Meggan Liebenberg, proud co-owner and founder of Orange Ink
Part of the definition of partnership includes “agree to cooperate to advance mutual
interests”. It’s the most critical part of the definition, in my opinion. Mutual interests. And
not simply financial. In fact, that’s where partnerships start, and quickly fail – at financial
greed – usually followed by power dominance.
Lara and I have been in a business partnership now for 20 years. A milestone we proudly
celebrated in June this year. Our story is one of considerable success. And not in the
traditional sense. We will never be retiring at 45, or winning accolades for small business of
the year! But our business is sustainable and stable. The unsexy words of true success.
Drawn from years of unchanged mutual interests and shared values, our business has been
built on integrity, delivery, and our shared passion for empowering women in South Africa.
If I summarised the top benefits of our partnership, it would be that I am never alone.
There have been some scary and real moments in my entrepreneurial journey, and
throughout it all – I had a sounding board. Someone as vested as me. In fact, sometimes –
even more vested. Making tough decisions together may not make the problem any easier,
but it certainly makes the decision clearer. Partnerships also provide a diverse set of
skills. Not many people can admit their weaknesses. I have found one of the most
incredible benefits to my business partnership has been the glaringly obvious exposure of
my own weaknesses. Opposites do indeed attract and embracing the benefits that a
partnership brings – skills wise – is critical to success. Embrace this ‘skills assortment’ and
then be accountable for your own strengths and implementation. Do your part – flippen
well – and trust your partner to do theirs.
Despite the value that our partnership has delivered from a personal perspective, we believe
that partnerships sharing valued benefits – over financial gain – is a powerful opportunity for
growth and empowerment in our country. Moving away from the profits-based mindset to a
values-based business – where everyone contributes and everyone shares, is our success
story and it’s a model that should be replicated.
So then, what are some of these values-based outlooks our partnership has been based on?
- Integrity. Unwavering in partnership is shared ethics & integrity. There is no room
for grey. Partnerships require integrity to succeed – at every level of the business. In
fact, any long-term success – can only be built on a foundation of ethics. Every
decision we make – and some have been very difficult – has always been grounded
in our ethics.
- Delivery. Get and keep clients. The business must be equipped and trained to
manage expectations and deliver. Providing a team environment that incorporates
senior and junior staff allows for accountability from a management perspective (and
the all-important senior direction), while providing a safe and effective training
environment for junior staff. Investing in team development & training is a never-
ending cycle and one that the business partnership must mutually support. Trying to
‘make more profits’ by sending the seniors out to get the clients and then asking
junior staff to keep them, will never breed success. Clients deserve consistency and
- Collective accountability. Providing an environment where every employee is
accountable, and trusted – is paramount. Bred from our own accountability journey –
figuring out who is best at what, doing what you say you will, and focusing on your
own role – is the only way to build trust, meet requirements and develop a stable
business. There is no room for arrogance in collective accountability.
- Sharing. This is a concept that I don’t hear many entrepreneurs talking about. In
fact, there is often an arrogance associated with local entrepreneurship that
sometimes bothers me. Sharing profits and financial success with the employees is
important and continually helps to sustain the business. Surely this should be a
cornerstone for many companies if you want to deliver value and drive opportunities
for all? Certainly, commitment levels and long-term service must play a role in this
‘sharing of the pie’ – but it’s a business outlook that not only drives consistency and
stability of the business, but also empowers individuals to be part of the business
long-term. Building on collective accountability and creating an environment of real
- Status & culture. Never be afraid to surround yourself with people that are better
than you – and smarter than you! It’s something we have lived by right from the
start and we are not afraid to say it. We have a management team that most
businesses can only dream of! We are surrounded by brilliant, dynamic, and
successful women. Yet there is no room for ego and status in our business. We each
do what we need to do to ensure success. To live out our collective accountability. If
its sorting out connectivity issues, sorting out a bank hack attempt or pitching our PR
plan to the new client CEO (never my job btw ) – the best woman steps forward.
And that is priceless. That is culture.
Perhaps Lara and I were just lucky? Perhaps our mutual interests remained unchanged by
chance! Many people have said that to us over the years. While much has changed in 20
years, our partnership principles haven’t. And while I agree that we didn’t have it all
together and planned out initially – what we did have was a shared vision and a steadfast
goal. To build a sustainable business by women, for women.
Our personal partnership experience has shown us one key thing over the years. That when
you surrounded yourself with brilliant women, who share a vision – you don’t fail – you