Submitted by Jessica Silver from ElWell
When my friend rang me in summer 2018 with a burning idea, I thought why not. I’d grown disillusioned with my job working in PR, the idea sounded exciting and, most importantly, I was positive that working with a life long friend was the right decision. Now, almost two years later, what have I learnt? And was I right to trust my instinct and make the leap? Here are my top tips for working with a friend.
Finding that friend you can work with
You get on well with your friend, maybe you even work together currently at a business which you don’t own. But how do you know if the friend you land on a business concept with is someone you should go into venture with?
I’m lucky enough to work with my oldest friend (we met in the playground aged six!). We’ve always brought different but compatible skills to the table throughout our friendship and this has been one reason I knew we could work together. One of us is analytical, the other more creative. These two sides allow us to communicate effectively and look at ideas through different perspectives. We love and respect each other, and in business this isn’t something to flippantly disregard. We both also come from entrepreneurial backgrounds and knew this was something we wanted to explore. Doing it together makes it even more special.
It’s a truth that the best work happens when people gel well – when you look at it like that, going into business with a real friend is something to be celebrated.
Turning a friend into a work friend
There’s evidence to suggest that having friends at work improves productivity and your job satisfaction. But when a friendship pre-dates the business, what does that mean for productivity?
We quickly learnt that we needed to treat our business relationship like any other. When we’re at work together (even if our office is the kitchen table at one of our houses), we’re in work mode. Different roles were naturally assigned to us and from there we stepped up to the mark. Together we set targets, managed information flow to each other, listened and ultimately held ourselves and each other accountable. Yet at the same time, we can switch off and still see each other for the friends we are. So we don’t think our friendship has suffered at all (if anything, it has got stronger) and we have also become more productive work-wise too.
What if you see the business going in different ways?
It’s understandable that new ideas develop and the business evolves. We’ve looked at new opportunities together, and our litmus test for them is whether or not they match up with our strategy. Then, we work out how we can make this happen whilst maintaining other projects and sharing the load
accordingly. By being strategic and not tactically focused on the detail, we’re able to identify what’s best for the business and worth our investment (be that financial, time or both).
Ask for feedback
For some reason, asking for feedback from a friend can be more nerve wracking than from your old boss. Maybe it’s because you know each other so well and so you get more worried what you they think? Whatever the reason, feedback from your nearest and dearest is always important in life, and especially when you work together.
The number one rule when taking feedback from a friend that you work is not to take it personally. It’s like the business is the third friend in the relationship, and we need to honour it as we would ourselves. So treat any viewpoint positively. I’ve always found it actually to be a confidence boost, showing that I’m on the right track. And remember that two heads are better than one – so any constructive feedback (which is what feedback should be!) helps you strive towards the end goal.
Tackling difficult conversations
When I was working in an agency, difficult conversations weren’t tinged with friendship – the work came first. But what we’ve found now is that being friends first and foremost can actually make them easier. We want to be solutions-focused, not just for the business but for us too.
No one likes a difficult conversation but side-stepping them is even worse. When we need to discuss something where we might have slightly different views, we hold a specific meeting where this is the focus. Setting a meeting objective (even if this is just to come to a final decision) and having the time to discuss and consider each other’s views is important so we can do what is right for the business. This helps us to see the wood for the trees, make a decision and move on – still friends like before!
Making it official
We created a business together because we have the same ideology and wanted to work together. But we also knew we needed to be smart and put a contract in place. So that’s what we did. We’re equal shareholders, with equal responsibility. It’s not something to easily walk away from (not that we want to!) and having a contract in place makes it that bit more official. No matter how good friends you are, this is something we would always recommend. Would I recommend going into business with a friend?
Life’s too short not to work how you want, with the people you want to work with! If the opportunity presents itself, then go for it.
Don’t think that working with a friend means you’re in for an easy ride though. Consider if you’re being tempted by the idea of the friendship rather than the business. Do you both have similar work ethic and values? And is this something you can commit to for the near future (and more)? If the answer is yes, then go for it! Good luck – you’re in for a great ride.
About the author:
Jessica Silver runs ElWell with Nancy Farmer, who she has been friends with for 30 years. Their mission is to help the helpers, offering information and support to people looking after their parents as they get older. Find out more about ElWell at www.el-well.com or follow them on social media @elwellwellbeing.