Having a business partner is very similar to having a spouse. You share dreams, finances, and a ‘baby’ (the business / product itself). This requires an enormous amount of collaboration, respect, communication, and a shared vision. So what happens when things start to fall apart?
In my previous articles about Partner relationships I’ve provided advice for setting up a good relationship, and how to manage it if it fails. Sadly, two of my clients are in the midst of difficult partnerships. It’s too early to get a lawyer involved, but handling the situation well is critical to their emotional health and the survival of the business. Here’s what to do if you find that something is a bit off with your business partner.
There could be a myriad of reasons a business partner starts acting strange, making mistakes, or not communicating like they should. However, if the behavior doesn’t seem to have a legitimate cause, or is becoming patterned, pay attention. It could indeed be a phase, or it could be leading to harder times. I recommend documenting any odd behavior or course correction conversations you may have so you have the facts in front of you. It’s normal to want to ignore any warning signs because changes is hard, but it’s better to have your eyes wide open than to be blindsided after spending precious energy picking up the slack.
Set Your Boundaries
This is something we should do in all our relationships, but especially when a partnership seems to be going sour. You must decide how much you’re willing to put up with before you take action, both for your health and the health of the business. Just as I stated above, it’s easy to convince yourself to roll with the punches out of fear of change or a sense of duty, but this is how partnerships blow up. Don’t wait until the kettle boils, so to speak. Decide how many conversations you’re willing to have, how many mistakes the business can take, etc, so you can address the issue head on and have energy left to do the work of parting with grace if you must.
Have an Exit Strategy
It’s hard to dream outside of what you’re already doing, especially if it is your dream. However, you won’t do what’s healthy for your business and partnership if you don’t have an exit strategy. This could be another business, job opportunity, or buying out your partner so you become the sole owner of the company. If you need to, meet with your lawyer to review your contracts so you have the utmost clarity on your options, and make a loose plan.
None of this is easy, but following the above steps will save you a good deal of heartache and pain in the end. My hope is that you are only experiencing a rough patch, and you will work it out.
If you have experienced a partnership souring, what advice would you add to this list?