook. It’s free for you on our website. Click the link down below in the, in the show notes.

Fisher, do you just want to say like how critical this is? Why should it be raising their rates all the time? Like clockwork? Yeah, I covered it. Yeah. Everything is going to keep getting more expensive, right? So everything else is going to get more expensive. Your landlord’s not going to not raise your rent.

Your electric company is not going to not raise the cost of electricity. And ultimately it’s a business. People get it. So download it. It’s easy. It’s not going to be fine with making the same amount of money forever. Everyone wants more money from you. Nor should you, you should make money. Yes. 100%. So that means the rates got to go up.

So go click it, get the free report and go do it. That’s it. We’ll leave it there. Let’s talk about business partnerships. This is a topic that we’ve covered on this podcast probably a long time ago, but it’s been so long. I think we probably have kind of new things to say about it. And the reason I think this topic matters so much as we see a lot of gyms owned by [00:03:00] partners in many cases, like life partners, like husbands and wives, spouses, and also by friends.

And we even see a lot of people start off as solos and then get a partner. And we see a lot, we’ve also been helpful for a lot of people in breaking up with their partners. And I think this is a really important topic for small business owners like ours. And I think in today’s podcast, we want to talk about mistakes we’ve made and lessons we’ve learned.

And yeah. Where do you want to start us off? For sure. Ah, it’s a good question. I think maybe we can unpack a little bit about what we see that It doesn’t go great, what, maybe some examples of some things we’ve seen that have not been a good idea. The most obvious one that’s springing to mind, of course, is just a failure to communicate.

What we have here is a failure to communicate and it’s very often in partnerships, can, it can, and it depends. And again, this is, I’m happy to say that this hasn’t been my experience with you, Keter, but I can imagine it could be difficult to express how you’re feeling about things If there’s not a lot of [00:04:00] safety and security in the partnership, if you are not practiced at learning how to share potentially difficult things to hear in a way that the other person can hear it, that doesn’t deny them of their dignity, that comes in with humility, but it’s also really direct.

So you’re getting the thing off your chest and you’re not like, Uh, over time carrying the extra slowly increasing sediment and weight of grievances that feel unheard. So I think that is a thing that I think is super, super important that can go awry. Cause if you have an employee, it’s a little bit easier to some extent, right?

It, even though it’s still scary to say something that’s going to make somebody potentially sad. And some people just dislike disagreeing. That’s another thing that you’ll, maybe you can speak to a little bit because unfortunately I. Don’t mind disagreeing, which is like weird. Cause I think I’m a friendly guy.

I think I’m like a very, like maybe even nice to fall, but I also have no problem being like, no, I disagree. Like in all sorts of things, all sorts of inappropriate social issues where I’m like, I just. I don’t agree with that. I think that’s wrong. [00:05:00] Here’s why. I have a theory. I have a theory about that. But yeah, keep on going.

Oh, dude. Tell me. Tell me. Yeah. So I think you and I, and this is just a theory, so I could be wrong here, but I think you and I are uniquely good at disagreeing because we come from the performing arts because we grew up in environments where we were constantly getting real time feedback, both on stage and off from teachers telling us, no, that’s not it.

No, that’s not it. And having different, having to collaborate in real time with other performers and artists that like, not that, you know, not that doesn’t hurt sometimes that doesn’t sting, but I think we’ve got a lot more practice because in that environment, in a dance studio or a vocal studio or putting on a show, there’s collaboration like that is encouraged.

For a lot of, for a lot of folks, a lot of folks who run gyms, the environment they grew up in was, was one of one directional feedback in often, which is what like sports looks like your coaches give you feedback, but you don’t talk back to them. They don’t, if you disagree with them, that’s your own business.

[00:06:00] The conversation is not open. So I think we got a lot of practice doing, and it wasn’t always great, but I’ll speak for myself then and say that I feel like growing up in a kind of artistic creative environment, Meant that I was constantly having to navigate my disagreements with people and it didn’t mean I didn’t like them.

