What to do if your business partner isn’t pulling their weight: a four step guide

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Whether you’re just starting up or you’ve been in the business game for a while, carrying the weight of your enterprise without the support of your business partner is never easy.

For many, sharing their company with someone else can make the growth journey less daunting. Having another person by your side to share the successes, failures and everything in between means you always have someone that knows what you’re going through as an entrepreneur.

It can also be beneficial to the company; having a partner to bounce new ideas off, whilst bringing in new connections and skills, can help keep things fresh and moving forward.

But, what happens when things start to go sour?

Recent reports show that up to 70 percent of business partnerships fail. So, whether they’ve lost motivation, their personal problems are impacting the company, or things just aren’t working like they used to – it’s time you face the facts, and create a plan of action.

Here are four tips on what to do if your business partner isn’t pulling their weight:

Identify the problem​

In some cases, we don’t realise there’s a problem until it’s too late. By the time things start to break down with your partner, one of you might have already checked out, and neither of you feel supported in how you’re feeling.

Large enterprises have entire HR teams dedicated to employee welfare but when you’re a co-founder – particularly in a small startup team – the responsibility of ensuring people are happy in their roles lies with you.

Plan for the worst (and hope for the best!)​

To prevent things from spiralling from the outset, it’s important to have practices and principles in place to help identify problems early on. This could take the form of a company values meeting.

This should take place when you’re starting up, and involves writing your values into your business plan. You want to ensure your values and ambitions are aligned, and embedding these in your plan can be useful to refer back to in the event of a disagreement.

You may wish to include what to do when you need more support from your team and how best to communicate these needs. This way, when a problem does arise, you’ll have a document to refer to to help navigate what can be an uncomfortable process for some business owners.

However, if you’re yet to establish a set procedure and you’re faced with a partner who isn’t pulling their weight, it’s time to take a step back.

Get some perspective​

When things aren’t working as they used to, and a little resentment has begun to fester, it can be tempting to go in all guns blazing demanding answers from your partner.

Whilst it’s key to communicate how you’re feeling about this change in dynamic, it can be more beneficial in the long run to take the time to ask yourself what has changed – and why it may be that they aren’t pulling their weight.

Consider all factors​

Perhaps you’ve grown rapidly, and the pressure of this growth has become overwhelming. It may be that the company is struggling to get off the ground, and financial worries have set in. Personal pressures from friends and family can also be a significant factor.

Whatever you feel it may be, it’s important to gauge where things could be going wrong, so that you can approach the conversation with compassion and an open mind as to how to navigate the next steps. This is where clear communication comes in.

Communication is key​

This one may seem obvious, but a strong line of communication between you and your business partner can help to diffuse any disagreements, and address how to repair what has gone wrong.

You’ll need to accept that for now, you’re in this together – and you don’t want a change in dynamic to negatively impact the company.

In this thread, one UKBF member emphasises how crucial communication is when it comes to having a prosperous business partnership:

“Partnerships are dangerous beasts! And very often, one person with all the contacts and social media accounts, websites, etc. just waltzes off with all know-how, passwords and contacts, leaving the remaining partner high and dry.”

So how can you avoid a fall out?​

Start by asking your partner to have a conversation. You may want to send this in the form of an email, or more informally, depending on your relationship. Once you’ve set time aside to talk, why not write an agenda, or a list of key bullet points to cover during the conversation? This can keep things on track, whilst maintaining an element of professionalism.

It’s also important to consider how you come across. Whilst it may be tempting to air all your grievances from the outset, sometimes a measured approach can make for a more productive conversation. You might feel that you want to get a mediator involved to stop emotions coming into the conversation.

Typically, a clear, concise summary of what you’d like to cover can help. Here’s what this might look like:

  1. Explain that your working relationship has shifted from what it once was
  2. Tell them that you feel that your partner isn’t putting as much into the business as they used to
  3. Ask why this is and how you can help rectify the situation
  4. Explain how this has and will affect the business moving forward

In some cases, it may be appropriate to involve your employees after you’ve spoken with your partner. Ask for their input – have they noticed any changes to the daily function of the business? If so, how do they feel this has impacted the workplace and the wider company? This could help the team to feel more united and included after what may have felt like a period of disconnect.

Revisit your structure​

Depending on the outcome of the conversation with your partner, this challenge may have brought to light that the business structure needs to shift.

It can be easy to slip into the same patterns when you’ve been working together for a certain length of time, sometimes allowing bad habits and apathy to creep in.

One of the solutions you may broach upon speaking with your partner about their lack of input could be to revisit how you do things. Perhaps you started out with weekly one to ones, but overlapping meetings, pitches and deadlines pushed them out, leading your communication to become clouded.

With this in mind, here are some factors to consider when revisiting your business structure:

Check your priorities​

Have your priorities changed? For example, your business partner may have experienced a house move, the birth of their new child, or the start of another business.

Whatever it may be, the reason for why they are putting less into the business could help to inform how you restructure the way you do things.

Be open to flexibility and renegotiation​

Introducing more flexible work schedules could help someone struggling to juggle life at home alongside the business. Alternatively, hiring an assistant could help if the admin side of things has become overwhelming.

Renegotiating your roles could also come into this – perhaps your partner wants to remain a part of the firm, but step down as co-founder. In this case, you may need to renegotiate your contract regarding profit or ownership percentages.

Assess your team, open up communication and look at hiring for new roles if you see this solution working for you.

In this thread on entering into a partnership, Porky highlights the importance of understanding the roles each of you play from the outset, to avoid the burden falling on one person where the other claims the same profits:

“In numerous cases you often have a situation where one partner becomes the monkey on the back of the other. It’s not always equal.

You could end up with a business where you both earn 100k a year yet you are the driver bringing in the bulk of the revenue and the other partner becomes a well over paid marketing admin that should be on 30k.”

Knowing your roles from the beginning is better, but if you find yourself swamped whilst your partner is slacking, renegotiate your contract and your roles.

Beat the burnout​

Starting a company is a big undertaking, and sometimes all that’s needed is a step back for things to flourish again. If you can see that your partner is experiencing burnout, it’s likely that you are too.

Don’t be afraid to put things on pause for a while. A break can breathe new life into a once stale company structure.

Accept that you may need to separate​

In other cases, you may conclude that a restructure means you and your partner need to go your separate ways. This is where consulting your partnership agreement and having an exit strategy can prove useful.

Consult your partnership agreement​

Though it’s not a legal requirement, you may have set up a partnership when you and your business partner decided to start a new enterprise. This is where you and your partner will have registered to share responsibility of the company.

Partnership agreements will typically include the percentage of ownership, the roles of each partner, and how losses as well as profits are shared. It may also include what is involved in decision-making processes for the business. This legally binding contract can ensure business partners are accountable for holding up their end of the deal.

Head to gov.uk or more advice on business partnerships.

Consider your exit strategy​

Whilst drawing up a partnership agreement, you may have considered your exit strategy. This is where you create a plan outlining the steps that should be taken should one or both of you want to leave the company in the future.

It’s particularly advisable for partners, ensuring that you’re both on the same page when it comes to what you want to put into the business, your vision for it, and what you do when tough decisions regarding its future must be addressed.

Building an enterprise with someone else can feel like an exciting opportunity when you’re first starting out. It’s a time when neither of you envisage leaving, because you’re just getting started.

Fresh ideas, prospective clients and funding opportunities can at times cloud the importance of the more ‘mundane’ areas of the business. Yet building a bullet-proof business plan and writing a clear exit strategy can save you time, money and heartache in the long-run.

In this thread surrounding planning, MiniAndrew shares this advice:

“If you get your what-if’s up front from the beginning, recognising this may happen further down the line, you’ll have in place a written agreement between you as to how that exit plan will be structured and the business can survive and prosper rather than hit the rocks once someone decides they’ve had enough.”

If you’re keen to prevent emotions getting in the way of a smooth exit, read our article on how to write an exit plan: a six step strategy.

As a business owner, we know that protecting the company you’ve worked hard to build is your number one priority. Whilst being prepared in the event that a business partnership breaks down is crucial, it’s also important that you protect your enterprise in other ways.

That’s why we created Smart Business – to help you compare business insurance quotes in a matter of minutes. Find a plan tailored to your needs and prevent unexpected claims from putting your business at risk. Compare. Decide. Job done.

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