Last year I had a series of conversations with a prospective client. Like many entrepreneurs, she and her partner had gone into business with little formality. Things were fine for a while, and their company quickly became profitable. As the business grew and got more complex they found themselves facing situations and challenges they didn’t anticipate. Soon enough, the differences between them – in values, expectations, and goals – became evident and started to make their relations tense. They even worked with a business consultant who gave them what sounded to me like excellent advice. Unfortunately, they couldn’t agree how to implement the strategies, so they did nothing and missed some potential for growth.
By the time the business partners realized that they needed to work on their relationship, they had been actively avoiding each other for several months. If they had come to me earlier I would have been able to help them understand their differences and then either work together despite them, or plan an amicable break-up. As it was, things had deteriorated to the point where it would have taken a major effort on both their parts to put things right. And I could sense that they didn’t want to make that effort, even though it would have brought them a more stable business with better revenue.
The unfortunate truth is that these kinds of situations rarely improve by themselves. The conflicts you have with your business partner in Week One will be the conflicts you have in Week One Hundred unless you take steps to resolve them.
The costs of waiting are high: the longer you are in a sub-optimal business partnership,
- The higher the cost (in time, money, and emotion) to fix it
- The higher the cost (in time, money, and emotion) to make an exit
- The greater opportunity cost you incur because of it
And the longer you put off doing something to improve the partnership, the more damage the relationship is likely to incur.
Here are a few indications that it might make sense to get some advice or speak with a
- The same issues come up over and over
- Decisions (and difficult conversations) keep getting put off
- Introducing any kind of change to the business brings up resistance
- You’re avoiding one another, or avoiding face-to-face conversations
Do I believe that “the earlier, the better”? Not exactly. Partners need to be sure that their business has a chance to be profitable before it makes sense to invest in it. That said, earlier interventions usually have a better chance of succeeding than do interventions begun long after negative patterns have already established themselves.
About the image: Dawn at the Sula River by Pavlo Prystai via Wikimedia Commons.