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Howdy, Partner

Don't buddy up without a partnership agreement.

If you decide to organize your business as a partnership, be sure you draft a partnership agreement that details how business decisions are made, how disputes are resolved, and how to handle a buyout. You'll be glad you have this agreement if for some reason you run into difficulties with one of the partners or if someone wants out of the arrangement.

The agreement should address the purpose of the business and the authority and responsibility of each partner. It's a good idea to consult an attorney experienced with small businesses for help in drafting the agreement. Here are some other issues you'll want the agreement to address:

1. How will the ownership interest be shared? It's not necessary, for example, for two owners to equally share ownership and authority. However you decide to do it, make sure the proportion is stated clearly in the agreement.

2. How will decisions be made? It's a good idea to establish voting rights in case a major disagreement arises. When just two partners own the business 50-50, there's the possibility of a deadlock. To avoid a deadlock, some businesses provide in advance for a third partner, a trusted associate who may own only 1 percent of the business but whose vote can break a tie.

3. When one partner withdraws, how will the purchase price be determined? One possibility is to agree on a neutral third party, such as your banker or accountant, to find an appraiser to determine the price of the partnership interest.

4. If a partner withdraws from the partnership, when will money be paid? Depending on the partnership agreement, you can agree that the money be paid over three, five or ten years, with interest. You don't want to be hit with a cash flow crisis if the entire price has to be paid on the spot in one lump sum.

From Start Your Own Business: The Only Start-Up Book You'll Ever Need, by Rieva Lesonsky and the staff of Entrepreneur Magazine (Entrepreneur Press)

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