The mere thought that one of your business partners might be stealing from you can make your heart sink right into your stomach – but you don’t want to react to your suspicions rashly.
To protect your own interests (and your company) you need to be cautious. Don’t make hasty accusations or act on impulse. Instead, take the following steps:
Get your evidence together
The more concrete your evidence, the better leverage you have when it comes time to decide how to approach your partner. You may need to quietly involve a financial professional, such as a forensic accountant, to audit the books or look for a money trail. Make sure that you document everything carefully so that you can present a coherent picture of events if and when needed. It’s important to come up with an exact figure for the value of any missing funds, inventory or equipment.
Review your partnership agreement
Your partnership agreement should have clauses that discuss what has to be done if there’s a breach of trust or fiduciary responsibilities. It may also outline what steps should be taken toward dispute resolution. Do not rely on your memory when it comes to this agreement. While you may have read through those clauses, nobody goes into business with someone else thinking they’ll actually have to use them. Don’t freeze the business accounts or take away your partner’s access and control unless you know that you have the authority to do so.
Consider your business interests
When a partner steals, it can shatter a company’s reputation – so you may want to try to handle the issue privately. That means choosing a neutral setting and confronting your partner with the evidence you have. If you’re lucky, you can work out a quiet solution so that your company can move forward. If that fails, however, you may need to involve the authorities – particularly if the losses are significant.
Trust is everything in a relationship, whether it’s business or personal – or a mix of the two. If you’ve lost trust in your business partner, that speaks volumes about the ability of your working relationship to endure. In situations where theft may be involved, seeking legal guidance can be a critical step toward making an informed choice about how to approach the situation, whether that means dissolving the partnership or taking some other action.