And I think that’s rubbed off on our partnership. Interesting. This is very interesting to hear because I think that might be as at the risk of now losing all of our listeners while we talk about theater. Yeah, while we talk about theater, y’all stay with us. Yeah. You were a member of the creative team, right?

Because I can’t say that I didn’t feel that my thoughts were valued per se, but I didn’t really feel necessarily that I was like partnering or collaborating. Like I did my thing and I like broadly. Oh, you’re talking about like community theater specifically. Yeah. I think so. I think also our specific roles, right?

Where oftentimes I was playing a role, but I’d never really collaborated on the creation of it. And I think perhaps because you were on the creative team, you maybe had more reps and people that were often quite older than you of, uh, I would imagine there was this [00:07:00] opportunity of you coming into the slightly more adult role transitioning from like this kid, essentially, to someone that’s collaborating with these older adult figures.

And that, that wasn’t my experience, nor actually can I hold up that this thesis has been my experience of working broadly with artists that they’re pretty good at, I think, unsentimentally sharing what they think in a, Direct way. Yeah. I’ll bring it back to gyms in a second. The last thing I’ll say, I was thinking just broadly throughout my even undergraduate, for those of you listening to the podcast, who don’t know my undergraduate degree, my BFA is in dance, right?

So I spent four years with other dancers and choreographers. And even in that environment where I was not the one in charge, I felt like I had a lot of reps in with giving and receiving feedback in real time. But I think the point we’re making here for you, gym owners. is that the big mistake we see people make is not having lines of communication open by building habits of not talking about things that matter.

Just walls. We put up sometimes very slowly [00:08:00] over years and years armor. We put on that gets built up over time. And we talk, I talk all the time to unicorn study members that are partners and they see every single disagreement. As a fight, as a threat, every time we are not seeing eye to eye, there’s a conflict, right?

And then that can be really scary. It makes sense that you’re avoiding open communication when you see every single disagreement as a threat, as an argument. And I think the thing you want to get to is you want to get enough reps in of disagreeing and still liking each other. That you realize that not every disagreement has to be a combative, not every disagreement has to, has to, has to be a fight.

But I think you’re right. That’s one for many reasons, art or not, that we haven’t had a ton of, but I want to name one that I think we have had from time to time. So I think another really common pitfall for partners is having role bleed and stepping on each other’s toes. So a benefit to having partners is that you get to [00:09:00] divide and conquer.

You get to each have a lane to run in when you’re functioning at the highest level. And ideally you each have different lanes and different strengths where you, you get to do your best work and really sprint in the direction of your goals. And from time to time, this has totally happened to us on and off.

And I think we’ve gotten better and better at it. Separating it, but sometimes our interests would just collide. We both want to have a say in certain things, and we both would be unwilling to quickly let go and say, no, you just take it because I wanted to be involved. And so every time we got that sense that we were both working on the same things, we were slowing each other down, sometimes faster than others.

We found a way to peel those things apart and go back to creating clear lanes for each other. And I see that happening all the time in partnerships. Yeah, interesting too, is one of the patterns that I’ve noticed too and has observed is in our dynamic, oftentimes, it’s clear to you and it’s not clear to me often that there’s getting a drag, and that too has maybe changed, maybe I’ve gotten a little bit more sensitive, I’ve gotten older, but often time I, [00:10:00] I have felt sort of like, yeah, sure, you want to do this, yeah, let’s, Cool.

But yeah, let’s do a rules thing. And then afterwards I’m like, Oh my gosh, this is so much easier now. I didn’t realize how much drag there was. And I would circle back to maybe the first point of being like the master model of this, because again, this isn’t an issue if you’re able to just talk about and have it like not be a big deal, like it’s not this weird territorial thing, it’s just like, this isn’t efficient, I don’t think.

