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DECEMBER 22, 1999


I Love You. But Not as a Business Partner
How to say "no" to a lover who wants to join your company

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Too many entrepreneurs who go into business with family members or lovers fail to see their deficits as partners in time. They realize belatedly — and often with regret — how important it is to put aside one's affection and objectively weigh a loved one's ability to run a company. Unfortunately, that's easier said than done. I received this e-mail (edited) from an insightful woman who's grappling with these issues:

"My boyfriend wants to be part of my business. I have incredible respect for his work (he runs a business in a related field), but he lets many of his customers take advantage of him. He feels that just breaking even is O.K. and that as long as he has no debt, he's doing fine. He has little desire to plan for growth. I have invested $40,000 in my company. I'm buying a place so I can expand. I have not planned to bring him into the business, though I wish I could. You can imagine the stress this puts on our relationship. Any ideas?"

You are absolutely right to resist thinking that love will turn your boyfriend into a forward-thinking entrepreneur. Here are a few ideas, however, that may allow you to accommodate his desire to work with you without harming your company or your relationship.

1 — Hire him on a project or two. If that works, you could expand his role to full-time employment. If he feels respected and included, he may stop pressing you about partnership.

2 — When you discuss this issue, choose your words carefully, so he doesn't become defensive. Say, "My business needs someone with your ability to do (whatever his skills are), and I'd love your assistance with that."

3 — Consider trading skills with your boyfriend. Your business acumen could help his venture, and his labor may help yours.

Open the doors to each other just a bit. You'll know in time whether there is potential for partnership, or if you had best keep your romance and business entirely separate.

Have a question on how to handle the pressures of running a business and the impact on your personal life, marriage, and family? Contact Azriela Jaffe. Please put "BW Online question" in the subject field. Your real name will be kept confidential if you request, but please give an E-mail address, phone number, and your hometown so she can contact you for more information. Because of heavy volume, Azriela cannot guarantee that she will answer every query.

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