If you’ve been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug then you know how it feels to start a business. The beginning of a business is just like the start of a new relationship---you’re giddy and it’s all you can think about. Perhaps you entered that new business with a partner---someone who can be your co-pilot and travel with you on this amazing journey. I’ve had several partnerships throughout my career, most of them still hold fond memories for me. In fact, I just took a trip down south to visit my ex-partner, John, where he is retired and enjoying life. I enjoyed reminiscing with him about our start-up and the different things we did as our business grew. Our partnership ended because he decided to scale back and retire. Throughout our entire relationship I knew I could trust him and we balanced each other’s skills well.
But I’ve also experienced a partnership that didn’t work well and ended badly. If you’re in this position then you will understand when I say that it feels like a bad divorce. Once you make the decision to end the relationship, you just can't get out quick enough.
How do you know when it’s time to split from your business partner? Some important signs include:
Lack of trust
Lack of communication
Failure to consult each other when making business decisions
If you’re experiencing any of the above then it may be time to make a break and move on. Reaching the decision to split is not dissimilar to reaching the decision to divorce your spouse. A partnership can’t work without trust and communication. Moreover, the relationship needs to make you feel good. Is your partner the jealous type and trying to compete with everything that you do? Perhaps your relationship started out great---you balanced each other perfectly, but now it's progressed into a nightmare and you don't trust each other? Do you dread going into the office because you don't want to see your partner? Is your partner making business decisions without consulting you? Or worse, decisions that only benefit your partner? Or possibly, it's the little things that are starting to grate on your nerves---like the cackle of her laugh that you used to find humorous but now sounds like nails on a chalkboard? Have you discovered that your partner has done something wrong? Perhaps acted negligently and you've decided it's not worth it to put your career and professionalism on the line?
If you are feeling any of these things then girl, it may just be time to "break up" and move on. Life is too short to give your good years away to something that doesn’t work for you any longer.
A partnership is just like a marriage and if you’ve done things correctly then you’re tied to a Partnership Agreement, which is pretty much like a Marriage Certificate in the business world (the ties that bind). So, it’s not like you can just say, “ok, let’s not be partners anymore”. Rather, it takes awhile to reach the decision to split, and then it may take even longer to dissolve the partnership.
Reaching the decision to split, while heartbreaking, is often easier than the actual separation because it's hard to divide what you've created and reach agreement on who is entitled to it. Separating is messy and how it goes down will affect the relationship you and your partner will have going forward. Will you continue to have a good one, like my partner John and I? Or will you hope to never see or hear from that person again? When we are desperate to end things it never goes well. There may be arguing, deceit and positioning. Who gets the business, the clients, the employees, the staplers? My one bad partnership that I wanted to get away from so intently had me basically giving more than I took in order to walk away with my sanity intact. After months of discussion and bad feelings, I just wanted out so I could move on to the next thing. Unbeknownst to me my partner had slowly been positioning behind my back and I didn’t realize it until much later. I hurt myself more by going into hiding to try and escape the painful experience. I felt betrayed and isolated, judged and victimized. Later, I felt immense anger. I went on like that for awhile until I decided that I was giving away my power to my ex-partner through hatred and regret. I could no longer change what happened, moreover I was an active participant in it. I had once had control and I gave that control away---so now I just had to chalk it up to a life lesson, be thankful that I was free, and start over. When I learned to let go, I learned to live happily again.
I took away many valuable lessons from my experience with partner break-up, including the one I want to teach you:
Don’t Just Walk.
Don’t just walk away because you don’t want to fight anymore. Don’t just walk because you’re hurt. Don’t just walk because you’re tired or embarrassed. Don’t just walk because you think you’re going to save the relationship by giving in. Don’t just give up what you built. Don’t just walk through the break-up with blinders on in an attempt to stop the bleeding and get out quickly. You will come to regret the decision and end up trying to recover from it, often for a long time.
I know that sometimes it's best to give in and move on. But what I am suggesting is that you won't be able to move on unless you come out of the partnership feeling decent about what you are taking away from it, as well as how you handle the break-up. In the end, it isn't a marriage, it's business. It's a business that you co-created and you deserve to come out of it intact, strong and feeling good about your decision.
How do you do that? The best way is to face the problems head on and mediate the break-up. A professional mediator can help you divorce your business partner in a calm and efficient way.
Partner Mediation is a useful tool to help you identify all of the issues that need to be addressed with your partner as you split up and to work out a fair resolution of a division of the partnership. This is especially useful if you failed to have a Partnership Agreement in place that identifies what happens when a split occurs. Mediation will ensure that all issues are discussed and resolved. Also, a collaborative mediation process is one that may just save the friendship that started the business to begin with. During a collaborative mediation both parties and the mediator gather together and talk. Each side presents the issues important to them and then the mediator, along with the parties, work through all of those issues to the satisfaction of the parties. At the end of the mediation a written mediation agreement is prepared containing your agreement. With a fair and agreeable resolution of your partnership, you will be able to salvage your relationship AND your mentality.
I became a certified Mediator specifically to help people resolve their problems, such as partnership breakups, because I understand how painful that type of breakup can be and what happens if you don't resolve the issues. At the end of a mediation when all of the issues have been resolved there is an actual chance that you will have a decent relationship with your partner in the future, even more joyful than the past when you first started your business. Wouldn’t you want to visit your ex-partner in South Carolina, share a bottle of wine and laugh about the old business? Memories, experiences and relationships are the most powerful things in life. To be able to continue a relationship with the person you went through one of the most important things in your life is so valuable.
Everyone can go through a bad breakup---no matter if you’re a lawyer or the owner of a cute little shop. But it’s important to remember that the end of a partnership is just another step in life ---it doesn’t indicate failure or a bad decision. It’s a learning experience that helps us grow and get better. In time, the sun shines again and we go on to our new path. Mediation can help you get on that path a little more quickly with better feelings in tow.