Breaking up is Hard to Do

Why are partnerships so hard after a few years?

203803_sIt’s all a perfect dream when the idea comes up. The thought of being rich, a high flying life, minions looking after your business… It’s going to be great!

And it is, for a while. You’ve gone into business with a friend, a colleague or a family member. You lay it all out on the line as to who will do what, how much cash you’ll keep as a safety net for the business and how big you’ll allow yourselves to grow. You’ll have trusted employees, you’ll pay them well and they’ll be loyal to you. One of you will be in charge of customers, another keeping the books, and perhaps a third in charge of operations. You’ll start in your hometown and eventually grow to other locations. It’s a wonderful world.

A few years go by and maybe the economy starts to stall or heaven forbid, one of the partners dies or leaves or perhaps one of you gets a divorce and now the business is at stake. The picture changes and you are left dealing with the unexpected. What seems like running smoothly is now on rocky ground. How do you deal with it?

Often times the disruption begins to affect that segment of the business that the troubled partner is covering and soon causes disgruntlement by the other partner(s). It whittles down to the employees and the talk starts. Some people can deal with it head on, others avoid talking about it or even acknowledging it is happening. Left unaddressed, it can destroy what was once an efficiently and profitably run business.

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Talk it out. Be kind to each other and be prepared to be sensitive about the matter. Oftentimes, the partner is dealing with something very personal and that is what has changed his or her behavior.
  2. Look each other in the eye when discussing. You want this talk to be very personal and truthful. If you can’t look him in the eye, you will not be trusted.
  3. Keep the conversation confidential between the two of you.
  4. Be honest. Don’t slant, exaggerate or enhance any part of the conversation. The tendency to comfort sometimes leads to overstatements.
  5. Empathize. Your partner may be dealing with something challenging that he is losing sleep over.
  6. Once, the conversation is on the table, make a plan to work around it.

If you’re dealing with tough times and you can’t agree on how to handle it, bring in a third party (an accountant, lawyer, consultant) to objectively look at your situation and evaluate what you should do. The last thing you want to do is spend money, but it’ll save you much more in the long run and can save your company.

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