Do Not Go Into Business With Someone You Don’t Trust
I learned this the hard way
Full confession: I don’t know much about business.
As a 23-year-old upstart who was hired to teach Business English in a foreign country, my technique when a student asked what something meant was to throw it back to the class. “Great question! I wonder if anyone can tell us what a shareholder is?”
(Props to my top student Aziz who ALWAYS knew the answer and saved me from losing my job on many an occasion. I never got to thank you, buddy. Also, I really hope the answers you gave were correct.)
Until quite recently, I cruised through a life of job insecurity with all types of casual employment — completely ignorant of the possibilities of paid leave and retirement savings. I have about enough superannuation to last me a week after I retire (but it’s gonna be a helluva week).
Never one to be held back by reality, I managed to do two unlikely things a decade after my foray into Business English teaching: secure a job in financial copywriting and start my own company. I am grateful to the former for teaching me a lot about how to do the latter.
Setting up a company from scratch is a lot harder than it sounds when I write paid blogs about it for finance institutions. I worked full-time hours for two months at tax time (around my other full-time job) just to get my accounts in order before I could take them to the accountant. I learned a lot about the tax system, let me tell you.
But my biggest lesson was that what matters most in business is who you are in business with. And I made the colossal mistake of having a business partner I didn’t even like, let alone trust.
I could explain the reasons for the partnership, that it made sense at the time, that we seemed to have common goals, that we both seemed equally excited about the project (maybe Aziz could have told me that ‘excited’ doesn’t mean ‘committed’)— but all of these should have been cancelled out by the fact that I knew this person was untrustworthy.
To be fair, I didn’t have any idea how bad things would get. I had my suspicions though. We had been close friends at one time and had a falling out — that should have been the first warning sign. Perhaps I thought a business partnership would heal our friendship. It didn’t.
Undertaking any business venture is extremely stressful — and will add pressure to any relationship. One that already has cracks in it is likely to break very quickly.
Running a business also requires an enormous time and energy commitment from everyone involved. If one party decides not to do any of the work, then it inevitably falls on the other to manage a heavier workload.
When I repeatedly told my business partner about the financial stakes if they continued putting zero effort into the company, they chose to ignore me. That is not hyperbole, they actually dropped out of contact. Someone had to do the work for the business not to go bankrupt— so that someone was me.
What was worse than having a non-responsive business partner was the near-constant verbal abuse that I received when I did hear from them. They would call just to spend an hour (not kidding, I timed the calls) berating me for my “incompetence” — even though I was doing 100% of the work.
I say near because the barrage of insults was occasionally punctuated by an effusive text message telling me what a wonderful job I was doing (gosh, thanks!) They later used these messages as evidence that they’d “lifted me up” when I’d wanted to quit — somehow oblivious to the fact that it was their abuse that made me desperate to walk away in the first place.
When they made comments like, “We’re such good friends, we can say whatever we like to each other” (as if abuse = friendship), I said nothing. That was my mistake too, because for a full two years, I hid my feelings about them and their treatment of me as a coping mechanism. I thought things would be easier if I propped up their ego. They weren’t.
Sadly, I didn’t walk away, I stuck it out until I’d brought the project we were working on to completion. Like any terrible relationship, I felt that if I gave up then the years of abuse would have been a complete waste.
My business relationship was the most excruciating three years of my life, with permanent damage to my self-confidence and mental health. It also culminated in a year-long legal battle when I wanted to terminate the partnership. Like many abusers, my business partner didn’t want to let me go.
And I blamed myself, because I’d known from the beginning.
I knew from our former friendship that this person had nasty tendencies, I just didn’t know they were a full-blown narcissist. I ignored my gut instinct because I thought I could handle it. Well, I did handle it but at immense personal cost.
So I may still only have a vague concept of certain business terms (although I’m proud to say I can now tell you what a shareholder is without Aziz’s help). But the one thing I know about business is do not go into business with someone you don’t trust. I promise you, it will not get better, it will only get worse.
And it is not worth it.
It is not worth it.
It is not worth it.