Making a dream a successful business isn't easy

Lynne Curry

Q. My friend "Jim" and I worked together for three years. We hated our boss. To keep our sanity, we went out for drinks regularly and talked about starting our own business.

Four months ago, we took our future into our hands and launched a small business.

I committed to quit my job and work at least 60 hours a week in our new venture. Jim kept his job but said he'd be available in the evenings and on the weekend and could easily put in 15 hours a week.

To me that seemed fine because I knew it would be just a matter of time before Jim had enough of our boss and quit. I told Jim as long as he could commit 10 to 15 hours a week it would be great.

Soon after that our former boss terminated Jim. Jim sought out another job, saying he couldn't afford to commit to our business full time until our business took off. Because of the demands of his new job, he doesn't even work five hours a week. I've pulled Jim's weight for months and am suffering financially. Whenever I bring this up, Jim promises me he'll do better as soon as he can.

As I see it, I put my career aside, and my partner isn't stepping to the plate. How can I mend this partnership without creating hard feelings by pushing Jim? Or should I just suck it up and give Jim a few more months to get his other job under control?

A. You and Jim need to move your partnership from theory into reality with an honest "let's put everything on the table" discussion. If you put this off, you risk descending into partnership hell in which you increasingly resent Jim or -- if your business takes off -- Jim shares equally in the profits you've earned.

You need to ask Jim and yourself hard questions. When can Jim realistically anticipate giving a full 15 hours a week? If Jim works five to 15 hours a week and you work 60, how do you plan to divide the eventual profits? Does Jim really want to join forces with you, given the potential short- and long-term income loss it might mean, or did he enjoy the pipe dream but doesn't know how to gracefully back away?

What does and can Jim expect from you in your 60 hours? What do and can you expect from Jim? During the start-up months, do you divide expenses? If you're in this business venture alone, do you want to continue? If an angry customer sues the business, what happens -- do you take the full brunt or does Jim participate?

Based on Jim's "I'll do better as soon as I can" and your "I don't want to create hard feelings" comments, you've caught this problem in time -- while you still have shared good will. Take the next step before your shouldering things alone creates increased resentment or profits cloud the issue with greed. Agree with Jim on what you both want to happen, now and before worse conflicts arise.

Once you agree, confirm everything in writing. If you don't, and should your business start to soar, you'll owe Jim money based on your solo efforts. The honest truth: You and Jim had a dream, not a partnership, and need to create a partnership before your dream becomes a lost shadow or turns into a nightmare.

Management/employee trainer and the owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc., Dr. Lynne Curry provides columns to newspapers in multiple states. For questions, Curry can be reached at www.thegrowthcompany.com. Reader information: If you read last week's column and want a free consultation from Alaska Occupational Safety and Health, call 907-269-4955).


LYNNE CURRY
MANAGEMENT