update: should I cut my new business partner loose?

Welcome to “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager! Between now and the end of the year, I’ll be running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

We have a lot of updates this year, so there will be a lot more posts each day than usual. Here’s the first one…

Remember the letter-writer wondering whether to cut her new business partner loose? Here’s the update.

First, I really appreciate the commenters. Lots of excellent advice there that was really useful.

Ivy did not react well when I reached out to let her know I was reassessing the situation. She de-activated her remote software and went completely radio silent. My attorney advised me to write her an email with details concerning the issues (dates, times, issues) to highlight the software deactivation, and to let her know considering this, which in our state constitutes job abandonment, I was accepting her resignation. He also stated for the record that these issues were sufficient to fire her for cause, if it came to it, but that calling it a resignation might be kinder. I cannot give her a good reference but we both saw no need to pile on.

Her response was a LOT. She blamed me for laundry list of issues, but she didn’t address the actual issues laid out in my email – failure to respond to clients at all, failure to QA/QC work to the point we could have been sued, failing to send reports to clients after agreeing to do so, and throwing the part-timer under the bus when she was to blame for a late report. The issues she laid out were things she either never raised with me or made no sense to me. I’m not going to adjudicate whether her complaints were valid – but I will say that her failure to address my stated concerns was interesting, along with her choice to raise her issues only when she was presented with my concerns.

That validated for me that while her learning curves were real, her past success with the sub-contracting work I’d given her was not a sufficient predictor for success in this role. Looking back, I also tend to think that she overstated her current technical skills to some extent, but I’m not objective and honestly that’s not the point. Leaving aside my irritation at her response, I feel bad for her. But I’m feeling that compassion for her from a distance that does not impact my clients.

She sent a letter by certified mail a few months later asking that I “confirm that [I] had fired her”. It may have been a bid to support an unemployment claim, but she didn’t work with me long enough to qualify, and frankly, since I could have fired her for cause, she was disqualified on that point as well. I responded via email detailing her resignation and attached the documentation to back this up. Haven’t heard from her since.

Untangling the many, many mistakes she left behind in ongoing reports was difficult, and the part timer was an absolute hero in helping me handle that. We cranked out several complex projects, initiated a partnership with a larger company, and started discussions on a joint venture with another company. Business then got very slow over the summer, so the part timer has taken a different full-time role to pay the bills (which I cheered her on for doing). I’m about to ramp up again, but I have some backup help ready in the wings as needed.

While my decision to bring Ivy on board was not completely based on naïve hopes it was clearly based on incomplete information. I assumed that she understood the role of business partner in the same terms I did. Never mind whether my concepts of what a business partner is supposed to do are in line with typical norms. Without knowing for certain that Ivy agreed with me, we were bound to end up with mismatched expectations and thus a ton of difficulty.

I will keep this business as sole proprietor for the foreseeable future, also. I’d love to have a full partner at some point, but I need more regular work coming in. Seeing a pattern with slow summer seasons tells me I need to bring contracting into line with filling that gap, among other things. But I’m optimistic that business will get steadier as we go.

Thanks again to you and the commentariat!

{ 60 comments… read them below }

  1. Daniel*

    I’m curious to know what Ivy’s list of complains were–or why she sent you a letter asking you to “confirm her firing” a few months That makes no sense for an unemployment claim, unless she got some sort of gig in-between.

    1. Hlao-roo*

      The letter-writer commented a few times on the original post, with the commenting name OP/LW. One of the comments has a few of Ivy’s complaints:

      The response I got a few hours later was…a LOT. I received a multi-page screed about how I set her up for failure. At no point did she even acknowledge her multiple errors on reports or acknowledge all the detailed workflows I sent to try to help when things first began to go sideways. Some of her claims were downright weird, as well. She accused me of expecting her to be available 24/7 because of the time difference despite emails and multiple text and voice conversations where I asked her to set core hours in her time zone, and the online timetables created to show who was available when. Even stranger was her voicing anger that I gave her access to an entire library of materials for her own use. I’m not sure how you train someone without giving them materials to read and I’m confused as to why that was a bad thing. I’m not covering snark with professional language when I write that – I’m genuinely thoroughly stunned that offering her access to an entire library of relevant materials for our field is evidence that I did not train her, help her, or set her up to fail. I can’t do the reading for her.

