I have several acquaintances who recently started businesses with their friends. It all seemed like a good idea on paper, but sadly, their friendship deteriorated. And indeed, my experience over the years has shown that it’s generally not a good idea to mix business with friendship. And those who have done it tell me that their friendship was never the same. You might exchange money, property or services with a friend on a one-time basis, but even that is fraught with peril. What happens when the lawn mower you bought yesterday from your neighbor breaks down today?
There are two types of business/friendship situations. The first is when you start out as business associates and then become friends. Surprisingly, this has the greatest potential for success. 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 can be a pleasant surprise. The business boundaries are already firmly in place, and the friendship has the potential to flourish within those boundaries.
The problems begin when people who are already friends do business together. That arrangement is a ticking time bomb. Freelance writer and businessperson DeeDee Smith illustrates it well: “My hardest customers to satisfy have always been friends or family members. These have also been the hardest customers to collect from.” 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) are often the result.
I have an old friend who is an optician. When visiting 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 disappointment over not getting a bigger discount on her glasses. My optician friend was furious and never felt the same way about this woman. I’ve seen many more examples, and I’ll bet you can think of a few yourself.
An associate of mine published a book and enjoyed a good deal of success. When my first book was published, I asked her about this problem and she recounted 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 only break even. She advised me to smile and say, “If you’re really my friend, you’ll go to the store and buy the book!” This is a perfect example of 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 – or a friendship.
People with self-esteem value the products of their labor, and they see it as reasonable to charge for them. One might decide not to charge his or her friend, but it must be an option to do so. Likewise, a true friend must not feel entitled to the services or products of another.
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 alone, and family members act entitled, then it’s more like mooching or taking advantage.
I’m not saying that it’s wrong to give discounts or freebies to friends. Friendship is different from business, and that’s my point. A client is someone you value because of what they pay you. A friend is someone you already value because of who he or she is. It can feel good to be generous to a friend, provided it’s your choice.
Business complicates friendship. It creates conflict of interest and 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, be prepared for trouble.