Do I break up with my business-mate, or ask him to clean a fifth time?
January 11, 2017 7:22 PM   Subscribe

My friend and I are both acupuncturists. We have share a private studio in a commercial space. He is extremely pleasant, but has not cleaned once since we moved in 7 months ago. I've cleaned the space multiple times. I have asked him 4 times to take his turn, and together we came up with various systems to make sure it gets done, which he has ignored.

I came in slightly more established than he. I already had an LLC. I purchased my own business insurance and shared that info with him so he could do the same. I bought myself a fancy acupuncture chair and he said he'd get one to match in a month when he caught up on bills.

He came into our workspace share wanting to "brand together", but knowing how these things can sour, I suggested that we give it a shot sharing the space and see how that goes first before making the decision to file all of our business paperwork. He agreed somewhat reluctantly, mostly deterred when I relayed the actual costs to him.

At first it worked out great. He seemed to have momentum. We went to Ikea and invested in privacy curtains and furniture such as a desk and waiting area bench. We spent around $300 each. Our rent-- quite expensive for a small space because of the city we live in -- is $600 each per month.

Fast forward 7 months. My friend never invested in the matching chair because he said he hasn't had enough money, but seems to always have new toys (ipad, etc). He hasn't purchased business insurance nor signed up for a tax ID, but the consequences would not be on me if he were caught.

My business is doing well and growing. I work my a$$ off. My clients love the new space and I am afraid my mate's lack of professionalism and cleanliness will start to seep into a good thing that I have going.

When my mate texts me, he complains about not having enough clientele. I suggest he participate with me in promotions that I do, but he never follows through. He has a small child and wife at home so it's understandable that he doesn't have much leisure time, but it is difficult to communicate with him on text message and that's the only way I can reach him. I rarely see him at our workspace, and when I do, we both have clients with us.

He finally agreed to meet with me for lunch in late November. I pointed out that our space hadn't been cleaned since September (pretty gross, considering the line of work we are in) and I had cleaned it twice in once month before then. I told him I was okay with resorting to cleaning only once a month, but that we have to take turns or I would grow resentful towards him. He suggested a janitor's chart on the door, and I said "great". He has expressed in the past that he "doesn't like me to ask him to do things", which the chart was intended to solve. We agreed that I would clean that week and he'd do the next month. I deep cleaned and made the chart. I added our monthly cleaning to our shared calendar.

Fast forward, it's January 11 and he still hasn't cleaned. He's used up many of our shared supplies without communicating to me about it, so I will come to work with no covers for my chair, paper towels, etc.

We are both 39, not college students living at a dorm, and the idea of having to ask him to clean a fifth time makes my skin crawl. I have been fantasizing about getting my own space.

It's clear to me right now that we aren't meant to be long term business partners, but I'm not sure what move to make to make the next few months tolerable for me. I have invested time and money setting up the space, and a move elsewhere in a difficult market would not be immediately possible for me. I could afford the space on my own, but it would decrease my income significantly, and I'm not sure that he would move out if I asked him to.

It's next to impossible to get him to pay me back for things, so hiring a cleaning service doesn't seem viable. Despite signs of ambivalence from him, it's clear to me that he has no plans to leave our arrangement any time soon. If I pull out early, I may lose him as a friend, which is a concern for me.

It feels like I have to change my behavior in some way, because clearly I can have no effect on his actions, but I'm not sure how to go about this and feel like I'm not just cleaning up after this guy.

I am seeking tips on how to move forward, amicably dissolve our partnership (that has no written terms), and make the situation tolerable for me until our lease is up in August.
posted by dreamsofhorses to Human Relations (31 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It feels like I have to change my behavior in some way,

You really don't want to start thinking like that.
posted by mhoye at 7:26 PM on January 11, 2017 [21 favorites]

How hard would it be to get someone else into the space in his place?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 7:28 PM on January 11, 2017 [14 favorites]

I may lose him as a friend, which is a concern for me.

Doesn't appear to be a concern for him though.
posted by magnetsphere at 7:29 PM on January 11, 2017 [104 favorites]

Would you keep a room mate who acted like this? A partner? I would find somebody else to go into business with...or get a lawyer to put together a proper contract/agreement/whatever.
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:33 PM on January 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

He has expressed in the past that he "doesn't like me to ask him to do things"
I have known people who have said this thing. In several decades of meeting and dealing with such people, I have never once had the experience of having them to come around to any reasonable agreement.

You shouldn't have to ask a business partner to carry their share; you are not their parent. Nor should there be a problem if they "forget" or get busy and you have to ask them. If they've agreed to other measures, then they recognize that they should be doing more, but the response above means that they resent being asked to carry their share, and in my experience this will never ever change. My advice is to break up with them (dtmfa).
posted by Lafe at 7:35 PM on January 11, 2017 [39 favorites]

You're worried about losing him as a friend? He seems to have no problem with disrespecting you and your shared space, taking advantage of you, and doesn't meet his minimum responsibilities? He should be worried about losing you as a friend (and benefactor) and the fact that his isn't should tell you a lot.

Find a new partner or take the space over yourself. A lot of your options depend on whether you're both on the lease. If you aren't and it's just you, give him 2 months notice and offer to buy off his half of the office space decorations and furniture you both bought. That's more than generous.
posted by quince at 7:37 PM on January 11, 2017 [35 favorites]

I'm going to take the wild guess that you are a woman. If so, he will never change, as he is convinced he has the right to use you for menial labor and that, although you share a space and are better established than him, you are secretly his inferior and he doesn't need to listen to you. There's never any reason to tolerate grown men who act this way, in your personal or professional life.

Who's on the lease? If it's just your LLC, in most states you can kick him out. Buy him out of the furniture and send him on his way.

And be careful about future joint purchases, advertising, etc. In some states, you are edging a little too near an implied partnership/partnership in fact. You definitely don't want that.
posted by praemunire at 7:48 PM on January 11, 2017 [45 favorites]

You're right, you are going to have to change your behavior. If you want him to change, you need to grow a backbone. You're talking like you have no leverage in this situation, when the opposite is true.

As far as friendship is concerned, I'm sorry, but it's already over. He's taking advantage of you, which is not how a friend acts; and if you do keep cleaning up after him, I doubt you'll be feeling very friendly either.

Write him a business letter saying since he hasn't been honoring your informal agreements about cleaning and supplies, you're going to start sending him a monthly invoice. Nonpayment means 30 days notice; and once the lease is up, he's on his own.
posted by ottereroticist at 8:06 PM on January 11, 2017 [23 favorites]

Nthing you've already lost him as a friend, and if you mostly communicate over text, that's not a friendship I'd get to het up over.
posted by smoke at 8:21 PM on January 11, 2017 [7 favorites]

DTBP (dump that business partner)
posted by zippy at 8:32 PM on January 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

Hey, I am also an acupuncturist. Until you move you need to get a cleaning service (for you and your patients, not for your mate). If you want to stay you could try to change the dynamic by saying something to the effect of "Hey, I know it is hard for you with so few patients. Why don't I take over the responsibility of this place and you become my renter?" And if he agrees, you can make your relationship clear in a rental agreement (including what he is responsible for - chair or table paper - and what the cost is if he needs to use yours, and then you can formally write a way to evict him if he continues to steal your stuff or not pay you rent). And he is not going to clean, so view his rent as part of the cleaning fee and you get extra hours at that location or the right to bring on another renter to bring in more passive income or something.

This is one of those things that one discovers as they open a small business, especially when your original intent was to heal people or do good in the world, some responsibilities are best done by a professional (or at least not you).

However, there may be more going on here, one oddity is that you are so worried about the friendship going away. You are getting something out of this. And even if you aren't, you might want to check in and make sure that your fellow renter does not feel like he is pulling his weight in other ways. I cannot tell as I only have your side, but in the beginning it is typical for everyone to feel over worked and that they are the only one's working. And it is typical in roommate situations for different people to have different standards, the one with the higher standard usually has to do or pay for the things their standards require. (I could complain about the kleenex situation at our office but instead I just buy lots of kleenex. I also could complain about the body negative and shaming signs up - instead I am in the process of a new clinic build out with more like minded folks. Some things you can fix and somethings you cannot.) And the other reason I don't quite think this all adds up...

Your numbers are a little off - $300 is a steal for one month's rent almost anywhere in the country (I have worked in 3 states and 2 countries) and $600 is very reasonable and doable. If things are going so great, the $600 by yourself won't sink you.

Congrats on your great start in a very fulfilling career, may this small bump in the road create good clinic policy for you in the future.
posted by mutt.cyberspace at 8:50 PM on January 11, 2017 [21 favorites]

It sounds like the rent is $1200 total - $600 each
posted by cadge at 9:12 PM on January 11, 2017 [11 favorites]

i was a renter and was a witness to a dynamic that is very similar to this one, in a bodywork environment. One partner (wait for it -- a woman) did all the (UNPAID) cleaning, organizing, problem solving, and administration, and the other partner (um, a guy) came in late, had a million excuses, used other people's stuff, and generally was not responsible. She put up with him, and they had their business. Until. Guess what. His behaviors escalated, she grew fed up, and they split up their business, and she lost a ton of money because she just wanted to be DONE with it at all costs. It was SO ugly and every day I told myself that I would NEVER go into business 50-50 with someone else. I would either be The Boss or The Employee.

I suggest to you that this is the road you are walking down with this cool guy who is happy letting you be his mom. Just have a really hard conversation like "Hey, this isn't working for me. We have an agreement and you are breaking it. I don't want to work under these conditions, and I'm going to have to ask you to find another spot." (or) "and I'm moving out."

You became an independent worker (in part?) so you wouldn't have to deal with this noise. Get rid of it and get back to the pristine and delightful working environment of your dreams! Imagine your things right where you left them, cute little plants actually getting watered, a tap with no spots on it. You are one uncomfortable conversation away from this! Good luck!
posted by andreapandrea at 9:40 PM on January 11, 2017 [38 favorites]

I may lose him as a friend, which is a concern for me.

Would you be willing to put it in those terms in conversation with him? He needs to hear this as a looming consequence of his unwillingness to follow through on plans you both agreed on.

I'd suggest trying to find a time and place to communicate a number of things to him. You mention that he doesn't like being told to do things; can you tell him that you dislike telling him to do things just as much? Can you tell him, explicitly, that the idea of having to ask him to clean a fifth time makes my skin crawl? If you know that you don't want to be business partners in the long term, you can say that gently but directly. "Hey, let's work together until August but I'm planning to find another space eventually. The end of our lease might be a good time for me to strike out on my own. I want us to stay friends but, like we talked about a few weeks ago, I'm holding up more than my fair share of the business. I cant sustain it, and the thought of having to press you to take up cleaning so that our clients aren't grossed out makes me uncomfortable."

Good luck!
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:48 PM on January 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

You have internet strangers approve of you ditching this person - if they're a friend, they're pretty shitty at it.

As to how to get out of this... it sounds like you need someone in the wings to swoop in, take over leech, and roll the dice again - or go it alone.
posted by porpoise at 9:56 PM on January 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yeah, it doesn't sound like he's really that great a friend, so I wouldn't be so worried about that...
posted by heyjude at 10:09 PM on January 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

Keep cleaning until August, even if he doesn't do his share.
Lock your supplies.
Tell him in a friendly manner that this is no longer working for you so you're planning to move away at the end of August.
posted by Kwadeng at 10:12 PM on January 11, 2017 [7 favorites]

What? No, you go nowhere, he goes soon. It doesn't sound like he has any official standing to be there? Also, monthly cleaning sounds gross to be perfectly frank, I wouldn't think it was ok in an office setting let alone a bodywork one.
posted by Iteki at 11:59 PM on January 11, 2017 [22 favorites]

Stick a pin in it, you're done. Your partner is a freeloader. Not someone to be in business with.
posted by spitbull at 1:12 AM on January 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Also eww.
posted by spitbull at 1:13 AM on January 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

Also, monthly cleaning sounds gross to be perfectly frank

Right?! I see an acupuncturist whose area is clean to the point of sterile, like a dentist's office.

I'm pretty grossed out you clean the place twice monthly at best.

I clean my own house more often than that, and I'm not sticking needles in people.

Get rid of this guy, accept it as a life lesson and start cleaning your place more frequently.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 2:12 AM on January 12, 2017 [17 favorites]

It sounds like your half of the business is doing a lot better than his, if your clients are using the space more than his and you're making more money than him, its not entirely unreasonable for you to do more of the cleaning.

Step 1. Hire a cleaner for the sake of your sanity and your patients (how well do you think you business would be doing if they knew how infrequently you cleaned?!) Pay for it out of your profits and consider it the cost of doing business. If you kick your friend out you're down $600 a month, a cleaner will cost less than that.

Step 2. Let your friend know that you're hiring a cleaner and the cost is $x per month. If he doesn't pay his share then he will be out when the lease expires in August (assuming he's on the lease, if not, just kick him to the curb as soon as you have a replacement)

Step 3. Find a replacement - I would strongly consider looking for a complimentary therapy that would enhance your business rather than compete with it. Until you have more clients that you're able to service, having another acupuncturist sharing the space with you is essentially competition whereas offering a different service in the shared space but allow both practitioners to expand their client base. Having multiple practitioners of the same service in the same space only makes sense if you have too many clients which it doesn't sound like is the case
posted by missmagenta at 2:45 AM on January 12, 2017 [24 favorites]

If the cleaning schedule is posted in a location visible to your clients, move it.
posted by JimN2TAW at 5:46 AM on January 12, 2017 [19 favorites]

I may lose him as a friend, which is a concern for me

Every time I read something like this, I think of the line from Parenthood (the movie), where Jason Robards' character is outside his house, and a car comes screaming around the corner, his shiftless loser son gets thrown out, rolls to a stop, and says, "Oh, those were just my friends," and Jason Robards says, "Friends? Friends slow down. They even stop!"

This isn't a friend. And one could argue that by continuing to pick up his slack and doing his unpaid emotional labor (in addition to the UNPAID PHYSICAL LABOR AND ZOMFG EWW CLEAN YOUR GOD DAMNED OFFICE), you aren't helping him to be a better person.
posted by disconnect at 6:49 AM on January 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

Definitely break up. If his behaviour hasn't killed the friendship yet, it will eventually.

Re. cleaning -- are there no health inspectors? This is a medical setting. I wouldn't get a manicure in a dirty salon, let alone acupuncture. It has to sparkle. (I'm in no way a clean freak; my house is a mess.) Your associate is risking client welfare and you are risking your reputation and financial future. This situation is NOT okay.
posted by Frenchy67 at 7:39 AM on January 12, 2017 [6 favorites]

What everybody else said.

And this: When my mate texts me, he complains about not having enough clientele.

This is him telling you in a subtle way to throw him some of your clients when you are too busy. So that he doesn't have to do the work of finding clients.

Omg the emotional labor that you are bearing, I can't stand it. If you are becoming well established in this location, he needs to be the one to go. As soon as the lease ends. In the meantime, back off, stop contacting him about "shared" responsibilities. He doesn't view them as shared so you may as well start viewing them as your own and act according to your own needs as a businessperson.
posted by vignettist at 7:43 AM on January 12, 2017 [7 favorites]

Break up. His participation in this "partnership" is in bad faith. He wanted to brand with you but refuses to take any responsibility for the business at all, while benefiting from your hard work and professionalism. He hasn't filed his own paperwork, isn't bringing in clients, and invests no money or time in upkeep of the space. He may be performing acupuncture, but he is not "being a professional acupuncturist," he's just freeloading on you AND being a uncommunicative baby about it. And being a terrible friend.

Luckily for you, he's so unprofessional that he has basically no recourse when you kick him out. No written agreement with you, and he didn't bother signing up for a tax ID or establishing business insurance? Eh, he's not your business partner, he's a freelancer who you have allowed to use your space.

