Stop business partner fights by finding a common purpose for your business

Couple with folded arms

Discover the money beliefs that might be hurting your business and relationship with business partners

Couple with folded arms
By Tim Douglas on Pexels

The statistics are scary. 65% of startups fail as a result of conflict between business partners in terms of their money management styles, personality styles, and conflict resolution approaches according to Noel Wasserman in The Founder’s Dilemmas.

“65% of startups fail as a result of co-founder conflict in terms of their money management styles, personality styles, and conflict resolution approaches”

Noel Wasserman in The Founder’s Dilemmas

Each owner sees different realities and opportunities for their company. These differences surface as disagreements about how the company operates. They arise from differences about what each owner wants from the company. The owners must first agree on the purpose of the company before they can make plans for it.

The simple answer is for each owner to clearly state what they want. Then all the owners can negotiate a consensus purpose. My free Aspirations and Purpose Worksheet can help you with that.

Unfortunately, we may not always consciously know what we want. We all have unconscious beliefs about money. These beliefs drive how we manage our personal and business finances. This impacts how business owners run their businesses. For example, consider two owners:

  • One business partner wants to reinvest all cash into the business to maximize growth and profits. The other business partner wants cash from the company to fund personal needs or their lifestyle.
  • One business partner makes decisions and spends money very cautiously. The other business partner wants to jump on opportunities before they disappear.
  • One business partner wants beautiful offices to impress customers and improve employee morale. The other business partner wants basic offices to have more cash for other parts of operations.
  • One business partner is constantly looking at the finances. The other business partner is focused on products or services and rarely looks at the finances.

Uncovering your money beliefs is the first step toward less conflict. You’ll understand your goals for the company and those of your business partner. You may even discover some ways your beliefs are hurting your company, and how to stop that.

In this post, I’ll explain 

  • Four common categories of money beliefs
  • How to discover them so you can communicate them with business partners
  • How these scripts may impact your business and relationship with business partners 
  • When to integrate all this into better strategic planning and business operations

Money Scripts: Our Unconscious Money Beliefs

Some of the best research on our money beliefs comes from Brad Klontz, Rick Kahler, and Ted, Klontz in their book, Facilitating Financial Health. Rick is a certified financial planner, while Brad and Ted are psychologists who specialize in clients with financial struggles. 

They identified four categories of “money scripts.” These scripts are unconscious sets of beliefs about money that shape our behaviors around finances, money management, and financial goals. The four categories are:

  • Money avoidance
  • Money worship
  • Money status
  • Money vigilance

Scripts are not all inherently bad. They are often a lesson you learned from a specific situation. You took that lesson, developed a belief from it, and now apply that belief to many situations. That belief might not match the current situation.

Here’s a little more information about each category of scripts: 

Money Avoidance

Angel statue covering it's eyes.
By PetrFromMoravia on Pixabay

People with money avoidance scripts may believe that they do not deserve money or that money is bad. They may also believe that wealthy people are greedy or corrupt and that there is virtue in living with less money. 

People with these scripts avoid dealing with money while taking no responsibility for their financial situation. Someone with these scripts is more likely to avoid looking at bank statements or neglect to keep to a budget. They have higher rates of compulsive buying, hoarding, financial denial, and work excessive hours (i.e., workaholism). Many of these behaviors reduce their wealth, making their beliefs their reality.

Money Worship

Oil lamp idol on pedestal.
Cesira Alvarado on Unsplash

People with money worship scripts think that money will solve all their problems. They believe that things would get better with more money, money can make them happier, and money can solve all their problems.

They may spend compulsively and go into debt, work excessively, and give money to others even if they cannot afford the gift. They buy things for happiness but are never satisfied. Like money avoiders, they have higher rates of compulsive buying, hoarding, and financial denial.

Money Status

Woman shopping for shoes.
Alexandra Maria by Pexels

People with money status scripts equate their self-worth with their net worth. They believe money determines their status in society. They may also believe that only the best is worth buying. Money worship scripts focus on the inward value of money. Money status scripts focus on the outward display of money and the benefits that display provides.

They have tendencies to overwork and overspend. Some overspend so much they have low net worth and high debt.  Others may build assets that are proudly displayed. People with these scripts are more likely to take higher risks and are more prone to gambling addictions. They are more likely to lie to their spouses about their spending.

