Don’t Mix Money with Friends

Never mix business with friendship. Yes, it may seem perfectly natural to go into business with your friend, or to employ (or be employed by) him or her. But, those of you who have actually ‘been there’ know that the business relationship, the friendship—or both—are doomed. Neither will ever be the same. You might exchange money, property or services with a friend on a one-time basis, but even that has the potential to complicate a friendship. What happens when the lawn mower you bought from your neighbor yesterday breaks down’today?

There are two types of business and friendship mixtures. The first is when you start out as business associates and then become friends. Surprisingly, this one has the greatest potential to work. Why? Because of emotions. In business, there certainly can be emotion, but not to the same extent as in a personal relationship. So, when a business relationship goes personal, it’s like a gift or a pleasant surprise. The business ‘boundaries’ have already been set, and the friendship has the potential to develop within those boundaries.

The second is when you start out as friends, and then begin to do financial business together. That arrangement is fraught with peril. Freelance writer and businessperson DeeDee Smith illustrates it well: ‘My hardest customer to satisfy has always been friends or family members. These have also been the hardest customers to collect from.’ I hear this almost every day from others. When doing business with friends, there are inferred expectations—that is to say, expectations never spoken but still present. Friendship ‘boundaries’ are broader and much less defined, and it’s harder to ‘rein them in’ when money becomes a factor. Hurt feelings (or worse) can often be the result.

I have an old friend who used to be an optician. When I went to her office, I fully expected to pay full price. Not so with some of her other ‘friends.’ She told me of one case where a long-time friend expressed surprise and disappointment over not getting a bigger discount on her glasses. Needless to say, my optician friend was furious and never felt the same way about this woman ever again. I’ve seen many more examples, and I’ll bet you can think of a few yourself.

An associate of mine published a book, making the rounds on the talk shows and enjoying a good deal of success. When my first book was published, she told me about how her friends would ask for a copy—free of charge. She would explain to them that it costs money to publish a book, and even if it’s successful, authors might just break even. She would smile and tell them, ‘If you’re really my friend, you’ll go to the store and buy the book!’ These examples illustrate the different expectations—and boundaries—in a friendship. A stranger would never expect a book (or eyeglasses) for free. A friend often does. This is no way to run a business. Your time and services are valuable and you shouldn’t be expected to give them away unless you freely choose to do so.

People with self-esteem value the products of their labor and their mind. They see it as reasonable to charge for them, because these products have value. One might not WANT to charge his or her friend, but it must be an option to do so. Likewise, it’s reasonable for a true friend to not feel entitled to the services or products of another.

Doing business with family can, in some respects, be even more difficult. Family members tend to feel entitled to what you own. It’s one thing when it’s a family business and everyone’s taking part in it. But when you achieve success on your own, and family members act entitled to it merely because they’re related to you, it seems quite a bit like taking advantage.

In my experience, you can tell if a person has self-esteem by whether or not he or she expects your goods and services as an entitlement. Speaking for myself, it would never occur to me to expect or demand what isn’t mine. It never occurred to me to expect (or ask for) free books or glasses. But people who lack self-respect tend not to look for it in others, either.

I’m not saying that it’s wrong to give discounts or freebies to your friends. Friendship IS different from business, and that’s my whole point. A business client is someone you value because of what they will pay you. A friend is someone you already value (personally) because of who he or she is. It can feel good to be generous and give to a friend, provided you freely CHOOSE to do so.

Business complicates friendship because it creates conflict of interest and troubling, confusing emotions. If you’re already friends with someone, an emotional ‘trade’ has already occurred on a personal level. If you attempt to impose a business relationship on top of that personal connection, be prepared for trouble.