Give him 30 days notice and then change the locks. Send him a check for $300 for his share of the office furniture. Find someone else to share the space (as your subtenant) and have them sign a basic agreement with terms for cleaning the space, etc.
posted by desuetude at 7:47 AM on January 12, 2017 [5 favorites]

Break up. Especially since your "friend" has burned through your goodwill, as well as your supplies.

Think about why you want to retain this friendship. What are you getting out of it? It sounds like he has forced you into the traditional mom/girlfriend/caretaker role, and he isn't your son or boyfriend. So you are caretaking for an ablebodied adult. How come?

He's using you, and you are letting him. Give him notice and change the locks. Then hire a cleaning service anyway, because it doesn't sound like the place is getting cleaned enough.
posted by 41swans at 8:42 AM on January 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Can you give him notice, and get someone else to take on his space as an employee? The LLC would receive payment from all customers. The LLC pays you, the employee, and the cleaner; buys supplies, pays rent, etc. If the other acupuncturist is a mess, you can fire them because you are their boss. (Don't hire a friend).

(NB: I am not an MBA, entrepreneur, acupuncturist or lawyer. It just seems to me that if you take control of the business and hire employees you avoid winding up in this situation again).
posted by bunderful at 9:21 AM on January 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

As others have said, it's highly likely that his behavior won't change. In my experience, the best shot for it to change is if you have a frank conversation about what you've shared here. Of course, that involves doing even more emotional labor. I imagine there's a couple factors involved in figuring out whether that's worth it to you: one, how close is the friendship and two, how likely is he to be able to hear your feedback and maybe three, if it doesn't go well, how is that likely to look? Yelling or more agreeing and then not following through?

The other benefit to having an open conversation is that it could also be helpful in the process of an amicable shift. A couple ideas for that kind of communication: it might help to have another mutual friend present as a supportive witness, which can help keep conversation kind and reasonable. Try not to frame things in a blaming way--even though it's totally understandable to feel blamey! Like, focus on how things aren't working and what you would need for them to work, rather than making it about his character. Also, if it goes okay and you do get some agreement around cleaning, consider including an explicit agreement around what happens if someone doesn't follow through. Get all of it in writing if you can.

This is more from a relational perspective, than a business one--that framework probably has some useful stuff that's outside of my scope of reference.
posted by overglow at 9:31 AM on January 12, 2017

Thanks everyone. I'm a little new to this site and I don't know how to tag particular people, so I hope you see my answers!

- I stated that our rent is $600 each. That's a total of $1200 per month, which is a lot for me to pay myself with utilities on top of it! I think it's funny how one person can misunderstand something and everything goes to pieces, but that's the internet for you ;)
- Thanks for egging me on to breaking it off with him. I know that's an option, but I'm trying to be fair because I do know different people have different ways of experiencing things. I think "breaking up" is really the easy answer, and I don't like to come to it quickly.
- Our lease is up in August, we are both on it. We don't have an LLC together -- everything other than the lease and the furniture were purchased separately. For both my own piece of mind and budget, I'm going to ease out by then. If my conversation with him allows me to do so sooner, I will consider that option.
- Re: the question of whether he's my friend. Well, I'd say acquaintance more so in my perspective. We are adults and have our own families, and while some may find texting friends and seeing them for lunch occasionally unacceptable for their friendships, it's how things are these days (boy do I miss the days of phone conversations myself!).
- And no, I agree that he's not a great friend, but we do have good banter and I don't want to burn the bridge, so I'm aiming to ease out amicably.
- I've since texted him about the cleaning, and he seems to believe he cleaned. Whether he's lying or didn't do a good job, he didn't bother filling out the janitor chart (that was his idea in the first place) and we obviously don't see eye to eye.
- Also, he seems to think things are "fine". I plan to find a nice way to tell him I'm going to work towards moving on to my own thing when I get a time in his calendar to sit down face to face.
- Yeah, I think it's fair that I clean more for now, since I'm around more and using the space more. And since I just can't expect him to change. Thanks for pointing that out.
posted by dreamsofhorses at 4:15 PM on January 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

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