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AZRIELA JAFFE

11.3.99  
When the Warning Lights Say: "Don't Proceed with This Partnership"
If your gut is telling you not to go into business with someone, better pay attention

How many disastrous partnership experiences can you avoid if you heed the warning signs? In the excitement over a new idea or business relationship, entrepreneurs often ignore the signals that they are headed for trouble.

I learned many such lessons from the interviews I did for my book Let's Go Into Business Together, Eight Secrets to Successful Business Partnering. Often, small-business owners told me of doing things that, in hindsight, they shouldn't have. They went ahead in part because of their fierce optimism and refusal to consider the potentially negative consequences.

I recently returned from a business trip that was aimed at solidifying a new relationship with a prospective business partner. The trip had the opposite effect: Caution lights started flashing, and for now I'm holding off. You might find a lesson in this for yourself.

I had been in touch through the Internet and phone with an entrepreneur who lives three hours by car from my home. He and I discussed a joint venture that has great appeal for both of us -- a match made in heaven, given our respective skills and business goals. We had agreed that we would meet and iron out some of the details.

SECOND-GUESSING MYSELF. Three days ago I got an ecstatic call from him. He had just been awarded a large contract, one that would likely take his organization to a whole new level. He was setting up a press conference for today. He encouraged me to come and meet him and his staff and to be a part of the announcement and celebration.

His call couldn't have come at a worse time: I am trying to finish my latest book, and on the day he wanted me to visit, I was scheduled to appear on a television show to publicize another book of mine that has just been published. I explained all of this, but my potential partner was quite insistent.

Finally, I told him that I simply couldn't come, apologized, and hung up. Then I started second-guessing my decision. I wanted to impress upon him that I was serious about our venture. I knew the host of the TV show was flexible enough to reschedule. I figured that I could put in a few late nights to meet my book deadline. So I made arrangements with the TV studio and called my buddy back with the good news that I was coming. He was delighted. He told me to arrive early so that we could meet over lunch before the press conference.

I arrived at 10 a.m., earlier than I was expected. My partner-to-be wasn't in, and the employee who was had no idea where to find him -- and no clue that I was coming. Hoping that we could talk shop as we had discussed, I tracked him down. He told me he would be busy until 11:30 -- then didn't show up until noon.

LONE REPORTER. We had a very brief time to chat -- too brief. Of course, it came as no surprise to me that he would rapidly turn his attention to the press conference. But this huge press event turned out to be one reporter, and I wasn't included at all. The lunch he had suggested never happened, nor did any conversation about our venture beyond the 20 minutes or so I managed to squeeze in with his business partner.

I was really there, it seemed, to shake his hand and briefly meet a few of his employees -- not a good use of my time --especially after hours of driving. The candy bar in my purse became lunch, and in my gut I began to get a bad feeling about this partnership. (The candy bar wasn't helping!)

I believe in what my acquaintance's enterprise is doing. He does good work in the community and is respected by many. However, he showed no respect today for me -- and for the six hours I spent on the road after rearranging my schedule. He didn't even muster a plain old "I'm sorry."

In short, this entrepreneur is unable, for now, to give me the consideration that I demand in a partnership. He's a nice guy. His disrespect was unintentional: He was distracted, with a lot on his mind. I understand that. But the caution lights are flashing and this train is stalled on the tracks.

What's the lesson? If you have a queasy feeling about a potential partner, pay attention to it. If he or she can't put a best foot forward in the early stages of a relationship, while you're still trying to impress one another, things are only likely to get worse as the partnership proceeds. Something as simple as showing up late to a meeting without a decent excuse should cause you to take heed, and perhaps reconsider. Just consider yourself lucky that you figured it out before you signed on the dotted line.


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 at AZ@azriela.com. 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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