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Here’s What’s Happening to Strained Business Partners During the Pandemic

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Here’s What’s Happening to Strained Business Partners During the Pandemic

A business partnership isn’t all business. When two people start a company together, they often were friends already, and they see that bond strengthened by the hard work they put into building it up.

So when things go south, it can be traumatizing.

In fact, the emotional stages of the breakup of a business — what people in my line of work sometimes call a business divorce — are strikingly similar to that of a marital divorce.

Just as Covid-19 has put a financial and emotional strain on marriages, it has also strained business partners struggling to work through the pandemic. In some cases, the pandemic is also making pre-existing issues harder to avoid.

Many business owners say that they knew they had issues in their business partnership arrangement before Covid-19 and their problems only worsened in the current climate.

A business divorce is by far the most traumatic event that a business owner will experience. The foundation of a business partnership is usually a familial relationship or a very good friendship. Just as employers tend to hire people they’d like themselves, people tend to go into business with people they have strong relationships and connections with.

Business divorces typically evoke the same feelings of stress, resentment, doubt, blame, betrayal, guilt, fear, and other emotionally fueled reactions seen in a typical divorce.

In fact, they go through somewhat predictable stages of grief.

1. Disillusionment and Denial

Denial is when a business partner knows there is a problem but has trouble acknowledging the gravity of the situation and the possibility that there may not be an amicable resolution. When this is present a business partner may have stored resentments, feelings of a breach of trust, and overall discontentment towards the other person.

This usually manifests itself as a feeling that the other partner is not pulling their weight and doing their part to help the business thrive.

There are a number of decisions that will need to be made about how the business will continue to operate, if at all, after a partnership separation and denial allows a business partner to distance themselves from the likely reality that the business structure and the partner’s responsibility will undergo significant change if the business is separated.

2. Letting Go

In this stage, a business partner realizes that there is nothing that can be done to salvage the business relationship and that separation is inevitable. This is usually followed by a strong desire to review as much information as possible to understand the current state of the business and the options available to value and separate the partnership interests.

3. Deciding to Divorce

In this phase, the partners discuss their discontentment and float ideas about how to separate their interests. If one partner strongly feels that they were blindsided or betrayed, this will set the tone for how the business separation will proceed and the process of exchanging information and completing the steps to finalize the separation will no doubt be contentious.

4. Acting on the Decision

In this phase, the partners learn how much the business is worth and decide what they want in the separation. Do they want to stay in and operate the business, do they want to sell their interest and go work for another company or change fields completely, or do all partners want to sell to a third-party?

All of the foregoing options will be largely dependent on a valuation of the business and may require a partner to start the process of obtaining a loan or financing to buy out the other partner and continue to operate.

Filling out loan applications and hiring accountants and/or lawyers, to value the business and draw up a separation agreement, coupled with publicly announcing the separation, all make the emotional and physical act of separating a business very real and can cause emotional flareups.

5. Acceptance and New Beginnings

Adjusting to a new normal, whether that is continuing to run a business without the partner who was there from the beginning, or starting anew with a job at another company, requires acceptance.

The changes force partners to create a new identity and make new plans for the future, inevitably forcing them to regain a sense of power and control in addition to reconciling feelings of animosity, blame, anger, and forgiveness.

Although the old saying has it that some things are “just business,” it’s never that simple. A business divorce can evoke the same — if not more — emotional turmoil on everyone involved.


D. Margeaux Thomas, founder of the Thomas Law Office, has been assisting small business owners with resolving contract and partnership disputes for nearly 15 years. The Thomas Law Office based in Fairfax, Virginia assists clients throughout the greater Washington, D.C. area with breach of contract claims, non-compete issues, and business torts. Attorneys at the Thomas Law Office also help companies through all aspects of business partnership divorce, including records inspection requests, valuation, buyouts, and dissolution. To learn more, visit:


A 4-Step Business Plan That Will Have You Looking Forward to the Next Recession

The following is adapted from Rock the Recession: How Successful Leaders Prepare for, Thrive During, and Create Wealth After Downturns.

The highest-performing companies don’t fear recessions—they look forward to them.

