Should you start a small business with your best friend?



Should you start a business with your friend? Hmm, it’s a tricky question, but one definitely worth thinking seriously about, because most business partnerships that start in friendship seem to end in tears.

That might sound melodramatic, but when I think back to all the business
 partnerships that I’ve come across over, say, the last 10 years (which
 would be more than 200 businesses, although some barely got off the
 ground) only a handful emerged unscathed.

That’s not to say don’t do it. Having a business partner can be fantastic. If
 you find the right person, then you’ll have a better business than if you
 go it alone. And it’ll probably be more fun too.

But just because someone is your friend, doesn’t mean she’ll make a good business bedfellow.

When people ask me whether they should go into business with their friend, I
 get them to answer these questions. It’s not an exhaustive list, but I
 know that if many of the business partners who’ve had a rocky ride had 
answered these before they’d started, they probably would have done
 things differently.

1. Do we want the same things out of the business?

“Are we in this business for the same reasons?” is, to me, the biggest 
question. I think you need to get really honest about what you want/need 
the business to do for you in terms of money and what you are prepared 
to invest in terms of time. If there’s a bigger purpose to the business
 that you both believe in and are motivated by (helping people in some 
way), so much the better.

Being in business for the same reasons will help you get through the wobbly
 times when the business seems to be sucking your time without giving you
 enough in return. And it will help you navigate the tricky times, such
 as when you or your business partner starts or expands her family.

2. Do we have the similar values?

It’s often hard to articulate one’s values, but really it’s just about 
the way you do things and within that, what you hold as important.

A small example is time-keeping. Some people are obsessed about being on 
time to places, other people couldn’t give two hoots. If time keeping 
is important to you, it’s one of your values.

In a business sense, you and your potential business partner may have quite
 different values – you may be pernickety about quality while she just
 wants to get the job done and out of the door. These differences feel
 pretty minor to start off with, but they become increasingly irritating
 the more you work together. Not unlike, some may say, a marriage.

3. Do we have different but complementary skills?

There’s no point in going into business with someone who’s good at the same
 things as you, and lousy at the stuff you’re lousy at. You want to find 
someone who can do the bits you can’t.

If you’re a marketing/sales person you might want to join forces, for 
instance, with a numbers/operations type. Some of the best partnerships 
I’ve ever seen are where a quiet and studious technology geek joins up
 with a sociable marketing maven. As friends you wouldn’t put them 
together, but as business partners they are amazing.

4. Do we talk straight with one another?

Finally, can you tell your friend exactly what you’re thinking, without worrying about hurting her feelings?

Many of the business partnerships I know that failed did so because the 
partners couldn’t talk to each other about the less-than-pleasant stuff.
 Small things grew into big resentments because they weren’t discussed
 and knocked on the head early enough.

And finally….

My last piece of advice would be this. If you’re keen to have a business
 partner, work out all the characteristics you would like that partner to
 have, then go looking for someone who’s got them. If that person turns
 out to be your friend, fabulous. If not, then in the long run you’ll be 
happier having kept the friendship and business separate.

This article first appeared on The Business Bakery blog.

Julia Bickerstaff advises small businesses through her consultancy The Business Bakery and is the author of How to Bake a Business.


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