Peer-to-Peer: What do you do when you’ve built a company with your partner and then you break-up?

Written by ProfitGuide Staff


“What do you do when you’ve built a company on love and sweat equity and your partner leaves you? I’m dissolving our partnership, but I still have to work with him in a networking group we formed; it wouldn’t be fair to others in the group if I resigned. How can I put the hurt behind me and maintain a professional image?”

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Reader responses

Anonymous, ON

I can sympathize because I am in business with my husband and I have often thought how much of a nightmare it would be if the personal relationship dissolved but the business relationship had to continue. Could you not send an employee as a stand in for you at the networking meetings? It would save you the heartache and possibly give the employee a needed responsibility boost.

Fred Mercer, BC

From a Nflder owing a small business in BC, I think you’re already thinking about the right ‘professional’ things by not just acting quickly on your emotions. Depending on the purpose of the networking group and both of your responsibilities within it, you have to ask not only “would it be fair to the others if I left”?… but also “would it be fair to the others if I change my outlook or the way I interact within the group because of this ex-partner”? If you are changing (even subconsciously) your input into the group, it may be more detrimental or damaging to stay. Remember: life is short, hold no grudges and move on in a positive manner.

John A. Hall

I would suggest that your reader not try to do what she cannot do. The networking group is an unfortunate complication, but she did not precipitate that situation and is not responsible for it. Customers can smell trouble like this and will avoid the situation. So staying may ultimately be more damaging.

Ryan Walker

(I just re-read the Profiteer email and picked up the word “love” in the peer to peer question. To me this implies that the word “partner” is meant in two senses of the word and all of the advice which is to follow is probably not quite on track. Unfortunately I have no time to revise this so I will send it off as is — might be useful, might be junk, but I’ve written it so what the heck.)

The dissolution of a partnership is never an easy thing — when two people spend incredible amounts of time and energy into building something, a significant emotional investment is made and a personal attachment is formed — this is unavoidable and is in fact one of the very reasons the partnership was succesful in the first place.

But — you’re obviously past that point and are looking for answers as to how to get on with things. The problem is, you’re the only one that can answer it. Your partnership (and every other partnership) is different — well, fundamentally partnerships can be classified, but each one has its own unique details, nuances if you will. An examination of the subtleties of your partnership should tell you where you need to go.

An example — if your partner was the senior person / mentor in the relationship, you might want to reflect on all the things you’ve learned, how you have progressed professionally and what you will take away from this experience.

If you were the mentor in the partnership, look at it the other way — all the things you were able to teach your partner, the growth you observed and the proverbial gifts you’ve given. I’ve taught some courses in my life and I tell you — one of the most pleasing things in existence is to watch a student walk out of the classroom and know that you’ve given him something to take with him.

If it was a very equal relationship then you’re going to be somewhere in the middle. You learned, you taught, you grew together.

Also, you need to factor in why the partnership didn’t work out — as an exercise, write out all the negative character traits your partner exhibited or the reasons you feel the partnership didn’t work out. Work through each one in your mind — go to excruciating detail. And then make the mental decision to be done with that line of thinking — replace the thousand little details with the generic thought “it wasn’t going to work, this is for the best.” Make sure to make that mental leap — you want to rid yourself of the mental baggage that is senseless negativity.

Then you need to get into a mindset where you are “OK” with the ending of the partnership. You should be able to do this no matter what the cause of the “break-up.” Find the positives, keep them in mind, remember the generic “this is for the best” theme and get on with it.

The how’s and where’s of how to do that are up to you — you are going to need closure on this and that has to involve interaction with your partner, especially considering the fact that you need to attend the networking group you mentioned. Some people would write a letter, others would phone. I would make reservations at a great restaurant, go and eat a great meal, have a few drinks, talk frankly about the good experiences you had together and end the night with a handshake. (But make sure that you’ve decided that this is the “closure” dinner, not a “let’s re-hash the negatives” type affair.) If this is done properly you’ll have no trouble at the networking group, and you might end up developing a new (if different) relationship with your ex-partner. Or you might not — really depends on both of your personalities and the nature of the partnership (and its termination).

Good luck, I hope it works out for you.