      1. HBJ*

        Thanks for this! There’s a lot more in OP’s comments than is included in the update, like that she may have been doing nefarious things in the server at the end after receiving the issues letter from OP.

      2. HA2*

        This complaint very much reads like Ivy was not ready to perform at a higher level and was used to being junior. Sounds like she expected to be given SPECIFIC reading to do, like a class – where the professor/teacher/mentor carefully picks out a reasonable amount of reading to do between classes (not too much, not too little), including ordering it in a reasonable way.

        But that’s not how it’s done once you’re expected to be independent. “Here’s a topic you need to learn, here’s a library full of resources” is entirely normal, and you’re expected to yourself be able to do things like identify what specifically you want to learn, find a good introductory text, follow up by reading more advanced ones as appropriate, etc.

        1. Reluctant Mezzo*

          Oh, yes! (recalling taking home a quantifiable fraction of the Oregon State University’s library in the saddle baskets of my bike when working on a paper).

      3. Dust Bunny*

        I think she’s embarrassed that she bombed so thoroughly and is lashing out. Logic isn’t part of the equation. Weird, but not really an uncommon reaction.

    2. Misty_Meaner*

      I’m wondering if she was considering some sort of lawsuit? Firing for unjust cause or something? Or maybe, from the sounds of it, Ivy wasn’t very savvy and she honestly just doesn’t/didn’t understand unemployment rules about being eligible or not. But you’re right that it’s super weird to ask her to confirm that she was fired months later. Like “PLEASE PUT IN WRITING THAT YOU FIRED ME”… LW dodged a bullet that was covered in dog crap and set on fire before being shot out of a canon!

      1. Dust Bunny*

        This was my guess: She was testing out the possibility of a wrongful termination lawsuit but then dropped it when it became clear she didn’t have a case.

      2. pope suburban*

        We’re going through something like this where I work right now, and yeah, I agree that it sounds like Ivy was fishing to see if she could sue. The situation are eerily similar; our former employee was hired on for a mid-level role she said she had experience for, but she struggled, covered up A LOT, and really let her interpersonal conflicts run wild. We were really patient with her, did a PIP, changed her chain of command, but in the end, she didn’t really want any of that- she wanted to be able to get a big settlement. Which…that’s pretty silly given the nature of our work and the fact that she had access to the books, but I suppose some people dream big, evil dreams. I don’t think it’s got legs at all, but I am strongly reminded of our woes by OP’s letter, and yeah, I think her former employee was hunting for something that will not happen.

      3. Ess Ess*

        I wondered that too… I was assuming that possibly she was over the age of 40 and was looking into an age discrimination lawsuit for being fired for protected reasons but that was purely speculation on my part.

      4. Kell*

        My last job was with a small business, and our owner was really chatty about outcomes of unemployment cases former employees had filed. My takeaway from it was when in doubt, just go for it and file anyway.

        We had one employee who was unable to provide health paperwork (which was state mandated in our field). After missing the deadline, the employee just stopped showing up for her shifts despite attempts at outreach. At the unemployment hearing, our owner went and said she was otherwise an employee in good standing, and we would be happy to take her back if she can complete the paperwork the state requires of us. Still wound up paying unemployment to the employee. Another time an employee willingly quit our company, and then got fired from his next job for cause after just a few months. He filed, and because our company was in his previous quarters, we ended up paying.

        So even if Ivy probably shouldn’t be eligible for unemployment, I can see her saying “might as well shoot my shot”

    3. Generic Name*

      I think there’s a certain sort of person who sees a certified letter as a sort of “gotcha” or it’s some kind of “official communication” that has more standing with some kind of higher authority than a regular letter or an email. The funny thing about certified mail, is the recipient can decline it!! My ex attempted to send me a certified letter, but I just asked the carrier if I had to accept it, and he said, no, so I said, “then I’m declining delivery of this”.

      1. Shoe pop*

        Ha, this is exactly it. It is true that in certain jurisdictions, sending something by both regular and certified mail is enough to “prove” receipt even if the recipient declines the certified mail. But that only matters in a fairly narrow type of legal situation where proof of service may be significant and you’re still right that sending certified mail doesn’t on its own really mean much of anything. I could send certified mail to a rando demanding $700 paid by next week and that request doesn’t really have any power on its own. I imagine your ex was shocked to get the receipt back showing you declined!

  2. Time for Tea*

    I have to say I’m still somewhat lost on calling Ivy a partner and what that entailed, while both of you seemingly proceeded as if she was an employee both originally and in the update. Anyway, all’s well that ends well!

      1. Estrella the Starfish*

        Yes, I thought this was going to be much more difficult to untangle than it turned out to be

      2. I'm just here for the cats!*

        OP addressed that in the original letter. Ivy was going to buy in quarterly and the first quarter had not ended so she never had any financial interest. It doesn’t sound like the standard way but it must have been what worked out for her

        1. Pescadero*

          So Ivy was an employee, not a partner.

          Me planning on buying a house next year doesn’t make me a “home owner”.

    1. Violetta*

      Right. The original letter started out with “I (F40s) recently added a business partner, Ivy (F30s), to my consulting business (I remain majority owner).”

      So was Ivy a part owner?

    2. H3llifIknow*

      I agree. To *me* a “Partner” buys into and owns some amount of equity in a venture. Being able to just cut Ivy loose indicates she was not, in fact, a partner, but an employee, albeit, perhaps a highly trusted/well paid one. But, you can’t just let a partner go–you have to buy them out, at least in the way I understand a partnership.

    3. HBJ*

      I went back to the original letter comment section, and OP said that there was a payment plan in place for her to buy in up to a little under 50% in installments, and the first one hadn’t happened yet. The letter and update definitely sound more employee than partner.

      1. Silver Robin*

        Yup, came here to add this; quote from OP/LW:

        One final response: one query that was raised was concerning the amount of complexity involved on the financial end of unraveling the partnership.

        Ivy was scheduled to buy in her portion of just under 50% of the business with quarterly payments based on a valuation of the business at the beginning of the year. She had not paid in yet. We only signed the operating agreement a few months ago, and I agreed to a delay on payment so she could get some billable hours in, and hopefully bring in clients (All of our current clients are mine; she expressed a lot of eagerness to take a lead role on generating new clients, though she was not successful before things went awry).

        Anyhow, she did not have a vested stake yet, so the financials are thankfully not difficult. I didn’t ask her to come aboard to ease financial stressors, either, thank goodness. Overhead is low.

      2. bamcheeks*

        Oh that does actually make more sense— it was an employee-to-partner track but Ivy was still in the employee-stage.

      3. H3llifIknow*

        Ahhh. I don’t usually have time to read all the comments so I miss a lot of important info, I guess! Now the “Partner” thing makes more sense to me.

        (Also, advance apologies if I repeat something others have said because I …didn’t read the comments before commenting!).

        1. SarahKay*

          There are a few comments in the original thread from OP, posting as OP/LW*
          They clarify that it was a partnership, planned at just under 50% for Ivy. However, Ivy asked for time to make the first payment into the partnership and hadn’t made any payments at the time OP decided to cut her loose.

      4. Richard Hershberger*

        That makes me wonder if there was a formal partnership agreement, with professional legal consultation involved. If so, I would expect it to include language about terminating the partnership.

    4. Alan*

      YES! That’s what I came here to say. My wife and I are partners in a business. Ivy sounds like an employee except for the implication that she owned part of the company. You don’t fire a “partner”. Is this business incorporated in some form? As much as Ivy was a nightmare and desperately needed to be removed, and I see that the OP had an attorney (desperately needed in this case), I’m very confused about her concept of “partner”.

