How To Build a Business Partnership

According to the Small Business Administration, about 80 percent of businesses started in 2014 survived to 2015. Wait a few more years, and there’s a five-year survival rate of about 50 percent. A small business has about a 33 percent chance of making it to the decade mark.

Powell-based advertising agency LaineGabriel is one of those businesses in the 33 percent, celebrating ten years. Not only has the business survived, but it has done so as a partnership.

Over the years, Co-Founders Lisa Laine Miller and James Gabriel Brown have learned and experienced the crucial components of what it takes to build and maintain a long-term business partnership.

The duo met while working together in the corporate world. Miller brought the advertising experience and Brown the design, and when they started working on projects together realized they had something to offer as a team.

“We also noticed that there was a lack in the market of people that understand how internal marketing departments function,” Miller says.

Lisa Laine Miller & James Gabriel Brown

By partnering, Miller and Brown could fill a niche in the market.

We expanded on our experience both on advertising and design and focused our efforts on internal marketing,” Miller continues. 

That means LaineGabriel primarily works with larger businesses, counting Nationwide, Ohio Health and Bob Evans among its clients.

Partnership runs through multiple veins of the business.

“We started our company really based on the idea that we would be partners with our clients,” Brown says. He knows it can be cliche and something every business says, but, “We were on the corporate side – we realized that there wasn’t a partnership mindset to the agencies that we we were working with.” 

So what put them in the position to build their partnership in the first place?

I’ve always been someone who has been a goal setter, and since I was 28 I have always wanted to start my own agency,” Miller says. “I kind of vetted all of my coworkers, all of my colleagues, with that lens on.” 

Within a few months of working together, Miller and Brown found themselves to be on the same wavelength, and have rarely strayed since.

The way that we approached problem solving through design was unlike any I had experienced before with any of my previous partners or colleagues,” Miller says. 

The duo meshed on a solution first, design second sequence.

Words and phrases like symbiotic and same frequency come up often. It’s led to a feeling of there’s nothing, personal or professional, they can’t solve together.

It’s interesting to find two people that have had one real direction,” Brown says. He calls it a matter of finding a partner that “loves to do what you do as much as you do.” 

A classic balancing of skill sets and strengths and weaknesses also influenced the Brown-Miller partnership. Weaknesses aren’t necessarily viewed as weaknesses, either.

It’s an opportunity for me to help him in his role,” Miller says. (And vice-versa.)

Brown points out that while business partnerships often focus so much on strengths and weaknesses and who fills what gap, business partners truly, really need to like each other as people.

Makes you more accountable to that person,” Brown says. 

The LaineGabriel partnership affects more than just them.

I have accountability to Lisa’s family because we are partners,” Brown says. “She in return has that same accountability to my family.” 

Many of the other things that have kept the partnership strong over a decade seem obvious, like the basics, but their importance can’t be stressed enough.

Miller says the biggest factor that has kept them operating together: communication.

We are in constant, constant communication with each other,” Brown adds. 

The two even share an office. Check-ins and sharing of to-do lists happen frequently. Neither let problems linger.

We solve problems together,” Brown continues. “The longer you sit alone with something the more it becomes yours the more painful it becomes.”

He explains that when he and Miller solve a problem or make a decision together, they can both celebrate a victory. If they are wrong, there’s very little room for blame. Brown calls those interactions unhealthy – throwing around ‘I told you so,’ “That’s not how you keep a business together; that’s not how you keep a partnership together.” 

That also means working together more often than not. A team doesn’t function in silos. And while each member of the partnership has their area of expertise, “If you find your role more important, you’re in big trouble,” Brown says. 

No one in the partnership is more important. Even if the split isn’t 50-50, Brown says to operate as if it is 50-50. To not is to go against the basis of a partnership.

For more information on LaineGabriel and their work, visit