And if I can offer, unless there’s anything else about that, I have one other thing that also I think is not helpful. Which is maybe the opposite of being unwilling to say the thing. And that is just being so absolutely convinced that you’re correct. And the other person’s wrong that there’s no space for humility or sincere curiosity, right?

Cause that’s the other thing too, that I think has worked for us is. An ability to, I often see you do this where I can tell you’re just so convinced that you’re absolutely right. And this is not even worth going down there. But at the same time, you know, it’s good to be cursed and you, you will ask, you will force yourself to ask questions and jump over the bridge because there’s something here that you know, you’re not seeing that you, even if [00:11:00] you still come down, gritted teeth, you Yeah, yeah, you know that you’re not, you don’t have the full picture yet.

So you really can’t feel this strongly yet, which for me, this comes down to, I think, like the value of all critical thinking, right. Contra, I think perhaps the second point where you feel like there’s a disagreement, things are at risk. There is the probably apocryphal apocryphal. I don’t know that word, whatever.

So word means somebody said what they didn’t say. That’s what it means to listeners. Somebody said, or they didn’t say it. IBM executive that when two executives agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary, right? So you actually want. The disagreement and you want to be able to share those disagreements in ways that are direct.

But I think the other element is to acknowledge that you don’t have this all figured out and you really could be wrong. You really could be wrong. Or at least entertaining, even though in your heart, you’re like, I’m sure I’m right, but say more anyway. Listen, I think a big part of our jobs is being, is being able to be decisive when necessary.

So we need to have that muscle that is, yeah, I’m right. Let’s do it. And you have to be willing to question that muscle. Almost all the time. And I think we’ve [00:12:00] both gone through those periods where, yeah, I’m pretty sure my mind’s not changing about this, but let’s keep talking about it. Cause clearly we’re on different pages and we’ve learned so much that way.

We learned so much that way. And then, and that’s something I’ll speak for myself. That was not natural for me. I think I am by upbringing a very stubborn person. Like, I’ve, even as a child, I was very set in my ways and stubborn. I had to learn. That’s a skill I worked on for the last few decades to like really be curious and be collaborative.

And even when I think I’m right, right. And in fact, no, I’m right to say, okay, what could I be wrong about? Right. Takes a kind of humility that did not come natural to me. I still have to fight for it. Some days when I’m feeling particularly tired or ornery for whatever reason. And I think, uh, it’s that kind of being willing to.

challenge yourself and question yourself. That is that kind of self work. That’s never really finished. We’re always going to be working on some version of that. The reason this is so important is you’re just, you’re never able to see all the sides. That’s why a single [00:13:00] person can’t ever do this.

Apparently the theater podcast, but that’s why I really think it’s very difficult to accurately direct yourself in a play, maybe in a movie because you can look at the reels, but directing oneself in a play feels like a very difficult thing to do because you just can never replace the outside eye. You just can’t.

See yourself. You can’t see your own biases. So your dream scenario is and listen, it doesn’t necessarily need to be a partner. I think that can be particularly valuable situation. I think it can be particularly fraught, particularly if there’s not clear in how decisions are made. And I’d highlight that. I think that’s maybe worth its own podcast to figure out how you break ties if you’re a true 50, 50 partnership.

But I think whether this is with a partner or maybe you get lucky and you find we’ve had certainly some very contentious team members over the years, people that are really willing to disagree, that’s valuable. It’s what you want. And it’s also, I would be remiss in not mentioning it’s part of the benefit of having a coach.

Yeah, 100%. I think, I think of, I’ve had, Oh, I don’t know. Yeah. [00:14:00] Every week I have somewhere between five or six coaching conversations with both partners on the zoom at the same time. And not that I really ever serve as a tiebreaker, I just serve as that third eye, right? I serve as that person who’s on the outside who can reflect back what I see going on.

Either the dynamic between the two of them or the processes they’re using or not using. And there’s something about that’s so valuable. If you don’t have it within your organization, you don’t have that kind of. General manager who does that for you as owners that I think that’s when coaching, it’s one of the reasons coaching can be so valuable.