    5. Starbuck*

      Yeah I’m still really confused on what that arrangement was! If she was a partner, how was it as simple as just letting her resign?

  3. Relentlessly Socratic*

    Thanks for the update LW–and although she clearly wore her fashionable bananasuit to the party, you are certainly better without her.

    I wish there were a good way we could network. I am in a niche field doing work that sounds similar in spirit (although highly likely not in content) and have been very seriously considering leaving my current firm to strike out on my own (with different clients, no COI). I’d love to talk with someone with this experience and how they made it successful!

    1. visualconductor*

      Actually, I would LOVE to see a networking group based on the Ask A Manager community that Allison cultivated :) Taking it beyond the comments and interacting in real-time. Seems like a lot of intelligent, ambitious, quirky and interesting people here who seem supportive of each other!

  4. ScruffyInternHerder*

    Can I just say I’m glad to hear the words “My attorney advised me….” in this update? Because it sure seems like Ivy may be a little bit much and she may have been intent on causing legal difficulties for the LW.

    1. Alan*

      Absolutely. I think too often a small-business owner might be tempted to try to go it on their own before paying for an attorney. The fact that this woman went right to legal counsel was sharp. A fireman once told me “Don’t try to put the fire out yourself before calling 911.” This is exactly that situation. Call the attorney fast before you make it worse.

  5. LoV...*

    I wonder about the letter trying to confirm firing. I could maybe see it be tied to an unemployment claim, especially if the person ran into problems getting UI later. However, I would think it would be better to be able to tell future employers that you resigned because it wasn’t working out or not what you expected instead of saying you were fired.

    1. Alan*

      She was very possibly looking at a wrongful-termination lawsuit and as a first step, an attorney asked her to get confirmation that she was fired. That would be my guess anyway.

  6. Angela*

    I went back and read the original letter and no, LW did Not train Ivy and and while I guess a “partner” would be expected to self educate, it really Does sound like LW set them Both up to Fail. LW should be a bit embarrassed that they promoted someone to “partner” when they needed training… they needed So Much Training.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      excpet they provided the OP did try to train on software, but Ivy never set it up. Then she sent Ivy the info to self-train. You can’t make someone learn the software if they won’t.

      Also at the level OP was expecting Ivy to function, SOME initiative is expected. I mean she complained about having access to the entire library of information. That sounds like someone who wanted to be told what to do, not learn how to do it.

    2. Alan*

      I have some sympathy with this except that Ivy’s most basic issues don’t need training. It is reasonable to expect people to be available, at minimum *available*, during work hours. You shouldn’t need to train people not to *lie*. That is all on Ivy. It appears that she thought she could coast and this wasn’t that sort of job.

    3. Witch*

      IDK if I’m agreeing to become a business partner that means I’m agreeing that I’m competent enough to take most of the responsibility for running the business on my delicate little shoulders. Ivy may have overblown her experience but she can’t agree to OWN a business in teapot making but complain later she’s never actually made tea.

      You don’t need to be a top-down expert (like you could be a part owner and are instead in charge of all the administration needs over technical expertise), but it sounds like they were generally clear on expectations. If not in the beginning, later when the OP asked them what was up about missing client stuff. THAT’s the point to admit you’re over your head. Not just continue to tough it out without doing anything about the widening technical gap.

      1. ferrina*


        If you were hiring an employee, yes, scheduling and giving them in-person training is ideal. But it’s not required. If you give a senior person training materials (and I assume from the title “partner” that Ivy was senior), they should then be able to be pretty self-sufficient.

        I’ve onboarded more than my share of senior professionals, and they tend to be pretty self-sufficient. That trait is why they are senior in their field. They will figure out ways to solve their problems, including training needs. Sitting and waiting for training can be acceptable in certain roles, but clearly not in the role Ivy was in.
        Add that to the other issues, and there’s a pattern of waiting for others to do a significant chunk of the work for her. Not going to work for that role.

