The Reality of Losing a Business Partner: 3 Important Lessons

Clueless note: This fabulous post was contributed by Lisa Shaughnessy of Savvy Digital Business. I’ve considered taking on a potential business partner, so I really found Lisa’s lessons insightful. She offers really sound advice that, no matter what your business formation, you will find useful. If you would like to contribute a story to Memoirs of a Clueless Woman, please email Carin Clark. For more information and guidelines, please see my Your Story Policy.

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The Reality of Losing a Business Partner: 3 Important Lessons

You finally settled on a can’t-miss business idea. You even found a partner you can build a successful company with and you’re ready to take the next steps that will launch your idea to the world.

But what if two weeks before your launch date your business partner told you he didn’t have the time to stick with the business? What if you had worked so hard for this moment and in an instant felt it slipping away?

When I started my first business this happened to me so I know that although it can be rough, it’s a survivable experience. I’ll share the lessons I learned that will get you and your business through if you find yourself in this position, and come out even better.

Losing a business partner

I formed the idea for my website, AgilitySocialCues.com in September 2011 and picked up a business partner in November. After working on the concept together for three months, and only two weeks before we were set to launch, my business partner left.

Not exactly the way I pictured it in my head. I didn’t want to be in business on my own and had no plan for what happened. I felt like I had been kicked in the gut.

Giving up isn’t my style so I allowed myself a few minutes of self-pity, then pressed forward. My first move was to email someone I had come to rely on for no-BS business advice. He started his own company two years prior and was a fantastic mentor from the moment I decided to start my own business.

His reply was exactly what I needed to hear: “You can’t control your partner’s decision. You can only control your response. Now it’s up to you to craft a course.”

I wasted no time putting a new plan together that allowed me to keep the original website launch date. I pared down the services we had planned to offer to two: social media coaching and producing marketing ebooks for fitness professionals.

Losing a business partner made those initial months in business frustrating and stressful at times. But I learned so much about myself and running a business I feel that it truly was a blessing in disguise.

3 important lessons learned from losing a business partner

3 Important Lessons Learned from Losing a Business Partner

I could probably fill a book, but I’ll narrow the main lessons I learned from losing a business partner to three:

1. Don’t rely on one person for all of the expertise

I knew the soft side of our business, but not the technical aspects. I created the basic marketing strategies and plans we would be offering while my business partner handled the technical pieces, including setting up our website.

Unfortunately, he left before that critical task was finished. I couldn’t start the business without a website since it was central to my concept of a one-stop online resource.

The time needed to find a web designer and go through the website building process would take weeks, or even months! I didn’t want to jeopardize my hard launch date less than two weeks away.

Money was also a factor; I didn’t know how long it would take to make money with my scaled-down business model so I wanted to conserve where possible.

I knuckled down and read everything I could find on setting up a WordPress blog-centric website. Every time I saw the letters HTML, FTP or CSS I wanted to scream WTH! But I kept pushing forward.

I learned WordPress basics and spent money on the Thesis theme because I wanted more features and support than a free theme could offer. Through trial and error and feedback from friends and family, I created a serviceable website.

I had a punch list for updates, but it was good enough to get online so potential clients could find me.

Did I enjoy creating this website? No. Did I want to know anything about coding? Definitely not! But when I needed a quick change to the website I did it myself, without contacting a “web guy” who may take weeks to get back to me, if at all.

The lesson: if you can do something yourself and the time-to-money ratio is in your favor, do it. On top of learning a new skill, you will be less dependent on others for your success.

2. Know the limits of your time and abilities

A lot goes in to running a business so while it’s good to do what you can on your own, be prepared to outsource some tasks.

Posting three to four times a week on my blog was a priority when I started to build credibility and authority. And for the first six weeks I was able to meet that goal. But I was overwhelmed with the number of tasks needed to start and run a business on my own.

When the number of blog posts slipped to two a week with less-than-stellar quality, I looked for a way to fill the gap.

I created three original posts a week and used a blog writing service for one additional post specifically for my niche – marketing and social media information for fitness professionals. I approved all topics and final content. They researched and wrote the posts while I made minor edits so they fit seamlessly with the other blog posts.

I only used this service until I had a deep well of content on my blog. I then started blogging only once a week and writing all of the content myself. On my current blogs all content is written by me or my current business partner.

The lesson: if something is important to you, but you know you can’t commit the necessary time, outsource it. Better to do a few things really well than to do a lot of them poorly.

3. Just start

Easy to say, right? But how do you get started when don’t even know what the plan is anymore?

The best way is to pick one task and work on that. For instance, I started with my website since that was the absolute first thing that needed to be done. I didn’t worry about anything else until I had that in place.

Also, offering a few initial services instead of waiting until I could offer a fuller range set the tone for continued action. Once I got started, it was easier to make the next set of decisions. Yes, the plan changed almost daily as I made new discoveries, but I was moving forward and that was the most important piece.

Don’t worry if your decisions lead you away from your original plan. Each iteration will bring the right business model for you into sharper focus.

The lesson: don’t “what-if” things to death – get started! Those first few decisions will make the next ones easier. Each one will open up new doors and opportunities, but you will never know those opportunities exist until you make that first move.

Lisa Shaughnessy is a social media and customer engagement strategist as well as a podcast host, author and speaker on those topics. In 2011, after 20 years as a customer engagement, marketing and communications professional, she started her own fitness marketing business. In August 2013 Lisa co-founded Savvy Digital Business, a company devoted to helping small business owners save time and stress while managing their own social media through individual coaching, webinars, courses and online resources at SavvyDigitalBusiness.com.

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I want to hear from you!

What are your thoughts on business partnerships? Do you have any tips or lessons to share? Please leave me a comment below and let’s have a discussion.

Comments 10

  1. These are some great tips. It takes alot of time and hard work to start a business. You really have to know what you are doing and most important never give up. Thank you so much for sharing this

  2. I wouldn’t want to have a business partner for anything. If I did start my own venture, I’d have a tough time implementing my own ideas.

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    2. Glad to hear you’re getting better at “just doing it” Whitney. I was amazed at all of the opportunities that opened up for me once I got started 🙂

  3. Thanks for posting my article Carin! Even though this happened to me several years ago I think I was still holding on to some resentment. Writing about it helped me let it all go.

    Kelly – good points about having a shared system and writing down processes. My current business partner and I also do that and it makes such a difference.

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  4. Great post and an excellent reminder to those in business with a partner to know and understand each other’s roles.

    My biz partner and I are far more efficient by having clear separate roles for many of the repeated tasks in our business. However it’s vital that each of us could step into either role if necessary.

    We plan to create a shared systems file in Evernote with step by step instructions on how we do things. Not only will this enable the other to step in quickly in an emergency, but once we’re in a position to outsource, it will serve as a useful tool for that as well.

    Finally, knowing all passwords and acct information for domain names and hosting, email service provider, wordpress etc etc! We use PasswordBox to store all shared passwords. This is a top tip we picked up by an online business owner who’s assistant suddenly passed away.

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