Even our greatest entrepreneurs have had a bad deal. Bad deals have resulted in Donald Trump and his companies filing bankruptcy four times in the past two decades. EBay founder Pierre Omidyar wrote down a mere $1.4 billionaire dollars after a partnership went wrong with Skype founders Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis. Ross Perot’s $20 million nearly turned into a donation when he invested in NEXT, the company Steve Jobs founded in 1985. Unfortunately, having a bad deal every now and again comes with the territory. The trick is to learn how to maintain the relationship with your investors, partners and yourself even in the face of a deal gone wrong.
Having my business fail in 2009 was one of the most difficult experiences in my life. But truly the hardest thing that I had to deal with emotionally was the pain I felt around my investors who had also lost money. Unlike Ross Perot and Donald Trump, my investors were average, everyday people – mostly family and friends – who invested with me because of the relationship we had together. I remembered how much I enjoyed spending my 35th birthday with my investor Sharon. Although she was nearly 20 years my senior, we had a great time laughing, talking and sharing stories with each other. I remembered the many great conversations with Cynthia when we would meet over dinner at the small café downtown. I was so moved hearing about how she took care of her mother prior to her death and felt so inspired when she shared that she had joined salsa dance classes for her 50th birthday. I remembered how excited my investor Sal was whenever he talked about his kids and how proud I felt for him when he finally decided to quit the high paying job that he despised at the Fortune 500 company for a small start-up that he absolutely loved. I recalled how boastful my Mom was explaining to her sisters how she was an investor in a house in DC and that she was now receiving her interest checks every three months.
When I could no longer make their interest payments, my world was shattered. Although I had relationships with them, I did EVERYTHING WRONG in terms of maintaining those relationships and have lost many good wonderful people from my life. The way I handled my investors was the absolute WORST MISTAKE I have ever made in my life. If no other entrepreneur or investor ever has to go through this experience again, the world will be a better place. When a deal goes bad in your business, you will likely experience many of the issues I did as well. Below you’ll find what you will likely WANT to do when a deal goes bad however, I’ll share with you the five things you MUST do maintain your relationships even when the deal goes bad.
|Here’s What You’ll WANT to Do||Here’s What You MUST Do|
|Go into hiding||Over-Communicate – Instead of running and hiding, you must over-communicate with your investors and partners. Let them know at specific intervals what is happening and provide regular updates. Don’t just hide behind email or text! They need to hear your voice as well to comfort them that you are doing everything possible to remedy the situation.|
|Say what they want to hear||Tell the absolute truth – Be honest! Don’t spin the situation or try to pacify them by saying the standard “everything is going to be ok.“ Be honest and let them know the real situation. They may have expertise that can lead to a positive resolution.|
|Procrastinate||Keep time commitments – If you tell them that they will have an update by Tuesday, make sure they have it by Monday night! Over-deliver on each and every commitment that you make to them. This will go a long way in assuring them that this was simply a deal that went bad and not that they have been swindled by you.|
|Work to save face||Work to make it right – Don’t worry about saving face, focus on making it right. Begin thinking about how the deal could be restructured (if possible) in a way that is beneficial for them. Also, ask them for their advice and input on what would be helpful to them. This is a relationship. Keep them involved as much as possible.|
|Give excuses||Give a plan – DO NOT, under any circumstances, give excuses why the deal went bad! While they may be interested in the facts around what happened, keep the focus on what you are going to do to get the deal back on track. Put together a plan, with their input, on saving or restructuring the deal in the best way possible for all.|
Knowing what to do however, is only the half-way mark. The real question is how do you cross the bridge from what you’ll want to do and force yourself to do what you MUST to maintain the relationship. Allow me to share the following six tips to get you started.
1. Think about the long term – To get yourself across the bridge, start by writing down how you want to be remembered in life. How you want to be remembered as a person, as a business owner, as a spouse, friend, etc. Once you are clear, begin thinking about and writing down the long term ramifications of your actions. Write down how your actions will impact your reputation. Write down the long term impact of your decisions to your self-esteem. Making the right decisions around your partners and investors will allow this bad deal to be an isolated event in your life versus your life-long legacy.
2. Put yourself in their shoes – Mom’s old advice of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes might certainly help you to make the best choices. Think about how you would feel in their situation. Would you want regular communication? Would you want reassurance? Would you want the unfiltered truth and a plan moving forward? Write down everything you would want if a deal you invested in went bad. If these are the things you know you would want, they are what your partners and investors would want as well.
3. Write down and review all of the possible scenarios – Think about all of the things that could possibly happen in terms of your investors and partners as a result of the deal going bad. Your investors and partners could become angry. They could sue. They could file a complaint. They could slander you. Write down each possible alternative and then decide in advance and formulate a plan of how you would deal with each situation. This will give you greater confidence as you’ll have a solution for anything which may arise making it easier to do the right thing upfront. And know this – the more you do things right upfront, the less likely any of these scenarios are to occur.
4. Talk to a priest, counselor or trusted advisor – Talking to a priest, counselor or trusted advisor is a great way to get the support your need to make the transition from what you know to do to what you must do. Talking with these people can help you deal with your fears around the situation and provide the encouragement and strength you’ll need to make the best decisions for yourself and your investors and partners. Simply being able to talk through your feelings and emotions with someone caring and skilled to support you also provides emotional relief and makes you feel better.
5. Pray, meditate & exercise – Having a strong prayer, meditation and exercise regimen will be an invaluable asset in helping you make the right decisions for yourself and your partners. Through prayer, you’ll gain greater confidence and lessen your fears as you are reassured that you possess strength and power beyond yourself. Prayer also helps you become more loving and considerate of others as you recognize that whatever you do to others you do to God. This will help lead you to making the right decisions for your investors and partners. Practicing meditation helps improve your ability to concentrate, express creativity and leads to higher levels of understanding. These could all help to you find a solution to getting the deal turned around. Also, meditation and exercise will help reduce the stress and anxiety you’re likely to be experiencing as a result of the deal. All in all, prayer, meditation and exercise help generate the confidence, strength and humility that we all need to save the relationship successfully and restructure the deal.
6. Stay focused on the end goal – Staying focused on the end goal of having a successful deal can also help you make the right decisions for your partners and investors. By keeping focused on that end goal, you’ll help yourself to realize that this is simply a temporary setback making it easier for you to make the right decisions. It also keeps you moving in the right direction and seeking creative solutions to making the deal work.
Money is important but replaceable. Integrity, legacy and honor will last this lifetime and beyond. It is as much to your benefit as it is to the benefit of your investors and partners that you make the right decisions when the deal goes bad. Relationships are precious, and once they have been damaged, they often become irreparable. The same holds true for legacy. Don’t allow one bad deal to change how you are known until the end of time.