One thing we have come to realize at International Investigators is that our business is emotional. Not that we are emotional, but that emotions run high with our clients.

It’s obvious that finding a missing person or pursuing evidence to exonerate someone wrongfully convicted or charged with a crime would be emotional. You might not think that many business investigations are quite emotionally-charged as well, but they can be.

One case, for example, brought tears to the eyes of a big, burly business man. It was a form of business espionage, but not the kind that would come to mind.

When Business Gets Personal

His reputation in the marketplace was he was a personable and fair business man. He was good at the computer services he offered and was well-liked. His business was growing every year and he was active in several community and civic organizations.

For some reason, he explained, all of a sudden, he couldn’t get a client. He’d be in negotiations and about to close a deal and bam, his calls wouldn’t be returned and his emails went unanswered. His business was suffering and now, even his participation in civic groups was being affected. He didn’t know what was going on, just that something was working against him and he was failing fast. And no one was offering anything to him in the way of explanation.

It didn’t take long to discover that people agreed he did good work, but that they wouldn’t hire him because he was “difficult” and they were “afraid” to work with him. There was an undercurrent of unrest in just about every conversation.

The breakthrough came when he called to tell us he had received a letter from an attorney saying a female client was cancelling her contract and he was to “stay away from her.”

Apparently several years earlier this businessman had had a business partnership that went awry and that person was now in a position of authority in the community. She was telling others that he had made unwanted sexual advances toward her and when she declined, he severed their partnership and did not pay her monies that were due her.

So now when people came to her for advice, she related the story “in confidence” and steered them away from doing business with him. It didn’t take long before the story filtered into the small business community and he was being avoided personally and professionally.

This is known as blackballing, or blacklisting. Although this is illegal, it is very difficult to prove. And many times, it comes down to “he said-she said” and both sides remain steadfast. The most famous example is in the 40s when the House on Un-American Activities Committee began investigating people for communist involvement, including prominent Hollywood personalities. Careers were ruined.

Confronting the source is not always a good idea, but gathering facts is and that’s when hiring a professional investigator is important. In blacklisting cases, speed is a key factor as the longer the time stretches, the more difficult evidence is to find.

How to Prevent Business Partnership Problems

Although there is no way to completely eliminate potential partnership problems, there are some steps a business owner can take to protect himself and his business.

The first, and most important, is to know his potential partner. Due Diligence is the key word and action in this case. Conduct due diligence both personally and professionally. Talk to everyone you know who knows this person, especially those whose opinion will be frank and trustworthy.

In this case, the female sharing her story had originally come to him begging for a chance to do something to make some much-needed money. As a friend he offered to partner with her on some projects. As a business person, he probably should have conducted a financial investigation or background investigation to determine if this was someone he really wanted to include in his business.

Everyone thinks due diligence is something that only big companies do when millions of dollars are at stake. But even small business owners need a due diligence process to protect themselves, after all, their business is the center of their family’s financial stability.

So this man’s story is a cautionary tale for entrepreneurs and small business owners everywhere. Doing business with acquaintances can be risky business – in more ways than one!

-T. Wilcox, CEO, International Investigators

-B. McGinley, Director of Operations, International Investigators