Alexander L. Bimman, Toronto, ON

It is quite simple:

  • Assess damage: what have you lost? If you had a good partnership, you complemented one another;
  • List the skills/abilities/capabilities/experience he brought into the partnership;
  • Review them in the light of TODAY’s needs of the P.;
  • Map out a profile of a partner/employee you need today;
  • Prepare a ‘package’ for such ‘replacement’;
  • Develop a plan to market the ‘vacancy’;
  • Plan the work, work the plan, before you know it you will turn this around.

Good luck.

John Robinson

If I were you I would resign the group, and start up on your own. Try and attract the best of the others in your group to join you. Customers today are more loyal to the Tech or IT worker than the company. I have moved through 3 computer service and repair [companies], and the corporate customers have followed me. Remember if you are not happy doing this anymore, it isn’t worth doing it!

Brandi Jasmine

Did you know that most people find it easier to discuss sex than money? A business partnership can be an incredibly intimate relationship. Most business partners are friends who spend far more time together than they do with their spouses. So why are we surprised that the breakup of a business partnership might be traumatic? Whether or not the parting is mutual or one-sided, “Newfoundland entrepreneur” has to come to terms with grief, anxiety and pain that may be every bit as gut-wrenching as a divorce. Unlike a death, when a partnership breaks up there is no “final” moment — just a series of steps, each more painful than the last. It can take a lot longer than many people expect to come to terms with the changes.

“Sometimes it helps to have a little ceremony, like a funeral of sorts, tailored to the person’s religious background and comfort zone. I recommend that “Newfoundland entrepreneur” find a room where they will not be disturbed for a time. Light a candle. Sit down, write down all the thoughts, impressions, feelings and emotions you are going through right now. Write down all the good things and the bad things you learned from your partner. Write down any stray thoughts that cross your mind. Then, when you run out of things to say, burn the paper, and take the ashes to a creek or to some place where you can bury them or scatter them in running water. Have a good cry, raise a glass, or say a prayer for strength if you need to, or just spend a quiet moment in thought. Then, go back and write out your plans for the future, establish new goals now that you are on your own. The last step is critical. You are establishing a new order out of the chaos. Once you know where your own direction is taking you it’s easier to move away from the goal or agenda set by your ex-partner.

“Now of course “Newfoundland entrepreneur” still has to deal with seeing the ex-partner. The main thing is to focus on your goals — separate your emotions and the past from your goals and business aspirations. Put those feelings off to one side, and make a mental agreement with yourself that it is okay to feel whatever you might be feeling at a later time, because right now you must focus on the needs of the people who are counting on you, and who you still need to be effective in business.

“Having just been let go from a company I worked for the past 7 years, I can relate to the feelings expressed by “Newfoundland entrepreneur”. I too still have to deal with people I used to work with on a regular basis. I chose not to be bitter. I decided that they had done me a huge favour. I was a freelance writer before I started working for this company and always wished I had stuck it out on my own, but I had been too afraid to quit and return to my real heart’s desire. It’s still scary. The job was a safety net in many ways. But I decided I could wallow in anger or self-pity or I could see this as the great opportunity I believe it to be. “Newfoundland entrepreneur” can find bright spots in the dark clouds hanging over the situation.

“Focus on the opportunities made possible by this change, and the hidden benefits, no matter how hurtful the situation might seem right now. Every time you have a sad or angry thought — acknowledge it. Don’t try to force it to go away right away. But refuse to act on it. Tell yourself “I am choosing to focus on the positive right now.” By staying focused on the positive, everyone you deal with will see you as mature and professional, not spiteful of childish, and you’ll heal quicker too. You may ultimately find that your partner did you a huge favour by walking out.”

  • from Sabine Schleese

    I would assume the entrepreneur asking the question is female. In any case, my advice would be to remember that “business is business”. Although admittedly it is sometimes more difficult for women to separate their personal feelings in any relationship, in this case since the people she needs to continue to see are important for her in a business sense, she should take a deep breath before entering the room, smile, and basically ignore her ex-partner except for pertinent and relevant business conversations (although my guess would be he will be just as uncomfortable as she). If she remembers this, she will probably get through each meeting a little more easily — I’m sure she’s not the only one having a hard time with something like this.

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Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com