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A business relationship only: A story on how a personal and brotherhood relationship ruined an entrepreneur’s life.

A business relationship only: A story on how a personal and brotherhood relationship ruined an entrepreneur’s life.

This article was based upon Episode #2: Lessons from Chris Johnston’s Career Path, Interview Hosted by Our Beloved Morgan Friedman. Please watch the complete episode here!


“You can get the cheque and end their relationship or you can eat the pizza and we will continue working with the project.” – Chris Johnston’s client

I am certain that almost every businessman alive has already heard the line “business is business,” right? This famed quote is very accurate, and our sharer for this article, Chris, will surely regret not considering this line. 

“Business is business,” no matter who they are or what your relationship to that person would be; if you have done any business-related activities with that person, you should automatically eliminate the thought that you are friends. Other people might think that mixing personal relationships with business is advantageous since you already have a bond with the other person and you can work well with each other. Well, if you have a similar line of thought, I could guarantee that you will change your mind after hearing Chris’ story. 

The story started when Chris met a group of guys who are working in a small firm. The firm told Chris that they entered into some bad patterns with their client and needed Chris to help them get through with the situation. They also want Chris to help them understand how client-relationship works. Chris happily agreed to their proposal, and he knew he was just going to pass through their business life, teach them a few things they need to know about employee-client relationships or help them begin a start-up, then he would then exit the story. 

When Chris agreed to help the firm, they then told Chris about their primary concern. The firm has a client who wants to make his start-up idea come to life. They needed Chris’s help to create the start-up and make their client’s dream into a reality. Chris already agreed to them, and the 3 of them approached their client to relay the message that they were ready to give life to his start-up idea. 

Their client was thrilled and thanked all of them for accepting the task. But, right off the bat, he showed that charismatic and bossy personality that made Chris uncomfortable. They had a little talk, and their client kept saying things like “We will all become billionaires together, help me achieve this goal, we can surely reach the top” and other motivational speeches, yet not a single word about the payment and how the business will be. 

In short, there were no business-related concerns that were brought up at that meeting. Their client only showered Chris and the rest of the team with flowery words as a proclamation of “trust.” This was their first mistake.

1. When talking about money, don’t trust words.

This was a huge mistake for Chris and his team because they were already talking about their payment. They are businessmen, so they should deal with the business matters correctly and legally. Instead of trusting their client’s words, they should have prepared a contract and brought their attorneys for the agreement of the payment. 

Chris realized this mistake, but as an employee to his two partners and as their mentor in teaching how to handle client relationships, Chris let it slide and allowed them to continue building rapport with their client. Gaining their client’s trust is the key to having a good client relationship, which is why Chris allowed his two partners to continue what they were doing. 

After that meeting, they immediately rented a small office and began working on creating the project. During that first week, Chris noticed that their client was trying to get a closer relationship with his two co-workers. They were having a brotherhood kind of relationship, and they began to be closer than they were before. Chris did not really mind that. In fact, he was happy that his two co-workers who asked him for help are now having a good relationship with a client. However, Chris still has that intuitive feeling of doubt that something is not right.

Unfortunately, Chris was right about his feelings. When Chris arrived in their office, he noticed a lot of people working inside, bringing with them their working equipment and occupying almost every space in the office. In confusion, Chris asked his two partners what was going on. They both replied that those people were the client’s workers, and he asked if they could use their office to work on their other project. 

This was a red flag for Chris since they were the ones who rented the office, and now, the peaceful and comfortable workplace they have transformed into a busy and packed office. Chris thought that those people that the client brought would help them complete the project, but it turns out that those people were working there for the client’s other project. The client did not even consider what they would feel and made the decision himself. The client also didn’t mention whether he will pay a share for the rent or increase their salary for the rented space and all the hassle. No, he did not say anything about that. 

2. Don’t be passive. If things are a little bit fishy, immediately react and share it with your team.

Because Chris’s team already established a passive-aggressive relationship with their client, they were passive, and their client was aggressive. They could not anymore tell the client their concern. This is an example of a toxic relationship that they built with their client. Their client knew that Chris and his team also had other projects besides the start-up of their client. 