Money Vigilance

Employee working with graphs on computer.
Alphatradezone by Pexels

People with money vigilant scripts might believe they should be discrete about their finances. They often believe money should be saved rather than spent. In fact, they would be very nervous if they didn’t have savings.

The financial caution produced by these scripts leads to lower levels of buying disorders, gambling addictions, or lying to others about spending. However, they may suffer from high anxiety about finances, may work excessively, and can be distrustful of others around money.

How These Scripts May Hurt Your Business and Relationship with Business Partners

All of these beliefs influence how you manage your personal and business finances.  They affect how you run your business. Partners with differing beliefs may be prone to conflict and could struggle to agree on a common strategy for their company.

Lack of Financial Oversight

Owners with money avoidance or worship scripts may be less to monitor the financial operations of their company. They then become more prone to fraud or theft by employees. I know of multiple companies where the owners didn’t have strong financial controls. This allowed an employee to steal from the company. Both the financial loss and breach of trust were devastating.

Poor oversight also leads to missed payments to vendors, tax errors, and poor cash collections from customers.

Strategy and Planning Issues

Owners with money avoidance or worship scripts are less likely to have budgets. Even when they have a budget, they are less likely to follow them. These owners and owners with money status scripts are more prone to overspending. This sucks cash from the company, causing stress and missed opportunities. 

Someone with status scripts might be willing to take big risks for big rewards. An owner with vigilant scripts would avoid risk even if it meant missing big opportunities.

Money status owners may want large cash disbursements to fund their lifestyle or desire the company to make large purchases.  Owners with money avoidance or vigilance scripts might be much less inclined to distribute money to owners. Money vigilant owners are likely very frugal. They would spend less on operations or staff. They may be slower to buy or replace equipment.

Owners with money vigilant or avoidant scripts may be very slow to decide. This would greatly frustrate an owner with money worship or status scripts. They can quickly commit to major purchases, commitments, or risks.

Marketing and Sales

Avoidance money scripts may cause people to not market their products. They may even be conflicted about selling and making profits. 

Hiring Friends and Family

Owners with money avoidant or worship scripts are more likely to be financial enablers. According to CreditCard.com, “Financial enablers are those who give money in a way that keeps the receiver from having to take responsibility or become independent. Most often, it’s parents supporting their adult children.”

By Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

The gift of money may come in the form of having children or other family members “work” for the company.  I put work in quotes because the child’s value to the company may be much lower than their pay.  This is demoralizing to staff. Yes, the owner can do what they want, but they must pay all costs, including staff turnover. Other owners with scripts not prone to enabling, like vigilant scripts, will have a low tolerance for this.  

Work Time

A frequent source of conflict between business owners is the amount of time each spends working on the business. Some scripts cause the believer to work long hours while other partners may not be driven to work so much. This disparity can be a source of tension and resentment.

Communication

Owners with money status scripts may be less forthcoming about their spending. Vigilant owners likely place a high value on open communication. A money vigilant owner would feel a massive breach of trust if their partner unilaterally made major purchases or promises. This would be despite whether the lack of communication was intentional or not.

Solutions for Detrimental and Differing Money Scripts Between Business Partners

You can see how these money scripts can lead to actions that could be very harmful to your company. Even non-harmful scripts can cause conflict between two owners with differing scripts.

The first step is identifying your scripts to reduce the power of the script.  Finally, two people with different scripts can reduce conflict through better communication. I’ll walk you through each of these steps.

Klontz Money Script Inventory (KMSI)

The first step is identifying your scripts. The Klontz Money Script Inventory (KMSI-R) was developed to help people understand which types of scripts they hold most strongly. 

The KMSI-R only takes a few minutes. You can take it as one of the tools of the Financial and Strategy Toolkit (FAST). You answer a few questions that are automatically scored. This is just the start of your journey. You’ll have a beginning indication of your scripts. Digging into these can tap into some deep emotions. To go deeper, you may need to talk with a financial therapist.

Once you know exactly which harmful scripts to target, you can pick the best tool to diffuse them. 

