All’s Fair in Love and Business

All’s Fair in Love and Business

14 Feb    Advice, Columns, Finance News

It’s Valentine’s Day and love is unashamedly in the air. But what if everything is not as rosy as it seems?

In truth, all relationships can be tricky at times but even more so when your livelihood depends on it. As a business owner, you may spend as much time (if not more) with your work partner as with your significant other.

And while everything may have been wonderful at the start, with a shared positivity and determination to take on the world and win, the trials and errors of business ownership can start to chip away at that enthusiasm. An issue no doubt magnified by the trying events of recent years with a world in ‘permacrisis’. Brexit, Covid, war, energy crisis, climate crisis, rising business and living costs, workforce shortages… need we go on?

But surely you’ll have discussed and prepared for potential tough times that might arise? The answer to this is not always yes. There may have been a feeling that your indomitable determination and long-standing friendship would be enough to see you through any sticky patches. Or perhaps you did discuss such possibilities but without a crystal ball to hand, how could anyone prepare themselves for what lay ahead?

Frankly, business arrangements are rarely as well thought through as romantic relationships (and we all know how those can turn out!). Yet the implications of a business relationship can have far-reaching consequences for you and your life outside of work. If things go wrong, some ownership structures can cost you your livelihood, your reputation and crucially, your assets.

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Finding the perfect partner is tricky enough in your personal life, but entering into a business arrangement with someone can be even harder. The expectations on both sides are often not clearly articulated and an ownership split that might have sounded fair in the beginning, may no longer seem like a reasonable reflection of your efforts as the company grows and workloads change.

There are, however, several steps to building, rebuilding or releasing relationships with people you’re intrinsically linked to. Let’s look at these three scenarios:

Building a relationship

An open and honest relationship is critical to success in any realm and business is no different. Be clear about your purpose or vision for this endeavour and your end goal. Are you in it for the long haul or do you want quick financial gain and an early exit? Are you keen to grow as big as possible or are you content to deliver a quality service as a boutique provider? Does your partner have similar goals? What will happen if one of you changes your mind?

Having these discussions at the start of your journey – and revisiting them frequently as your business develops – can save a lot of heartache down the line. You are on the same page and aiming for a happy ever after. And if feelings change or there is a hiccup along the way, you’re in a much stronger position to get through it for having already laid a solid foundation to build your organisation.

Fixing a relationship

But what can you do if your work partnership is floundering?

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The first step is to talk and more importantly, to listen. The reality is that relationships are generally based on how you feel; on how things seem, as opposed to how they really are. The key is therefore to acknowledge those feelings and show a willingness to move forward. If you can’t at least try to rebuild trust and show respect for one other, then your commitment will be tested which can have serious repercussions for your wider organisation. After all, trouble often starts at the top.

There may be many reasons why disquiet has set in, be they financial concerns, a change of view on purpose or direction, or a question of succession/legacy planning. If the lines of communications are closing in, then a real effort must be made by all parties to set common ground for discussion, to align on the challenges and have those difficult conversations before it’s too late. Experts are available to help you navigate the fog and unite on a path forward, whether through business coaching, mediation or simply a trusted third party.

Exiting a relationship

What if it’s too late and it’s all gone to pot?

If things have declined so dramatically that communication is failing and you have reached a stalemate, then do not panic. If a break-up is inevitable, mediation should be your first port of call – it ensures clarity of communication between all parties and significantly increases your chances of reaching a fair and agreed outcome. Legal intervention should be your last resort. While it’s easy for the relationship breakdown to become all-consuming, it’s important to work together to minimise the impact on the people around you. Keep discussions behind closed doors and maintain an amicable and aligned front when facing your team and clients. If the worse comes to worst, maintaining dignity upon exit will lessen the pain all round.

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In business, just as in love, the key to a successful relationship is to listen, communicate, build trust and fundamentally, to ask for help when you need it.

Rhonda Curliss

Rhonda Curliss is co-founder and co-CEO of Grey Lemon. Set up in 2020 with her co-founder Victoria Firth, Grey Lemon has helped supercharge many UK SME businesses by working with CEOs, owners and senior leadership teams. Their strategic and holistic input and their direct approach has seen companies quickly turn around and thrive – for example, tripling profits, growing internationally, doubling business wins and mitigating risks. Previously holding Director, Board and c-suite positions in US and UK businesses she has a wealth of business expertise and is also the first female president in the history of the Nero Club, formed 50 years ago for London’s property industry leaders. She is also a trained mediator and mentors and advises a number of charitable organisations in the property and construction sector.

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