When Partnerships Go Bad: 4 Best Practices to Save Your Business

Nathan Rodgers
November 4, 2022

Four lessons from a friendship and business partnership that went bad.

Sometimes friendships and business partnerships go bad.

I lost a friend and business partner after five years of working together to build a hotel and a travel agency.

Five years of never-ending work, countless challenges, financial sacrifice, and stress to get the hotel open. 

Incredibly, we faced it all with few disagreements and with our friendship intact as we successfully opened the doors to our hotel. 

But things were building for the last year of that project. 

The hotel opened, but after just three months, Covid shut it down again.

I had to look for other ways to support my family, and that led to the end of our friendship and me effectively leaving the partnership (while retaining my ownership stake). 

Here’s what that experience taught me about how to create and maintain healthy business partnerships:

1. Keep friendship and business separate

We knew that business and money could ruin our friendship.

So we agreed to do everything related to our business as a business.

We made our agreements in writing.

We voted when we disagreed.

We actively kept our frustrations about the business from impacting how we interacted as friends.

2. Have a common vision

From the beginning, we were committed to building a sustainable hotel based on permaculture principles that would have a positive impact on the community and on tourism in Colombia.

That alignment ensured we could work our way to an agreement even when we had different ideas about how to do it.

We came back to our purpose and chose the course of action that was most aligned with that purpose.

3. Change is inevitable. Be prepared for it.

Circumstances change. 

Priorities change.

People change. 

It’s foolish to think they won’t. 

As they do, you need to be aware of them, be honest about them, and be flexible to deal with them.

Sometimes that means the time comes for a partnership to evolve or change.

That can be difficult to navigate, which is why the fourth lesson is so important.

4. Communication is key

We knew things were changing.

I’d gotten married and had a kid.

I was dealing with mental health issues from the constant strain and stress.

Then Covid threw everything into turmoil.

But we weren't prepared for it.

We didn’t talk about the changes openly.

At one point we went months without even having a virtual meeting to align our activities, priorities, and expectations. 

The longer you let things go without communicating, the bigger and more difficult it becomes to resolve. 

You may end up dealing with misunderstandings, frustrations, anger, and resentment that cannot be repaired. 

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I have moved on to other things, but these lessons will stay with me for the rest of my life as I build new businesses and enter into new partnerships.

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