I’m going to steer off format for the Business Smoke Break this month and discuss my experience with letting go of business relationships. There’s a phrase in business that makes a lot of sense – “Hire slow, fire fast.” Problem is that it doesn’t always feel so simple. Especially if a friendship or deadline is involved. Dissolving a business relationship with a friend can be an emotionally charged affair that can leak over and affect the friendship itself. Breaking off a contract when there’s a deadline has its own separate stresses that require careful considerations.

A fair amount of us come from the old school way of doing business on a handshake. If that’s how you’re still operating then it’s time to level up and begin using contracts. Taking the time to have all the expectations in writing, agreed upon, and signed by everyone involved is going to save a possible big headache later. This includes an exit strategy in case things don’t work out. When situations take a turn, feelings run high. Memory has a way of morphing over time. That means that what you each remember may be different when the proverbial doo-doo hits the fan. That’s why you have contracts. If it means spending some money to have a lawyer sort it out for you, then by all means, because, land forbid there’s a fallout. Then you will have a negotiated document stating all the expectations that all parties agreed to.

Some of you are like, “But my partner is my best friend!” Even more of a reason to sit down and write it out. How are you going to handle it when they’re angry and claiming they deserve a pay-out that you don’t recall agreeing to? It will drive a spike right through your friendship. Maybe owning your half of the argument and assuming good will help but just think if the two of you had already sat down and worked through things before the breakdown? No one wants to think that a relationship, be it a friendship or business, can go bad. That’s lying to yourself.

Misunderstandings happen. Different visions happen. Having hard conversations early while heads are cool will at least cover your ass later. I had a business relationship with a very close friend. Prior to going into it, we sat down and drew up a contract that we both agreed to. I was renting him space and when a pipe burst we renegotiated the contract so that he didn’t have to pay rent while repairs were being done. During that time he decided to move out, which was fine. He then demanded being reimbursed money that I was unsure I had agreed to pay. Luckily, we had a contract to consult that looked out for BOTH of our interests that I referred to rather than just argue over what was possibly said months earlier.

Dissolving a business relationship when there is a deadline involved is a different ballgame. It’s also just as scary. There can be fear of having to start all over and losing time. Even a fear that you might go through the whole bad relationship again. You have to weigh out if your fear of the unknown is worth continuing the business relationship that is causing you problems. Lately, the work I’ve been doing is learning how to listen to those fears to prepare. I was once working with a company that was doing a build for me. They were constantly lying about being finished with different phases of the work and then not doing that work to spec. I was on a deadline and scared to fire them due to time restraints.

After a while, it became too much and I did begin seeking new contractors. When I went to them and inquired about how we should renegotiate the estimated costs with other teams being brought on board to pick up their slack, all of a sudden things changed. They got their ass in gear and finished the job. Their fear of revenue loss kicked in. I had weighed the situation and my concern of not making the deadline provoked me to line up options that were going to affect everyone’s bottom line. It was risky, but it worked and we came in just on time. In hindsight, I could have hired another team with plenty of time left on the clock. In planning for the future, if a contractor ever gives me another blatant lie then I will dissolve the relationship right away and move on. The stress of going through that again is just not worth it.

Firing fast takes risk. It’s terrifying. But so is walking outside to go the store. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet. Making sure you have contracts in place with expectations to which everyone agrees will help mitigate some of this. Remember that all contracts are negotiable and that you don’t have to accept the first one presented to you. Consult a reputable lawyer. Have them explain what the contract says and clarify what you have questions about. Also, have them write up what you want and don’t want. Discuss with everyone roles, expectations, and how to handle matters if things don’t work out and weave that into the document. When your fear comes up to use it to help you prepare in your decision making. It’s hard, but you got this.

Meet Robert Grossman, founder, and chief service designer at Grappling Hook, the cannabis industry’s first service design consultancy. In each Monthly Morning Smoke Break, he shares with DCN readers a tool that they can use to stay focused, strategic, and adaptable in the evolving cannabis market. To learn more about Grappling Hook, Click here.

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