Partnerships are often essential for launching and growing businesses, but like personal relationships, they do not always last forever and have the potential for blowing up and resulting in disaster for those who aren’t prepared. Below are a few thoughts on things to look out for and what to do when your partner(s) isn’t holding up their end of the arrangement…
Partners with differing values or personalities probably cause more “break-ups” than any other factor. While in the beginning it may seem that you compliment each other with an enhanced ability to “cover different bases,” over time these differences can become magnified and lead to anything from verbal abuse to client stealing (or both). The solution is to make sure you and your partners have similar values in the very beginning. If you do not share values with investors, affiliates or other joint partners, then strongly consider walking away or creating a time and scope limited, legally binding agreement that clearly outlines your work together as well as how you will resolve future disputes – even if you think you’ll never use them. Like a prenup, it can save you a ton of frustration and cash in the event of a “business divorce.”
Even when values are aligned, different expectations can emerge over time. So, not only should you make sure you’re on the proverbial same page before day one, but also work to define and redefine workload, responsibilities and goals regularly to make sure you continue to march forward in a way that serves the business and all concerned parties.
In short, people, as well as their focus and interests grow apart. Entrepreneurs are especially vulnerable to this as we chase new opportunities, trends and passions. The best thing to do is simply plan for it. Put strategy and structure in place up front to regularly assess business relationships and whether they should continue. The ultimate goal is to allow everyone the opportunity to exit a “business break-up” gracefully, without an epic battle that causes long-term damage to reputations, teams or the business.
It’s also important to note here, that as we evolve, people sometimes simply drop out of the race. They may find a new business or relationship and “check-out” without ever saying a word. Being the last one to know is never easy. If this happens, find the support you need to cut them loose and let them know why – business case only, keep your emotions out of the equation.
Sadly, every industry has a trail of benumbed partnerships lining the road to success. Despite our best intentions, sometimes things just do not work out. The key is to be proactive, even when things are going well and money is flowing. Just like an employment or vendor contract, make sure you have a written agreement in place that will guide you when things do not go exactly as you’d planned.