And I know I hear from all the time today, I had a call with partners who said it was so great to have someone to just reflect back what we’ve been doing and not doing from an outside. And just, you can’t replace it. You really can’t replace it. Gosh. It’s almost making me wish that we had someone to adjust on because maybe we’re too self satisfied about how good it’s going.

And we were in unknowingly conspiring in some unhelpful patterns for everyone that around us that works because the two of us are [00:15:00] just so sure that we’re right about this thing, obviously, because another great example of this is. And this is really striking me that part of the benefit of the coach might be not only to be a pseudo thought partner, but also to be that outside eye on the relationship.

My wife and I had a baby recently and we decided, okay, let’s go. Let’s like, we’ve been talking for years about hiring a therapist just to communicate better. And it’s fun. Now I’m into the, I’m a nerd. So I’m like, I’ve maybe uniquely wired to find this so interesting, but it’s so great for, and my wife is amazing.

So it’s also fun because we’re both going into here’s where I think I’m sometimes contributing the issue. So I’m probably doing this. That’s not helpful. And just the fun of having an outside eye that you trust, help you unpack. That dynamic can not only not be scary, actually can be super fun and interesting and you learn more and it’s more fun to work with the other person.

The outcomes are better. What could be better? Yeah. 100%. Yeah. We should go to therapy together. Okay. Yeah. Yeah. Why not? Yeah. I’ll share one more thing that I think [00:16:00] is both a pitfall and I’ll share the upside is, I think another thing that’s really. Hard to do in partnerships on all relationships, but in partnerships is to have clear boundaries with your partner.

And I see this become particularly difficult when business partners are also really close friends or married or used to date. I’ve seen it all. Sure. In fact, yeah, we have many of those scenarios and more used to be married. It’s all of it. When the life and work. Kind of intertwines in an unhelpful way.

It makes all the things we’ve been talking about in terms of communication, just more complicated. It just adds so much complexity when your relationships, that person is not just work spouse, but actual spouse or actual best friend or actual, right. And kind of think back and maybe you have a better memory about this than I do.

The, the only times I can think of that for us as an [00:17:00] example, as being a real issue is when we actually live together. Above the gym. So from our Fisher fitness in Hell’s Kitchen, we lived together at one point with our now husband and husband wife above the gym and part of the, our apartment was the office and we had to navigate multiple times back and forth about what are our boundaries?

Like we don’t have a, our home is our work. Our work is our home. Like when, if I need to have a sick day and be here, how do we do that? Do that when, can I just, can I talk to you about work anytime? And for the longest time we did just anytime we were together, it was fair game to talk about work. And over the time we had to be like, maybe we should check in with each other.

At first, if I’m in my bedroom, maybe don’t just barge in and start a meeting. But I think that kind of stuff is really hard to do when your relationship is multi layered. And on the whole, I think we’ve been good at it, but those are the times where I remember it being the hardest. Yeah. Yeah. And it’s interesting.

I, when I think back to that time lost in the [00:18:00] mists of time, I remember we had a rule that we did for a while and then towards the end, I think things were just getting busy. And I think we just allowed it to unravel that there was like half of the apartment. We just, we wouldn’t talk about working and then ultimately our offices moved into that part as we slowly took over the entire apartment for MFF.

Yeah. I have to imagine, and I’m now not able to speak with firsthand experience here. This has to be very challenging in romantic relationships because I imagine it’s probably a little bit like having a. It’s not the same as having a kid, but we’re like the kid can dominate all the conversations, but you also want to have a connection outside of that.

So I think that’s another thing I can’t speak prescriptively about, but I would imagine it’s valuable to have some clarity around what hat you’re wearing when you’re explicitly going to have a relationship that is not about work and put some real guardrails on what you’re not going to talk about.

Because it strikes me that that’s actually a. More intense version of a similar phenomenon that actually a lot of people have, even in an office where if you’re the owner, you can drown in God a minutes. If everybody feels it’s okay to just [00:19:00] stop at any given moment, start having a conversation with you, even if you’re working on a project.

