should friends be business partners?

Can you childhood buddies really make for great workplace colleagues? It’s an idea that most people avoid but having friends as business partners can provide larger opportunities.

Goofing around, throwing papers at each other, making noises, slacking off, calling names, bunking office, playing pranks; if you think that is what happens at an office where your friends are your business partners, then, you’ve got that part partially correct. But let’s not forget, working with friends or not, you’re with a company that competes in a market comprising of well known brands and their products and services. And the fact that you have thousands of customers looking up to your business and numerous employees relying on your business to succeed to make their ends meet.

So the question remains: should we have friends as business partners? Having run 6 startups, four of them with friends, my answer is yes! However, I cannot jump to conclusions based on just my experiences. So, I posted the question on Sasto Deal’s Facebook page. To my surprise, roughly 70% of the respondents answered no. Now that I had contrasting views, I began on a quest to find out the answer to this crucial question.

One evening at the Irish Pub, I went around asking other entrepreneurs, friends and customers if they would have their friends as business partners. If they already have such an arrangement, I asked them about their experience working with friends. Guess what happened. Their answers left me wondering if I am the only one who prefers to have friends as business partners.
The most common answer: “No, because if business fails, the friendship will too!” Only a few dared to say, “If friendship succeeds, the business will too!” The best we can do is to explore the pros and the cons to help you come to a decision.

Pros

  • Life outside the company: On average, people spend eight hours a day at the office. What happens in the other 16 hours of the day has great influence on their performance at work. For example, a bad break-up or divorce can make anyone less eager to work. The worst case scenario: the person might quit work. But this will not be the case if your business partner is also a friend. You know what is going on in their lives, you know what needs to be done and chances are, you will see this and work on fixing it.
  • Character: What do HR managers look for in a new recruit: is the employee-to-be a good fit for the company? What do entrepreneurs look for in a business partner: is the other person trust-worthy?  What do co-workers look for in other employees: are they reliable? All of which suggests that the character of a person is a deciding factor while choosing someone to work with. Business skills can be learned overtime but a person’s character can prove to be a problem. In the case of a friend, you will be a great judge of your friend’s character, sometimes more than their immediate family.
  • Equal voices: One major problem with most companies is that the decision-making process is one-sided. One leader dominates most brainstorming sessions and ideas are not floated. This is usually not the case if business partners are friends. Friends are not afraid to speak their mind; they can and will argue and protest when needed. Conflicting views might sometimes delay the decision making process but the result of it is most likely best for the company.
  • Long-term partnership: If your business partner is a long-term friend who has stuck with you through thick and thin, chances are they will do the same with you on your journey as an entrepreneur. Because you have handled problems together in the past, you are more likely to be able to handle problems together in the future.

Cons

  • Failing relationship: As mentioned earlier, most respondents in my survey felt that a failing business means a failing relationship. What do you value more: friendship or business?
  • Adverse effect of closeness: What would happen if you had your spouse as business partner? You would probably get tired of seeing the same face at work, and go home to do the same. Most likely, the conversation would remain unchanged. Same can be said about friends.

In conclusion, ask yourself this important question: How well do I know my friend? And you will have your answer.

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