Mixing friends and business is a bit like adventurous cooking. You start out thinking “I really like cheese. I really like grapes. Why not mix the two together?!?!”, and depending on your gastronomical judgement (are you a crazy cook? do your guests generally try your concoctions only to pull out their napkins and ‘drop’ their quiche?) your dish is either going to be delicious or repugnant. Sometimes it works splendidly (revelation: avocado really DOES go with cheese), but other times, you’re left with the better taste of your own failure and a heartbreakingly messy kitchen.
Making the all-important decision of whether to do business with friends is all about instinct. Depending on if you have good instincts, it could be that the nagging feeling that something may go wrong if you invite your new best friend to be joint founder in your company is completely spot on. But in case instincts don’t prevail and rescue you from that (fairly miserable) fate, here are some ideas to avoid a messy friendship and a sour business launch:
- If one of your friends wants to get involved in your new venture, think carefully about whether this would be a good idea. Will they co-operate with you? Will they want to take charge and forgo some of your opinions? Are they easy to work with? Could you comfortably tell them what to do without this creating difficulties? Particularly if you have a light-hearted, casual friendship with someone, it is sometimes a good idea to think about the dynamic of your friendship. Despite them thinking it would be a good idea at the time, if they really can’t get their head around the professional, ‘business’ you, this could mean long-term issues and a lower level of commitment.
- Don’t let friends get involved just because they’re willing to work for free, or ‘pitch in’. Be especially careful when you’re starting up to have good, dedicated people on your team. It may be tempting to wave them into the heart of your new business, proclaiming “oh the more the merrier” with great gusto, but it is essential to have only the best, most motivated people involved. Remember, “a team is only as strong as it’s weakest member.” Your friend may be enthusiastic, but they may not necessarily be the best fit.
- Think about whether you have worked with your friend before on a group project, trip, or collaborative exercise. Was it easy? Did you bounce off each other or were you constantly grinding your teeth and grumbling about their jargon spewing and inefficiency? If the latter, chances are you may not work well together in a professional environment.
- Although it may feel comfortable and straightforward to hire your closest friends, or the people you enjoy spending time with the most, think outside the box. Who do you know that is good at what they do? Who would you trust to deliver? Is there anyone that shares the same values and goals as you do? If you’re on the same wavelength from a professional perspective, chances are they could be a good fit for your company.
- Hiring friends can be incredibly rewarding. As a capable and intellectual person-of-the-world, you have most probably surrounded yourself with like minded people. It is perfectly fine to want to keep these talents close and bring them straight into your company. However, it is still worth taking them through the same interview and hiring processes as any other potential employee. Not only will this help you gauge their commitment and enthusiasm, but you may find out valuable information about the way in which they work and their suitability for different roles.
- Take advantage of your insiders knowledge to reach a decision. What do you know about your friend? Are they likely to get upset if things don’t go smoothly? Is there a chance they may let it affect your friendship? Never hire someone unless you’re completely sure that they are mature and professional enough to make the work/personal life division.
- Before doing business with a friend, try to ensure that you’ve fully discussed the commitments involved, along with their thoughts and ideas. Try to gauge their reaction to feedback and tasks. Even if they are an entertaining, energetic friend, this doesn’t necessarily mean they will be bursting with inspiration and ideas in a professional context. Things may start with a bang only to decline into missed opportunities and not enough dedication (and the awkward you’re-not-working-hard-enough discussion that you will inevitably keep delaying). Make sure from the very start that they know what they’re getting into to avoid any unpleasant surprises down the line.
In short: hire carefully, stay smart, and be informed. Being an excellent friend doesn’t always translate into being an excellent business partner/colleague/intern. However, with some careful selection, mixing business and friendships (or rather, the right business ventures with the right friends) could be an extremely rewarding and re-affirming experience that sees both your friendship and business flourish.
Illustration by Julie Costentin