I have the parachute; when do I jump?
May 20, 2015 7:21 AM   Subscribe

I have my own business, but I can't work with my business partner much longer. For various reasons, my exit plans keep shifting back.

I've been in business with a friend (and we are still friends!) for several months. The business is an educational nonprofit. For some time now there have been communication problems between me and my partner.

A is an ex-project manager and ten years older than me, and there is a lot of "I've been doing this longer and I know more than you." A makes decisions without consulting with me (including revamping our website, changing our logo and tagline), and has made some significant mistakes, including getting us some funding by overcommitting us to 40 workshops -- we are working for less than nothing.

Last month I asked A to clarify some things we'd discussed briefly at an event, and A insisted they said no such thing and didn't recall the conversation. The comments were that A had found us a potential volunteer to assist, so I didn't need to advertise the role. But A says they didn't say that. I had also shared some planning with A and discussed it with them, but A didn't recall and asked me to write an entirely different new framework, discarding the previous work.

After these two miscommunications, I told A in a clearly written email that we had some serious issues to do with communication, and that I was frustrated and doing more work than was necessary, and that this problem was stopping us and the business from working well. A didn't respond, and hasn't mentioned the email since. In the last couple of meetings, I have written down everything that was discussed and emailed it to both of us, to keep a written record so A can't "forget" anything (and explained to A what I am doing and why). However, tonight A informed me about the new company slogan, which I hadn't heard anything about. Clearly nothing has changed.

When I sent A the email about communicating better, I started planning how to remove myself from the business if things didn't improve. I planned to tell A last Wednesday that I would be leaving.

However, A made a very good connection two days prior, and on the Tuesday evening we suddenly had fifty(!) requests for workshops. When I saw that, I felt obligated to stay on board until we deal with the bulk of the work, so I said nothing about leaving.

My worry is that now we have all this work, it could potentially continue until next year, and I'll still be there, getting more frustrated.

I don't think A can change old habits. A has a very strong personality and doesn't take criticism well -- or at all -- and this has been detrimental to the business and noted by mutual acquaintances. I don't really want to be associated with something that's being done badly, especially when I feel like I have no say. I am an equal partner for all intents and purposes. However, the workshops will be very exciting and rewarding to be involved with, and the whole reason why I joined A in founding the business.

1. When and how should I leave? This is my first business, and I've never done this before! What is the most graceful way to exit and not leave my partner in the lurch? We have a partnership contract with a set notice period, but I would be happy to stretch the notice out to give A time to prepare.
2. If I wait, what strategies can I use *for myself* to not lose it with my partner? Assume that A is not going to change at this point.
3. (Related to 2) What other tips do you have for keeping communication as clear as possible, and encouraging A to be more collaborative without pushing?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (5 answers total)
You said earlier that you were "overcommitted" to over 40 workshops, which is an issue, but now you're happy about 50 workshop requests? What is different about these requests than the ones that were an issue?

If you are unhappy with the way the partnership is going, you can renegotiate the partnership or exit the company. It sounds like you're ready to exit, so staying because of a bunch of extra work isn't going to make things better.
posted by xingcat at 7:31 AM on May 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

I would think about exiting the partnership and signing a consulting agreement to continue to help run the workshops. Resign from the partnership while telling A you do not want to leave them in a lurch and want to agree to help work the workshops or until A can find a suitable replacement. I would attempt to eliminate the partnership conflicts while still trying to help the non profit education goal of the business. Extract yourself in the short run from the decision making of the organization since that is the part that is causing conflict and stress.
posted by AugustWest at 8:06 AM on May 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

Are you getting paid? Will this work generate income?

I hope you noticed a pattern that every time you are frustrated enough to walk away, Partner pulls some magic out of a hat and you abandon your better instincts.

I have a small business. I've started several. This one is (finally!) very stable and successful. Here's the deal...

Cut off relations with people and organizations that are dysfunctional as cleanly as possible and without bad blood. Sometimes, these things try to suck you back in. Politely refuse to get re-entangled with them.

Here's why.....

IMEAHE, you only ever lose when the relationship is lopsided. You are already doing it here in your list of possibilities. Partner is not treating you as a partner! You are their (unpaid?) employee. You are sacrificing for nothing. Partner will not give you credit for this when the time comes. There will always be the "carrot" of some kind of payoff down the road - but your payday will never come. You may get enough recognition or money to keep you hooked. That's all.

Partner has shown very bad faith towards you. This is not a friendship. I'm confused as to why you trust this person. The signs this will end badly for you are all present. This is not how good and lasting business and partnerships are conducted.

Resign as soon as possible. You don't know it yet, but you're not actually losing anything. This person is wasting your time, time is something you can't get back. Put your considerable efforts into something mutually beneficial for all involved. This situation does not match that successful formula. Run.
posted by jbenben at 8:13 AM on May 20, 2015 [9 favorites]

On the other hand... several months? That doesn't strike me as long enough to have legitimately worked on this issue. If you enjoy the actual work and have a solid framework for your partnership (ie, a good partnership agreement that your lawyer has looked over and verified) then I feel like you could, and should, try to rectify the division of labor and what approval your partner needs from you before making (any) decisions. In writing. CCing the aforementioned lawyer.

If, on the other hand, this is an informal agreement and/or you're not getting compensated: run for your life.
posted by lydhre at 11:02 AM on May 20, 2015

...getting us some funding by overcommitting us to 40 workshops -- we are working for less than nothing.

This would be a huge red flag to me. Someone who doesn't insist on setting a price that at least allows you to break even is simply agreeing to the organization's slow death. And she's now agreed to an additional 50 such agreements?? These will hasten the organization's demise.

I consult with nonprofits for a living. One of the things I tell nonprofit leaders is that the difference between a nonprofit and for-profit organization is what you do with the profit, not whether or not you make a profit at all. Any organization not making a profit will not be in business long.

Coupled with the communication issues, this partnership is going nowhere. Do it nicely if you can ("differences in communication and management styles", etc.) but get out now.
posted by summerstorm at 1:14 PM on May 20, 2015

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