Michelle Coyle is president of BGSD Strategies, where she provides strategic advice for political business owners. Have a question about your business? Email her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and she’ll answer them here.
Q: The pandemic has made me realize that my partners and I see our work futures differently — any suggestions for how to go our separate ways?
A: Splitting up a business partnership is never fun. Legally speaking, it’s akin to getting a divorce — and just like divorces, some partnership splits are easier than others.
Try to keep things as amicable as possible. If one of you isn’t convinced that this is the best thing to do for everyone, dig deep and hold space for discussion until they can at least understand and accept your point of view, and agree to dissolve things as painlessly as possible.
Even in the easiest of partings though, every one of you should have your own lawyer. Don’t attempt this without legal counsel unless you’re an attorney yourself. You don’t want a nasty surprise coming up down the line because you missed something in the fine print of your original operating agreement.
And even though it’s difficult, try to wait until the whole deal is finalized before any of you make any big public announcements – you don’t need any outside opinions poisoning the well and making things more painful than they have to be.
Q: I started doing more for my clients during the pandemic because I had more time, but I’m now ramping up for a busy 2021 and find myself unable to meet the changed expectations. Any advice for how to dial back the work on a retainer agreement?
A: This is a painful real-time lesson in boundaries – why we need to set them, and why we need to hold them consistently. Once you’ve let a boundary slide, in business or any other area of your life, it’s very hard to re-enforce it!
Hopefully, you’ll remember this next time, and not go way over your scope. But what’s done is done, and for now, you’ve got to do a little damage control. That involves giving the whole boundary thing a fresh shot.
Ask for a meeting with your client and communicate directly about what happened. Tell them that you got excited and did more work than you should have for the retainer amount they are paying. Tell them exactly what they can expect from you moving forward, and that you will be sticking to the scope. You can, of course, give them the option to increase the scope of work for an increased retainer. Commit to yourself (before, during, and after this meeting) that you will stick to the agreed-upon scope from here on out.
If the client is upset with you, take it on the chin – you’re the one who screwed up here. If they are really upset and begin to act in a way that you feel is abusive or threatening, calmly hold your boundary: “I understand that you’re upset. I screwed up, and I’ve apologized. Can we talk about how best to move forward?”
The worst-case scenario here is that you end up losing this client. That’s not as bad as continuing an unprofitable contract in perpetuity. Keep in mind that there will be many other clients, and losing this one won’t be the end of your business, whereas doing too much work for too little money definitely could be.
Q: My client has suggested I hire one of his former campaign staffers who is currently unemployed. Wondering if you have some advice for navigating this given we want our hiring process to be competitive (while not angering our client)?
A: What’s wrong with good old-fashioned honesty? Contrary to the old cliché, your client is not always right. If they were, they wouldn’t need to pay for your advice!
Thank your client for the referral and let them know that you’ll be conducting a competitive hiring process.
If your wanting to conduct your process with integrity makes your client angry, ask yourself if they are really a client worth keeping. The world is full of potential clients, and no amount of money is worth your self-respect.