The Money Script Log

This tool helps you identify your specific scripts and develop alternatives to them. Notice times when a financial situation causes you stress, shame, or anger. Shame often occurs when you violate your values, and anger may occur when you see others violate your values. Note the following three things:

  1. The situation
  2. How you felt
  3. The thought/belief/script going through your head

Look at the money script you identified in number three and develop an alternative to it that’s more useful. Challenge the accuracy of every part of your script from #3. Develop scripts that are more accurate for the current situation. If necessary, see a counselor or someone trained in financial therapy to help rewrite your scripts.

Once you’ve done this work, you will more quickly identify unproductive scripts. This allows you to substitute them for more accurate and profitable scripts. The money script log comes from the Facilitating Financial Health book mentioned earlier if you want more details.

Your Primary Aim, Life Aspirations, and Authentic Goals

I explain three other tools in my article Define your Primary Aim, Life Aspirations, and Authentic Goals to Focus your Business.

These tools are the:

  • Life Aspirations Exercise
  • Authentic Goals Exercises
  • Primary Aim

All of these are different ways to uncover the ultimate reasons why you own your company and what you want from it. Check out the article for more details on each.

Better Strategic Planning and Business Operations for Business Partners

Couple working on one their business with a computer.
By Tim Douglas by Pexels

Knowing your scripts and purpose for your company is just the beginning. Here are practical times to use the tools above to build a business that achieves what the business partners want. A business coach or consultant can help the owners negotiate a compromise for the company. Owners may need to see a certified financial planner or financial therapist for their personal financial needs.

Operating agreements and business plans

This begins from the very start of the business. Clarify what each partner wants from the business and how they plan to run the business. In a way, a business plan is a simulated trial run of the business.  This is the first opportunity for business partners to identify where their plans for the company align and where they differ.  

When the differences emerge, one business partner may wonder how the other partner could possibly think the way they do.  The path to understanding may be money scripts and money script logs. They provide the context for each partner’s dreams and strategies and clarified in a business plan. The operating agreement would further clarify this and memorialize certain aspects.

Strategic planning and business planning

A SWOT analysis is a simple but effective planning tool.  Money scripts may manifest in the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats identified by each partner.  

Each partner should understand the other partners thoughts in the SWOT analysis. One partner may see a risk that others don’t. A partner might see a big opportunity that the other doesn’t think is valuable.  

Budgeting

I like to kid that trying to create a budget in larger companies is like doing financial planning with everyone in an extended family. How do you get everyone to agree to one plan?  It’s complicated. 

The purpose of budgeting is not about coming up with the most accurate projection of numbers.  It’s about communication to clarify the plan for the next year.  Your limited cash and time forces choices. This leads to negotiations about how to allocate those scarce resources.  It’s in that negotiation where the tools we discussed earlier are helpful. You understand what’s important to you and others. Both sides more quickly find areas of agreement.  

Capital planning

The power of equity is the ability to leverage it with borrowed money to magnify returns on equity. On the other hand, cash retained in the business is not available for the needs of the owners. This is where personal financial planning and financial planning intersect.

Two owners may have two desires for cash that seem completely opposed to each other. One may want to keep cash in the company for growth, and the other may want it for personal needs. All owners can use the tools above to identify what’s driving their plans for company cash. Some reasons aren’t healthy or productive for the company. 

Benefits planning

One business partner may want to defer income through benefits while the other wants immediate cash. The company may need to set up a retirement plan to serve the owner who wants deferred income. 

Exit planning

The life aspirations and goals exercises can be powerful tools to anticipate the timing and structure of exit planning. I teach entrepreneurial finance to MBA students at a university. I tell them that every business should always have a possible exit strategy when planning. The plan may be selling to outside owners, passing the company to the next generation, selling the company to the employees, or collecting cash from the company as it slowly winds down. 

What business partners really want

Most business strategy disagreements occur when business partners don’t have a common purpose for the company. Even a solopreneur can self-sabotage their business when they aren’t clear on their company’s purpose. The techniques and tools in this article give you a starting point to dig deeper into what you really want from your company.

I wish you a company that gives you that. I wish you well.


For more info, check out these topics pages for free tools, articles, and services:

Create More Value

Strategic Plan

Decision Analysis