How to Break Up with a Business Partner or Client (And Still Be Friends)

Throughout my 20+ year career, I’ve had to go through many business break-ups…

  • I had to break-up with one business partner, who is a family member, twice in six years. This is also someone we see regularly at family functions. The first time, we started a business together and with the second business, my husband and I merged into the partners’ existing business.
  • I’ve also partnered with two different friends, one we started a business together and the other I joined a business she started.
  • I also partnered with a friend who is narcissist (I didn’t see it in the beginning) and she ended up stealing from me. It was so difficult to navigate and to not yield to my own ego or to not act on upset emotions.
  • And then, of course, there’s my husband, who I didn’t break-up with—but I have allowed him to move on and pursue his own interests outside of my business, without getting upset or resentful.
  • I almost partnered with two other people, but after going through the “make a written agreement” step below, I chose not to move forward, yielding to a couple of red flags…
  • I also had four clients I broke up with during the past 20 years. There were probably more client relationships that I should have ended, yet I painfully endured. Lesson learned: sometimes you need to break up, even though it’s hard. YOU get to choose how you’re treated and what you tolerate.

Needless to say, I’m pretty much an expert at handling a break-up with a business partner or client and still keeping a healthy relationship post-business friendship (when the other was a willing participant). And if the other wasn’t a willing participant, I’ve been able to minimize their wake of destruction to almost zilch. BOTH parties get to make their own choices… MY choice was to exit a situation gracefully.

So grab a cup a tea (did you know tea is a symbol of friendship?), and I’ll to share with you some tips I’ve learned throughout my business break-ups that have helped things go smoothly and amicably for all parties involved. I hope these will help you too!

Agree to remain friends

Before you go into business together, agree to remain friends, no matter what the outcome is. I did this once. We wrote up a “let’s stay friends” clause and signed an official agreement (see next point). We both reflected on this clause when we came to parting ways and it helped to remind us why we wanted to start the business in the first place (because we liked each other once!)

Make a written agreement

Put down exactly what you want your partnership to look like in writing. Let both people add their ideas and make sure you agree on the nature of your partnership before it even begins. This is something you can include in, or have in addition to, a business contract. Make sure both parties sign, so you have written agreement that you’re both on the same page from the start.

Be as kind, generous and reasonable as possible

It’s inevitable that some tense feelings may arise as you part ways. Remember to try to be as kind, generous and reasonable as possible. This will make everything so much easier and make the entire process less stressful all-around. Try to split any costs that come up with dissolving the partnership. Also, always think before you act. Don’t get swept up in the heat of the moment.

Define the desired outcomes

When you decide to split, sit down and decide on what each of you want out of parting ways. Will you completely dissolve the business? How will you split up everything? What do you each want to walk away with? This really helps you create a plan for moving forward. Once you know the outcomes you want to achieve, come up with an exit plan that works for both of you.

Practice the art of forgiveness

I’ve used the ancient Hawaiian practice of Ho’oponopono as a powerful spiritual practice. It’s something I learned to clear blame, shame, guilt, pride, fear, and punishing. Best of all, it’s simple. Picture your partner and then say the words: “I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.” (And repeat the process until you truly feel that you actually mean those words).

Honesty is key

No matter what, remember that honesty is key. Even when it’s uncomfortable, it’s better to be open and honest about everything than to cover anything up. Total transparency will make the business break-up easier in the long run—and help set a foundation for your new relationship moving forward.

Set boundaries

If things turn ugly, as in they blackmail you, spread rumors, employ love-bombing and then hardcore blaming (a narcissistic pattern), or even act aggressively towards you in hopes you’ll retaliate so they can claim to be the victim (another narcissistic pattern), STAY CALM. Don’t react. Decide what you will and will not stand for and set a boundary, even if it’s unspoken and only an energetic one.  Tune into your higher guidance and practice mindfulness.  Don’t let your ego or emotions run the show; that’s what their ego wants, so don’t give away your power.  Stand firmly in your power by processing your emotions in private and courageously facing the situation in the way your soul guidance shows you.

Sometimes the most loving thing to do is to block them from contacting you again (after your business is concluded, of course). You get to choose how you want to move forward. This is YOUR life.

One more thing to remember: you’re not a victim. Handle it gracefully with love; you won’t regret it.

Get legal advice

It can be really helpful to get the opinions of an attorney as you’re splitting assets and dissolving your business partnership. See what legal advice they have to offer and make sure that both you and your soon-to-be-former business partner are protected throughout the process of splitting up.

Process your emotions

If the situation brings up anger, resentment, disappointment from perceptions of loss, failure or betrayal, allow yourself to feel, process and release those emotions in a safe place. These emotions can be intense!

You may also benefit from talking with someone (just like after a death, you could talk with a grief counselor).  This break-up is like a mini-death. Give yourself the grace and compassion accordingly.  Getting the mental & emotional support may take on different forms, from learning how to practice mindfulness and meditate (scientifically proven to relieve depression, stress and anxiety), or it may look like hiring a therapist, counselor or healer.

Take courage. This experience may just be preparing you for your next level. You’ve got this!

Christie Turley guides visionary leaders to reconnect with their higher genius, so they can improve decision-making and deliver greater profits, influence and impact. She is the author of the book, The Intuition-Led Business, which offers a framework on unlocking the intuitive and subconscious minds, and she is founder of Conscious State University, an online learning platform that teaches leaders and their teams how to make better decisions using science-backed methods.  A dynamic speaker, she has shared the stage with many New York Times bestselling authors and is the host of The Higher Genius Podcast. She lives in the southwestern United States with her husband and their two daughters.

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