The idea sounds counterintuitive, we know. What possible reason would a business leader have to want an economic downturn?

The answer is simple. A recession, properly planned for, can present opportunities for growth that would otherwise take a decade or more to pan out, like mass purchasing expensive assets for cheap, acquiring other companies, and convincing top-shelf talent to join your team.

By following the four steps outlined below, you can plan ahead and set your company up to not only survive the next recession, but use it to fuel your growth.

Create Uncontested Market Space

Rather than struggling to beat the competition and exploit existing demand during a recession, the more strategic route is to create uncontested market space (read the book Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne for more on this topic). Doing so, of course, is easier said than done and requires creativity and drive, but if you can successfully pivot to a new market, the payoff of a less-crowded space will be worth it.

Research shows that “companies that successfully adapt can emerge stronger than ever,” while those that do not “face a Darwinist reality” (Journal of Business Research). Why fight the competition when you can make them irrelevant?

The best way to create uncontested market space is to adopt new technology and use it to differentiate your service from your competitors’ before they get the chance to do the same. Find a way to solve a problem for your customers that no one else has solved. Embrace technology as a way to both create a better user experience on your clients’ end and to save labor on yours.

You’ll be able to integrate new tech into your company with fewer hiccups if you follow the next step and look ahead to your end goal.

Begin With the End in Mind

Look at your business goals from a strategic perspective by beginning with the end in mind. In other words, look ahead to what would happen in an exit situation.

Consider, for example, how an acquirer might pay seven to eight times earnings for an annuity service business, but they would only pay book value, or at most two to three times earnings, for a one-off project business. Use these predictions to plan how you want to diversify or grow your business to maximize its value.

Growing your company in a good economy will make you more likely to survive a recession because, in general, bigger companies tend to fare better. By looking ahead, you’ll know where to invest your money and efforts to reach the goals you have in mind.

This step naturally ties into the next, which involves bridging the gap between your beginning and end states.

Bridge the Gap

Once you have an end goal in mind, you need a plan to bridge the gap between where you are now and where you want to go.

For example, if you aim to go from $25 million to $100 million in revenue, and want to enter different markets, but don’t have the in-house talent to do it, then what you have is a “talent gap.” One way to close that gap could be through acquisitions.

Similarly, if you want to adopt continuous improvement practices within your company but don’t have anyone on your team who is an expert—that would also be a talent gap. Hire a “lean” expert.

Identify your gaps and come up with a timely, actionable plan to fill them.

Create Your “To-Buy” List

You have your market, your goal, and your plan. Now you just need to seize the opportunity created by a recession and acquire assets while the price is low.

As a general rule, everything is cheaper in a recession. Talent is cheaper. So is the competitor you want to acquire. And when banks are looking to dump assets that they’ve already written off—assets they just want to get off their books—that’s when you can score some of the best deals.

By planning out what you want to acquire—and maintaining enough liquidity to buy it—you can strike as soon as the recession hits, giving you first pick of assets while your competitors scramble to find the capital. 

Hopefully, being armed with this four-step plan will turn your recession fears into anticipation. Start creating market space, setting goals, laying out actions to make them happen, and writing your to-buy list, and you’ll be well positioned to experience enormous growth when the recession finally hits.

For more advice on recession planning, you can find Rock the Recession on Amazon.


Jonathan Slain and Paul Belair founded to give entrepreneurs a free tool to assess their recession readiness at

Jonathan Slain spent the Great Recession huddled in the fetal position on the floor of his office. He borrowed $250,000 from his mother-in-law to survive. Jonathan paid his mother-in-law back and is now a highly sought-after consultant (and, yes, he’s still married!). Jonathan leverages his experience in investment banking and as an entrepreneur on the keynote speaking circuit because he doesn’t want anyone else to have to borrow money from their mother-in-law in the next recession.

Paul Belair wasn’t scared when the Great Recession hit. He invested $1 million to purchase a business and just five years later sold it for over $70 million dollars. He achieved an American dream exit by using the Recession Gearbox model outlined in this book to create an intentional recession preparation plan. Paul is a CPA and an MBA, and currently serves as chair of the Young Presidents’ Organization Construction Industry Network.