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How can entrepreneurs best break up with a business partner?

5 min read


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I need to “break up” with a business partner. Beyond the legal considerations, what can I do to approach this delicate situation successfully?

1. Be as honest as possible

This is always a hard situation, but nothing makes it harder on the person being let go than not getting honesty from the person they’ve fought beside and endured the same hardships with. Let them know exactly why they can’t be a part of this anymore, and have evidence to back it up. Those who truly cared about the business will often see reason. — Matt Doyle, Excel Builders

2. Estimate the financial impacts

Many times, breakups in business are driven by emotions and expectations. Before you decide on it, you want to analyze the financial impact of the breakup. If you see severe financial losses, you may want to rethink or find a strategy to offset the losses. — Piyush Jain, SIMpalm

3. Meet in-person

The power of in-person discussions cannot be overstated when partnerships fail. Schedule a meeting (preferably without attorneys) to discuss winding down the business. Use the contract to guide the discussion and ensure talks remain focused. Lastly, create a list of deliverables and deadlines that each side agrees upon when the meeting ends. — Dusty Wunderlich, Bristlecone Holdings

4. Start with a “Thank you”

If you entered into business with someone, it means you saw some positive qualities in them. Start with acknowledging their contribution and demonstrate your appreciation. Then lay out your vision and talk with them about the disconnect. Finally, tell them you’ve thought about it deeply, and you think ending the partnership is the best way for both of you to move forward. — Raoul Davis, Ascendant Group

5. Don’t make it a surprise

Communicate any negative feedback that arises with a business partner throughout the lifecycle of the relationship. Ongoing communication is key to a successful breakup if and when the time arises. If the time comes for a breakup, your business partner will not be surprised and much more accepting of the situation if you have been openly communicating over time. — Phil Chen, Wrapify

6. Offer buyout and stock

Be open and honest about the difficulties in the partnership and offer to buy out your partner’s ownership, while giving a small economic stake in the company to incentivize their departure with the promise of potential return after acquisition. What’s a few percentage points to reward a partnership that may have been initially positive, in order to keep the business moving forward? — Blair Thomas, EMerchantBroker

7. Set a deadline

Breaking up with a business partner is a difficult situation. But ultimately, if at least one of you isn’t in it for the long run, it’s best to end the relationship as soon as possible. Set a reasonable deadline for when you want to have the formal dissolution to occur so that you don’t drag on the process. — Faraz Khan, Go Direct Lead Generation

8. Hire a facilitator

If you want to salvage your relationship for the future and walk away feeling like you handled yourself with integrity, I highly recommend hiring a coach to facilitate dialogue around the breakup. There will be many emotions that need to be talked through. Save yourself some of the long term pain by investing in someone who can hold a space for the challenging conversations that need to be had. — Corey Blake, Round Table Companies

9. Be assertive

Most people dislike confrontation. But as a business owner, you need to get over it. Please do not “break up” with a strategic partner either by sending a wishy-washy e-mail or text, or by having someone else on your team have the conversation for you. If possible, sit down with the partner in person, thank them for their work, and fully explain your decision. — Alexandra Levit, Inspiration at Work

10. Offer a full debrief and disclosure

If it’s somewhat unexpected, I believe in doing a debrief with your partner and being transparent about future plans. Some of the messiest legal situations I have seen unfold between former business partners are a result of a partner leaving and starting a competing venture or partnering with someone else. Have the difficult conversation, and disclose if there’s another plan in the works for you. — Natalie MacNeil, She Takes on the World

11. Communicate gracefully

Breaking up with a business partner is not all that different than breaking up with a significant other. It’s best to own your faults that led to the demise, not blame the other person, and speak honestly yet gracefully about why you’ve come to this conclusion. Opening the floor for him/her to say what they need in that moment or in the future can be helpful too. Kindness and candor are key. — Darrah Brustein, Network Under 40 / Finance Whiz Kids

12. Focus on the company, not each other

Make sure to not say “you have done X,” but rather “the company has done X, resulting in my unhappiness.” This decreases the chance of accusatory comments being made and leads to more productive, amiable disintegration. — Afif Khoury, SOCi Inc