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Going The Distance

How virtual partnerships can figure into your work/life balance

One of the reasons people start businesses from home is so they can operate at their own pace. They don't want to be accountable to anyone but their customers or clients. So why do they form virtual partnerships--everything from every-now-and-then collaborations between two freelancers to virtual strategic partnerships of 20 people or more? Why do they want to link up with colleagues again?

The answer lies in the mundane and the meaningful. On a basic level, having a partner in a homebased business means someone will check your voice mail and return important calls for you when you're on vacation or out of town on business. A nearby partner can also cover for you when you unexpectedly have to run to school to pick up your sick child half-an-hour before you're due downtown at a client meeting.

Even more important, a virtual partner makes the whole working experience more pleasant, says Mary Beth Berkoff, a public relations consultant with Jaffe Associates Inc. who also owns her own firm, Creative Consortium Ltd., in partnership with Jamie Shor. Berkoff operates out of her home in Chicago; Jaffe Associates is headquartered in Washington, DC; and Shor is in Bethesda, Maryland. For Berkoff, the value of these relationships is that she has people she can talk to, bounce ideas off of and develop concepts with. And these collaborations relieve the isolation of working at home.

Make no mistake about it, however: Finding the right virtual partner is no easy task. Partners must have the same personal and business values. Because they don't see each other at work very often, if at all, they must have the highest level of trust in each other's ability, knowledge and desire to succeed. For homebased entrepreneurial partners, goals for growing the business must be similar, integrity and professionalism must be high, communication must be clear and frequent, and adherence to deadlines is a must.

Patricia Schiff Estess is author of Money Advice for Your Successful Remarriage and Kids, Money & Values (both published by Betterway) and president of Working Families Inc., a Manhattan firm specializing in family memoirs.

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