True Story: Business By Handshake

As a four-year mutually beneficial relationship ended, turning our cooperation into competition, Emmett Ramey offered this as a final thought:

So now we’re competitors, but we can still be friends. The way I see it, it’s like two people fishing on a pier. I’m not worried about the fish nibbling on your line, because there’s plenty of fish nibbling on my line at the same time.

Emmett Ramey and I did business together for four years, money was spent and earned, and the business relationship ended amicably with an agreement to compete against each other, all based on a handshake, without either of us signing a contract.

Yes, it’s a true story. No, I’m not suggesting that this is the right way to do business; it’s an anachronism, definitely out of date. Still, it happened.

Emmett and his wife Ardella were owner-operators of Oasis Press in Milpitas CA when this happened in 1984. I was a one-man company called Infoplan, doing planning and market research, writing books and magazine columns, and working out of a home office.

We got together because I’d developed a business plan template, for use with Lotus 1-2-3 and Microsoft Excel, for the financial portion of a business plan; and Oasis Press had published Develop Your Business Plan, by Leza and Placencia. My financial templates worked very well with that book. We agreed that Oasis Press would buy the templates from Infoplan and add them into the book, as an option.

That deal lasted for about four years. I sweetened the pot for both of us by taking payment for a monthly column in Business Software magazine as a free black and white ad for Oasis Press, rather than money. The ad advertised the templates and the book. Oasis Press took the sales, and paid me for the add-on.

It worked really well until Emmett called one day, sounding embarrassed, saying that his authors wanted royalty payments from me for my software. That didn’t make sense to me. I’d already written books published by McGraw-Hill, Dow Jones-Irwin and other publishers, and business planning was my favorite topic, and the authors hadn’t contributed anything to my software. So we agreed, again without having to negotiate with lawyers or sign anything, to split it apart.

So I stopped selling the template for Develop Your Business Plan, and developed Business Plan Toolkit, which was released in January of 1988. Oasis Press continued to sell the book, but without software. It moved to Oregon in 1991 and was purchased by Entrepreneur Press in 2003.

And, with apology for repeating, I’m not recommending you do it this way now. I guess this was the exception, not the rule. And in this case, business by handshake worked perfectly well.


  • Steve Lange says:

    Watch the Humphrey Bogart film Casablanca sometime soon, with a eye to all the various types of business that gets transacted during the course of the story. Rick's Cafe American gets sold in a handshake deal.

  • David Mackey says:

    I wish business still worked by handshake. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *