Maintain a Balance between Friendship and Business (Part One)

Friendship is considered to be closer than all other associations even developed within your personal relationships. Business can be an occupation, profession, or trade adopted for economic gains. To have better results in our business activities, we often mix up both activities. Bringing friends into our business activities sometime proves very beneficial but this action needs a harmonious balancing. A small friction can swindle you to irreversible losses. Though all lasting business is built on friendship, Alfred A. Montapert says, “Business is business, profit has precedence over personal considerations.”

At your work, you develop a set of friends to socialize with or confide at, because this quality is perhaps in-built in our human nature. Having good friends in your office, work place or business point makes the work more enjoyable and maximizes even your own productivity. However, that requires very tactful handling as otherwise it can cause negative repercussions.

Our first set of friends is made up of those persons who were residing within our residential vicinity during our growing up years. Thicker bonds take place when we venture into our school and college lives respectively, if they become our class mates. If fortunately, this association continues in our times of earning, it becomes our valuable asset for the life long. Apart from these persons, we find some other persons too at our work place – whether that is our office, work place or our own business set up. It is quite natural that in course of time, we develop a kind of understanding with them, share a special bond of common interests and camaraderie.

A friend at our work keeps us informed about the developments taking place within the organization and outside which may affect our interests or boost up our progress as well. He can apprise us of our performance in a particular field and at times, he helps us in our emergencies. He suggests ways of improvement and fostering levels of productivity even by providing necessary tools which may be available within his capacity.

Experts believe that when like minded people work together, the team exerts more productivity. Good organizations must always encourage employees’ bonding and healthy relationships inter se. Buddy programs, team outings, celebrations at work place etc. provide a platform for people to come together and make friendships more swiftly. Big business associations organize business meets to provide opportunities to meet dealers, manufacturers at one place to develop friendship amongst the persons having business activities in a particular area. But there is a flipside too in this working. Friends look for favors from each other or might get into conflicts due to various reasons and it may result into the soar relationship and the friends convert into enemies.

It is a tricky question how to handle friends who become clients to make sure friendship stays solid and yet have the client relationship remain businesslike. This issue applies with business partners (e.g. one of my business partners is a long-time friend; another is a cousin), vendors, etc. You will have to be explicit about when you are being a friend/family member and when you are being a business partner/client/vendor. Avoid mixing the two by being explicit and saying:

“I’m your friend, but right now I’m talking to you as your consultant”
or
You are my friend, yes.
You are my cousin, yes.
But in my business, I do not know you.

This is something that must be remembered when incorporating a business. Many people make the mistake of bringing their friends on board by offering them 5 or 10% of the shares, purely because of their friendship – not because of any business reason (such as an investor). Friends really have no place in your organization unless what they offer is going to increase its value. Business and friendship can be a very volatile combination if you’re not careful.

Once, I became involved with a female business partner in one of my ventures. Earlier, she was one of my good friends and we had developed the relationship to such a great height that we had started to think to get married soon. But unfortunately, there had been some set-backs in business activities. The business relationship destroyed our romantic relationship, after which hard feelings infected and killed the business.

Having taken a couple of family and friends’ projects (after constant nagging to help), I can also say that you should never do this unless you REALLY need the money. Meetings are long and drawn out, calls for advice or comments are frequent and unnecessary, and the whole process becomes frustrating.

I never take a job from a personal contact unless they extend (i.e. it’s in my best interest). These days, if any opportunity comes to me that I should contact one of friends, I ask someone else to do so to utilize the opportunity.

On the other side of the coin, my wife and I have been in business for almost 18 years (and married for 23 years) and it’s never really been a problem for us. I guess it helps that we both have the same philosophy with regards to business so we never really have many disagreements in that department. Here, friendship has relationship too within its fold. As for doing work for friends – I haven’t done it, but I expect it could be troublesome. Probably they would try to squeeze every last thing out of you.

However, if some persons were clients/partners first and then became friends, then you would probably not have any problems. They already understand that you have a business and that your relationship is professional when doing business. They understand that they must pay you and not get special favors. If their whole angle is to get special favors, then they really should not be classified as a friend.

On the other hand, if they were friends first and then later became friends/partners, you could either have someone who supports you and respects you as a businessperson, or you could have someone who thinks that they deserve special treatment because they are your friend. Friends who think they should get special treatment or get constant freebies can be the problem, especially if they never return the favor. Scratching each other’s back can be a good thing where appropriate, but a leech is not so good.

So go ahead and be friends with your customers. You will get a lot of repeat business that way and you may find you have someone who is there when you need them. And the leeches? Well, don’t let them suck you dry.

Also, it may be worth your while to actually look and see if your so-called-friends are really friends. You don’t necessarily have to get rid of them, but it would be good to know who is really there for you and who is out for themselves.

Very frankly, friendship and business need to be kept separate. Because in business you have to make a lot of logical decisions which do not do friends a lot of good, since most friendships are based on lot of emotional based decisions. Unless one of friends has personality problem, this would be an advantage rather than disadvantage. Good friends know that they won’t be cheated, and they can come together anytime and discuss business. They should clearly define each other’s roles to avoid disagreements: One of them makes the final decision , while the other only make suggestions etc.

In another venture with Jone, I have been in business together, going on six years now. Not to say there haven’t been occasional hurdles to overcome, but easily by and large our arrangement works for a few key reasons:
1)We are both utterly loyal to each other, and as such we trust each other (essential in any partnership)
2) We met each other before starting the business, so knew each other well enough to know our strengths and weaknesses, and our mutual willingness to compromise when needed.
3) We both REALLY want to make the business a success.

You may have business with your friends but you must tell them that both relationships should be kept separate. How? We may discuss in our next post.

Be Happy – Maintain a Balance between Friendship and Business.


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