Friend or foe – Is going into business with a friend the right decision?

Aug 18, 2020 · 6 mins read
Friend or foe – Is going into business with a friend the right decision?
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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

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 or follow them on social media

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