They have a schedule for each work, and the 3 of them already came to an agreement on the day, and the exact time they will be working on the client’s project. But because his two partners already showed their passiveness, their client became bossy and demanded them to work on the project even if he saw that they were doing something else. They could not anymore ask the client that they are still working on another project. Instead, they would immediately stop what they are doing and do what their client demanded. 

This was very toxic, and it needed to be stopped right away. A client that has no respect for boundaries, time, and schedule is a major red flag.

3. A Business relationship is enough

In Chris ‘ story, there was this one time where his client invited his two partners to come with him to New York for a big start-up incubator contest and offered them a workshop. Their client told them that there are mentors in New York that will teach them anything related to business. Chris thought it was odd. However, both of them agreed to it, and they all went to New York, leaving Chris alone to continue working on the project. 

That trip to New York has created a personal bond between the two workmates and the client. It would unconsciously form the feeling of indebtedness, eventually affecting their actions in the future. When you are dealing with business, your relationship with the client should have boundaries. It would be best to focus on building a business relationship rather than a personal and intimate one. 

4. If the client shows aggressiveness, leave immediately.

When the three of them arrived back from New York, their client told them that he built a new office for them and they should transfer to that office so that the four of them could work in harmony. Chris was ready to say something this time, but both of his partners immediately said yes to it. Chris was shocked by how passive they have become and that they cannot see the reality of what their client was trying to do. He forced them out of their original office to finally move all of his employees to their office to work on other projects. 

One time when Chris arrived at their new office, he noticed that their client hired a new developer and was told that it was for the client’s other projects. He did not mind it and wanted to start working so that they could finish the project. However, when Chris arrived at his desk, he noticed that his chair was missing and the new developer was sitting on it. Chris politely asked where his chair was, then all of a sudden, their client rushed out of his office and confronted Chris, saying, “This is my chair, all of the things here are mine.” The client was really furious and was ready to throw a punch at Chris. 

If the client shows aggressiveness, leave immediately. In Chris’ situation, he cannot expect any more to have a relationship with his client. He needs to be cut off right after that incident. Chris gathered his team, and they talked about what happened. Chris suggested that they should leave and get out of the toxic working environment before it gets work. This time, both partners agreed, and they created an invoice for the work hours from day one up to that moment. Another lesson that you need to learn.

5. Make an invoice every month

Imagine, they were already working for that client for one year, yet they did not give the client a single invoice yet. It was terrible timing to request an invoice at that moment because of the incident, but they had no choice. To get away from that toxic work environment, they must get their payment first and then leave. 

They made an invoice and sent it to their client. The client wrote the cheque for their invoice, bought pizzas, and gathered all his employees to have a pizza party. As soon as all of them were gathered in the office, their client placed the cheque beside the pizza box and shouted, “You can get the cheque and end their relationship or you can eat the pizza and we will continue working with the project.” The room went quiet, and everyone was shocked. The 3 of them took the cheque, and they left the office right away. It was the wisest decision they made after a series of bad choices during their one-year experience with the client. 

However, they did not expect the following events that happened. As they were about to cash out the cheque, they noticed that the client gave them a blank cheque, and it turns out that there was no money on that cheque. So both of them went back to the office and clarified things with their client privately. Chris had no idea what they were talking about, but when both of them got out after the conversation, they just said, “No money, let’s just leave this toxic environment immediately.” So just like that, they were not paid for the whole year working for the client, plus they were given a story that they will not forget.

To end, Chris had no control of the client’s attitude, and anyone who would work with a client like that would back off instantly. This is a grave mistake and a learning experience for Chris and his two partners. Sadly, their hard work did not pay off, plus they had to experience that toxic work environment. 

The wasted time and energy spent dealing with the client and working on the project were not worth it at all. Let this be a lesson not to ignore early signs of aggression and have unyielding boundaries at work. And of course, don’t forget your invoice.

This article was based upon episode #2, please watch the complete episode here.