Happily Ever After – Saving Business Collaborations From a Messy Divorce

You have probably seen and/or heard of business partnerships and collaborations breaking up due to disagreements and disputes. If you are working on a collaborative project with a friend or partner, you’d probably be best advised to talk some things over with them before really investing yourself into the work.

Even if you and your partner have been friends for years, nothing can end a friendship sooner than either a business deal or collaboration gone sour.

Think of the Beatles. Due to mere creative differences, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, perhaps the most important and close knit duo in the history of 20th Century popular music, wound up going through a bitter creative divorce. To say that the two left the Beatles with hard feelings would be putting it gently.

The Beatles parted ways on a harsh note, but that wasn’t the end of it. Lennon and McCartney both wrote and sang “attack” songs directed at one another, criticizing the other’s lifestyle and relationships, and even personal beliefs. In interviews, the two were constantly trading jabs at each other.

This should, hopefully, serve to let you know that even the most perfect, harmonious friendship can be bitterly shattered by something as simple as an artistic or creative disagreement. This isn’t the only case of a wonderful partnership turning sour for what seems like no reason to outsiders.

There are hundreds of stories like these. A client of mine, Annie, who runs a branding and marketing company is currently going through a bitter breakup with her friend/business partner. They are fighting over ownership of brand name, ownership of proprietary business processes and systems, and individual investment and buyout of shares. Not only are they losing their business that they both created, but they are also losing a friendship of 25 years! They could have avoided all this bitterness had they discussed some of these issues before starting their business and had a written contract.    

Discuss legal matters with your partner before you lay out one line of code, before you play a single note on your guitar, or before you write a single word on the laptop. Do not tell yourself “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there”, don’t tell yourself “Well it won’t happen to us!” because there’s really no telling what tiny little detail will seem irrelevant to you, but in your partner’s eyes, will ruin all the work done.

Register a joint copyright, or register different elements of the work to either party. You need to agree on legal terms and have both parties sign something that reduces liability regarding any major disagreements.

Ideally, any kind of contract you and your partner can agree on would have to cover payment issues. How much would the partner who quits deserve for his contributions if you were to keep going on without him? A “plan B” should be in place if one of you decide to abandon the project, and a “plan C” if you both decide to pursue the project solo instead of together. This might involve something as simple as having one or both parties change the title, character names, and other minor details, or you might determine that one party should be given default ownership in the event of a falling out.

As the saying goes, hope for the best and plan for the worst.

Think of a creative partnership like a marriage, because it really can be that personal. Remember that about half of all marriages end in divorce.

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