        1. fanciestcat*

          Yeah, as someone with senior in their job title I expect very little training going into a new job. If an employer has training or documentation of their specific procedures it’ll save me time but I can also figure out most procedures related to my field without assistance. That’s why I get paid what I do. Ivy was definitely not ready to be a partner.

    4. Dust Bunny*

      “Ivy needs to learn specialized software but didn’t schedule training with me or seek training elsewhere (much of it free, online).”

      The OP cannot physically force Ivy into training. It was offered and the OP was apparently available to give it, but Ivy didn’t lift a finger.

    5. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

      I fully disagree.

      Ivy was supposed to be a on a payment plan to be a part-owner. As a part-owner, she needed to take the initiative to learn what she needed to in order to handle the tasks she was buying into.

      The LW gave her the resources but Ivy clearly wanted a level of hand-holding that isn’t typically expected for people who are trying to be a business partner.

      I’m assuming it was as easy as treating it as a resignation because she never made even the first payment to be part-owner.

    6. Onomatopoeia Cornucopia*

      Ivy made absolutely no attempt to get up to speed or do a good job, and lied and obfuscated whenever pressed about it.

    7. Warrior Princess Xena*

      You’d be correct if the path described was one of hiring on a junior employee or someone new to the field with the goal of eventually training them to partnership. From what OP says, she brought Ivy in under the expectation that Ivy was senior enough to be a partner in the next 6 months-1 year, after Ivy had already done good work. If Ivy deliberately misrepresented herself, that’s not OP’s fault.

    8. Ellis Bell*

      The kind of training you’re suggesting is more appropriate for someone junior, or someone who’s more of an employee. If you’re at partner level your training should be self directed, or at least self arranged.

  7. Hiring Mgr*

    Sounds like it was just a mismatch all around. If OP is going to bring on a new partner, they need to do a better job of vetting that person, especially if OP is going to be out of the country 70% of the time.

    Someone like Ivy who clearly needed handholding was definitely not the right fit

  8. JaneDough(not)*

    LW, your decision to remain the sole owner is sound. Hire a highly skilled, highly capable FT employee, by all means — but please give up the idea that you can simply pluck a truly viable partner, even a 30%-stake partner, from the workforce.

    Partnerships work when the partners all start the biz together and have ultra-clear agreement on what each person’s role/responsibilities are, or when a sole owner such as yourself chooses to promote someone they have worked closely with for at least two years and have observed in virtually every challenge that the biz is likely to encounter.

    Thanks for the update, and good luck.

    1. I'm just here for the cats!*

      To be fair to the OP it sounds like Ivy had worked for the company doing freelance work. It’s not like OP just put an add out for a partner.

    2. Statler von Waldorf*

      I find this post hilarious, because I’m currently working for a company where the owner just plucked a viable partner from the workforce, and it’s working great so far. They hadn’t even worked together before he was hired on either.

      Business partnerships can work for a variety of reasons, and I disagree with your assertion that there’s only two ways that you can form a business partnership. This fact that this method didn’t work the OP doesn’t mean it never works for anyone else.

  9. Sparkles McFadden*

    Hi OP! Thanks for the update, and thanks for participating in the comments in the first posting. I didn’t have anything helpful to add, so I was just a lurker for that posting, but I found a lot of good information while reading the comments. Thanks for sharing and letting other people benefit from your learning experience.

  10. KWu*

    This is a nice sentiment: “feeling that compassion for her from a distance that does not impact my clients”

  11. PX*

    Thanks for the update OP! I remember reading the comments on this one and really finding them helpful should this ever be something I consider doing!

  12. Brevity*

    For the record, you sound like a really great boss. I would love to see how you would have handled some of my batsh!t ex-coworkers, who concentrated on bitching about what they felt they deserved instead of doing the actual goddamn work.

Comments are closed.