I think that’s hard enough in the confines of an office while you’re at work, where it’s explicitly about work. I think that is a good boundary to set as well. But yeah, I imagine it’s quite dicey if you’re with the person always. Can I just say that this is without fail in a conversation I have with almost every business partnership that’s joined unicorn society without fail.

I asked them, like I asked the business partners on one of our first coaching calls. When do you all meet each week? What’s your meeting pulse each week as business partners? And almost without fail, 100 percent say we don’t have meetings because we’re just, we’re talking all the time. And it’s the. Not good.

Not good. No, stop it. No, have meetings and then stop talking to each other. Go do other things. Put it in a bucket. Put it in a little bucket. Maybe if a time sensitive thing comes up, that’s fine. But, and here’s another reason why the meeting pulse is so important is because if you do have things to surface, they’re not best addressed via an email.

They’re sometimes not, they’re not [00:20:00] always best addressed in the moment if something comes up in a meeting. You can eventually get so skilled. Yeah. Just, I’m going to feel it right now and just have to say it. And then we’ll be done with Vaughn. We’ll drink an espresso and it’s fine, but yeah, having a container where the things go to, so if there are things you need to express, there’s a holding place for it and it, you all both know, this is the time where we talk about strategy, we talk about big picture stuff and it’s, it never really occurred to me, but I think implicit in that I, I maybe have a unspoken.

I have an unspoken sense that’s also just a holder for if there happens to be a big emotion, which again, different people are wired differently. Like I probably have more big emotions than most and God love you. You’re you cold killer. You don’t really inspire a lot of big emotions in me. So that’s not been necessarily our dynamic in partly because you do a wonderful job of like your presence deescalates me, but with other people I’ve worked with, if we both run a little hot, that can be a thing.

And then the meeting becomes a powerful place to air that that is useful and, and Helpful space to have that [00:21:00] conversation that doesn’t feel like it’s coming out of nowhere and in a strange place where the other person is not ready. And it’s just not a good scene. Yeah. Got to have that structure. Got to have that structure.

I think my, my final thing I’ll say about this is that when we talk about time management and a lot of the phrase that we’ll often use is set up your day to be like a game you can win. And the same thing is true here, right? You have to set up your partnership to have these rules and boundaries that actually helps you be more effective.

Set up these rules to be a game that you can both play together and win each week, and it requires rules. It requires some boundaries for how you’ll behave with each other and without each other. Let’s wrap it up there. We could do this all day, I think, but I don’t even know if I can summarize this conversation.

We covered so many different points. What would you say are some big takeaways here? If I recall, if my jet lag brain is working properly, it’s be candid, talk about the things that’s actually going on. I think we also covered over communication. We covered the importance of having curiosity. When you’re having those conversations, you want to make some [00:22:00] space for the other person’s beliefs, even if you’re entirely right.

You want to understand the disagreements are okay. They’re not okay. They’re desirable. You want to disagree. That shouldn’t put the relationship at threat. And then we discussed the boundaries, setting boundaries so that you’re able to understand Where and when is the right place to have certain conversations with the hyper actionable tactic being if you do not have a standing, whether it be weekly or biweekly or twice per week, you can decide the pulse, but a standing meeting so that you’re not constantly interrupting each other’s flows with lots of random got a minutes.

I love it. Yeah. Great summer. I think those are some really key takeaways. Friends, all you business partners out there. We hope this was helpful. If you’re thinking about having a business partner someday, I hope this was helpful. And even if you are neither of those buckets, hopefully you enjoyed us just going down memory lane, talking a little about theater and our life together.

But go, go grab that raise your rates template. The link is down below. Raise your rates. You got to do it immediately and don’t leave us a five, five star review everywhere you listen to your podcast. We really appreciate it. [00:23:00] Thanks for the great conversation, Fisher. See on the next one. Bye.