My best friend wants us to go into business together. At first, I was excited about the business opportunity, but the more I talk to people the more it makes me nervous. Everyone keeps telling me that you should never mix friendship and business because it can ruin a friendship. One person said he even came to blows with his best friend! I am having second thoughts because my friend and I are like night and day and have many different views and ideas. I do not want our going into business together to ruin a longtime friendship! Do you really think it can come to blows? I hope not, I have never been in a fight in my life and I sure do not want to fight with my best friend!
Despite the adage, never work with family and friends, I have personally worked with both and have had some good and some bad experiences (none of which came to blows, thank God)! I have learned from both experiences that the key to successfully mixing friendship and business, and maintaining a relationship in and outside of the office, is effective communication and being able to manage expectations. In fact, these are the keys to making any partnership work, but oftentimes they are overlooked or forgotten when it comes to personal relationships. There have to be clear boundaries, a true understanding of roles, expectations, and responsibilities, and a formal legal contract outlining the structure and finances of the business. Unfortunately, many business friendships and relationships fall apart over money, differences in work ethics, and expectations regarding day-to-day responsibilities and equal contributions.
It is best to work out all of the details and expectations up front, prior to starting a business! Be honest at all times about your feelings and expectations. Invest in outside legal counsel to ensure that the two of you agree about everything concerning the business. This includes what happens to the business and revenues if one of you decides to leave the company, move away, and Lord forbid, pass away. Agree now how your families and children will be taken care of through the company. Decide how you will work together. This includes defining roles and responsibilities, office hours, pay rates, raises, hiring practices, and code of ethics. Go overboard with the details and planning and put it in writing!
On another note, I think it is an asset that you and your friend think differently. Different viewpoints and opinions can greatly enhance business. But you need to make sure that, despite your differences, you share the same work ethic and goals for the business. You have to be able to effectively communicate and be on the same page. Along with legal counsel, it may also be good to invest in a business coach to help the two of you get started!
And lastly, formally agree not to let the business interfere with your friendship. Learn now how to separate business decisions from your friendship and your personal lives. Don’t allow business conversation to take over your private time together. Create “no business” zones where you are both simply enjoying your friendship.
And for the record, not all of these types of relationships come to blows! There are plenty of successful examples of friends who have successfully mixed friendship and business, look at Oprah and Gayle!