My best friend and I would lock ourselves in my tiny, yellow room in Brooklyn, sitting on my bed with a hundred pieces of paper around us, quietly and carefully plotting how we would launch our business. This was an exercise we had done several times during the course of our 15-year friendship, but this time it was serious. My sister from another mister and I were planning something life-changing together. I had always wanted to start my own company, and — as she well knew — I always wanted to be doing it with her. The dangers of embarking on this adventure together were more than just the business’s failure. It was the failure of our friendship that worried us more than anything. Would our friendship stand up against the pressures of being in business together? Could we go into business together and remain best friends?
The answer, as we now know, is yes. However, we were bombarded with messages from outsiders saying not to go into business with friends and family. Things can get messy and can make the relationships you have so carefully and lovingly cultivated with your people implode irreparably. We did it anyway.
Walking through the long hallways of our accountant’s office felt like walking down the aisle. We were making it official — binding ourselves together for good times and bad and promised to work our hardest for our own sakes but, more importantly, to make each other proud.
So why do so many friendships/business ventures fail with all their good intentions, excitement and dedication to one another? There are two factors you need to avoid:
- Disorganization. When we go into business ventures with family or friends, we omit steps because we love and trust one another. However, this is where things begin to fall apart — when there is a lack of set expectations and understanding of what each party is getting themselves into. Formalities — like contracts — are there for a reason. They serve to make everything clear, to put it all out on the table. And when there is clarity, understanding and set expectations, all is well on both sides.
- Poor Communication. When we go into business with family or friends, things can become very emotional. You will inevitably need to give one another feedback, and sometimes it is hard to separate the emotions from the facts. Carefully crafting your messages to one another in a way which lands most effectively with your partner is important. And always remember it’s for the good of the whole and not a criticism on your performance. Further, don’t be afraid to talk your feelings out. Communicate with one another when there is something that is bothering you, and don’t let it fester.
Throughout this journey, we have found that being such good friends has actually helped us in avoiding poor communication with one another. Because we have such a deep understanding of one another’s nuanced personalities, we know how to communicate with one another most effectively.
So what about being hired by, or hiring friends and family? When you begin a business, much of your clientele comes from the people you know personally. This group of clientele, however, should be treated with formality and a special dedication to professionalism. Organization, in this case, is a key factor in making sure things go smoothly and is something your clients will be impressed by.
Before beginning work with friends or family whether it is as partners or clients, signing contracts and scheduling formal meetings are not nuisances — these steps are necessary for cultivating a successful end result — internally and externally — and making sure people refer you forward!
BusinessCollective, launched in partnership with Citi, is a virtual mentorship program powered by North America’s most ambitious young thought leaders, entrepreneurs, executives and small business owners.