As an attorney, I have seen many business partners break up. For the most part, there really is no super villain in the tale. It is usually a misunderstanding or lack of communication that causes a rift. Someone gets angry and… poof! All of the hard work and dedication to building a business goes out of the window. All of the trust and respect that once permeated the relationship is gone.
First, let me say that I have experienced the negative fallout of a business relationship going bad. While the “death” of the business had nothing to do with me, I still feel the effects of the negativity and bad taste left in the depths of my soul. Enough to say, that I may never go into business with anyone again.
After having a conversation with a client who was going through a business break up. My client said there were signs that things were about to go wrong. But he thought he could endure it and make the business profitable. I have to say, I felt the same way at some point prior to the breakup of the business I was involved in. I have often said business relationships are like marriage. You have to communicate and you have to have trust. Without those things, the relationship is doomed. Here are a few things that I have learned about handling a business breakup:
Lesson one: Everyone Loses!
The litigation process in a business breakup is long and expensive. If you get what you want (or something near to what you wanted) you also pay a big price for it. Financially and emotionally it can take a big toll on you. Each side is painted as a villain and the work you did that was once praised is now what doomed the relationship. The worst part is that everyone thinks they are right. Because of this, litigation drags on until the only people being paid are the attorney’s. If you are lucky you may get a payout. If not, you go home with your moral victory. Knowing in the end you were right. Or worse, you were right and you still lost. It is enough to make you write off going into business with anyone ever again.
Lesson two: You cannot predict a person’s reaction to circumstances.
I generally find that a business breakup is precipitated by an individual’s change in personal circumstances. Someone is going through a divorce, a death in the family, financial pressures. They need someone to blame or at least yell at. Because other parts of their lives are not controllable you as the partner become fair game. Another reason is ego. One thinks that if they get rid of another partner they can do what they want. Have more control, make more money. The value that you once had is no longer desired when they believe they can get it somewhere else or it is just no longer necessary. “Thanks! I can take it from here.” This then turns into an argument about who really contributed what to the company. The people who were once vital now become pointless. The next time someone asks for your help, you are liable to poke them in the eye!
Lesson three: Move on and let it go.
At some point you have to move on from the business. At times this can be easier said than done because it is hard to let go of the hurt and disappointment of the business fall out. I often think about the Facebook “creation” lawsuit. Mark Zuckerberg is hailed as a genius now. Many forget he was accused of stealing the platform for Facebook. The people whose ideas he took, have moved on. We don’t remember their names and faces. Do you think they are still angry? Maybe, but who wants to live life like that? It is best to take the positive experiences that you learned from your doomed business relationship and turn it into something positive. No one can take your knowledge away from you. Use it to increase your skills and relationships. There is no need to harbor negative feelings.
If you have ever gone through a business breakup and survived it, you understand the importance of knowing what you did wrong. Hint: It was not trusting that SOB who tried to kick you out of the company. What you did wrong was thinking that nothing could ever go wrong. Most people are blindsided by the actions of a partner trying to purge the company. Truth is, there are signs. Ignoring them and pretending that they don’t exist doesn’t work.
I truly believe that you cannot contract for everything. And even if you do, you cannot predict the extent people will go to get out of a contract. So stay diligent. That means keeping the lines of communication open and if you ever feel like there is a problem, get a third party that can help you work it out. It may not work, but at least you tried. At the end of the day, that is all that matters.
Shahara Wright is an experienced and highly sought after business law attorney and business strategist. She is the author of From Entrepreneur to CEO and host of the CEO Collaboration Circle. Shahara founded The CEO Effect, LLC to work with small business owners who want to implement strategy to build capacity.