We’ve all been in a toxic relationship at some point in our lives. Maybe it’s the loser boyfriend or flighty girlfriend that you kept around longer than you should. Or perhaps, the friend that always bails on you or the family member that brings nothing but negativity to every single get together. Those seem like the most obvious forms of noxious affairs. But did you know that those same characteristics can be found in business relationships too?
I had to find out the hard way that business relationships are not exempt from the breakup phase. It is just as important to be able to recognize an unhealthy partnership in entrepreneurship as it is in any other kind of relationship. I am sharing the top 5 signs I should have recognized that could have saved me a lot of time, energy, and headaches!
Let me set the scene for you…
I had been in a business relationship with this “person” since I started When Life. And to give credit where credit is due, he truly (in the beginning) was a very inspiring creative. His entire team was, to be honest. After the initial launch and first round or 2 of pictures, our need to communicate wasn’t as great and I mostly worked with other members of the team. I absolutely loved the team there. However, they slowly left one by one…
All I wanted was some pictures…
At the beginning of the Summer of 2018, I reached out to inquire about a photo shoot because I really wanted fresh content going into the Fall/Winter/holiday seasons. Knowing that he was working with a different team, I thought reaching out sooner than later would be the best idea. I mean SURELY we can coordinate a shoot in 4-5 months!?
Months later I was still in the, “Hey, I just wanted to follow up with you…,” stage.
Toxic Sign 1: They have so many excuses, but you keep coming around.
He was working on a “surprise” for me. He was having trouble getting models. He was having trouble keeping models. He was waiting on this or that. If you find yourself on the receiving end of nothing but a long line of excuses as to why they can’t seem to start a project that they advertise they can do, then it is time to say BYE!
Toxic Sign 2: You just aren’t a priority.
During this time period, I noticed he was working on photo shoots for other brands. I know When Life isn’t the biggest brand around. I know the photo shoot I wanted would be much simpler in comparison to some of the other businesses he was working with, however just like a bad boyfriend, you are important while you are on the phone with him. You become out of sight out of mind once you hang up. Did I call him out on the fact he could somehow pull it together to work with these other companies but not make the time for mine? No. I didn’t. I felt like if he didn’t want to work with me or want my business, surely, he would say so, right? I mean if he didn’t want to he wouldn’t have me ship 2 boxes of merchandise to him “immediately,” or keep justifying why he hadn’t started yet, right?
Wrong! Not everyone has the same business etiquette as yourself. If you get nothing but the run around, it is time to say BYE!
Toxic Sign 3: They say they know and love you, but actions speak louder than words.
Let me first say, I have a very clear vision as to how I want When Life portrayed. The aesthetic and colors I want in my pictures. The setting and the filters I want used. I made sure I communicated that very clearly in my initial correspondence. But, just like any other person you’ve had an ongoing relationship with, I mean you kind of assume that they know your style, but you still make them a Christmas list juuuust in case.
I finally get the email I had been waiting for. A few teaser photographs of my new products. I was so excited! As I stood in my kitchen, I remember feeling like the wind had been knocked out of me. There in some random creepy field stood a very pregnant young woman wearing my When Life love tee. I was mortified! Now let me preface this by saying if you are pregnant and want to purchase a When Life t-shirt to wear during your pregnancy, that is awesome! But I will give you fair warning, if you are like me and gained 60 pounds with my babies, then my shirts probably won’t be the most flattering thing you put on! They aren’t maternity wear and there is no way I would advertise them as such. I would have never been able to squeeze myself into one back in the day! Not only was my ONLY model pregnant, the pictures were so blurry, the lighting was absolutely terrible, and just the entire look was so off brand.
For 2 months after this disaster I emailed and texted following up on the new pictures he was going to take. I asked if he would prefer me find someone else. I asked if he had the time. I gave him every opportunity to say I should move on. Finally, I asked if I could come and get my products he had. If you are doing business with someone and they are unwilling to correct their mistake obviously there are lots of things you can try to rectify the situation, but regardless it is time to say BYE!
Toxic Sign 4: They try to gaslight you (or they do gaslight you.)
At this point, all I wanted was my merchandise back. I am a small business and couldn’t afford to lose $380.00 in products just because I didn’t want to see this person ever again. I called. I texted. I emailed. I called his business number. My husband tried calling. No response. He was completely ignoring me. I emailed and texted him on a Friday that I would be there the following Monday to get my things.
After being shown to his office, he greets me like we are best friends. He starts talking all sweetly to Scarlett and asking me how things are like nothing even has been going on. I stand there staring at him like he’s crazy and he’s just smiling in my face and I ask him if he has been receiving my messages, emails, and texts. His response, “Yep.” Yep. That was his response. Said he had been busy. Said they were in the middle of redecorating his office. I tuned him out and asked for my shirts and hats. As I suspected, they weren’t all there. Did he offer to pay for the ones he took and gave away? No. His response to $60 dollars’ worth of missing merchandise was, “What? Did I give away your last one or something?”
I didn’t do anything to warrant being treated like I was. I wasn’t crazy for trying to follow up. It was not cool that he tried to stand there and act like I was the one with the problem. I shouldn’t have been made to feel like a selfish brat because I questioned and wanted reimbursed for the products he gave away without asking. Especially since I got nothing in return. If you are in a business relationship where you are made to feel crazy just because you are holding them to the standard they set themselves, it is time to say BYE!
Toxic Sign 5: You are just too dependent on them.
I think it is easy in any relationship that starts off so wonderful and dreamy to stick around longer than you should when things go south. I mean, he/she was so smart, funny, charming, etc.
The thing is when you are a solo entrepreneur you are just that. Solo. When great creatives or individuals come into your life that you enjoy working with and you think are compatible with your business, it feels like you’ve struck gold! The problem is that I think it is so incredibly easy for entrepreneurs that work alone to struggle with moving on and letting go of toxic working relationships when those people have been there from the beginning. It’s comforting to have someone familiar. It’s comforting to THINK they know you and what you are wanting in your business. They become a security blanket. And that was probably the single most devastating mistake I have made in my business to date. Relying on someone so heavily that wasn’t as invested in When Life as I was put me behind over 9 months in my business. Pictures that I wanted back in June of 2018 most likely will not be completed until the Spring because Alabama in the Winter is just not the backdrop I was shooting for. I have no one to blame but myself. I became too dependent on this person and in the hopes they would follow through and not let me down.
If you find yourself putting all your eggs in someone else’s basket, you need to seriously re-evaluate your situation. No one cares more about your business than you do. And if you are constantly left feeling like you are making excuses for them, it is most likely time to say BYE!
I share all of this because if you are like me and you struggle breaking away from what is familiar, you need to know that it really is JUST business. It is perfectly acceptable to move on to other partnerships. You are not “cheating” on someone just because you decide to work with someone else. You have every right and are not crazy for not loving every idea floated to you. Even if it did come from someone who has been down since the beginning. At the end of the day you are left to clean up the mess that was gifted to you and you won’t have anyone else to blame other than yourself by staying in a toxic working environment or relationship.
And maybe you aren’t, maybe you’re all super bad and have no issues of kicking someone to the curb. If so, I truly aspire to be more like you!