“Friends can’t do business together”, they said.
We (James & Dean) have been friends for more than 12 years now since we met in our first year at University. After graduating and each venturing down slightly different career paths working for various industries/firms, we wanted to start our business. In autumn 2020, we decided to build our own tax and accountancy firm, joining our individual specialities together.
1 year down the line, we reflect on what has been a good experience of working together (so far). However, we have put some rules in place to ensure the business's smooth running and to help maintain our friendship.
As American actor and director Frank Crane says,
“You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you don't trust enough.”
If you don’t trust anyone you go into business with, then problems will always follow. The same applies especially when going into business with a friend. Even though you might know them on a personal level, there are aspects of business that require a different level of trust - professional responsibilities, finances, keeping to contracts. You need to trust that your partner is not going to run away with the money in the bank account. You also need to trust them to act in the business's best interest.
If you already trust your friend in the first place, try building on this by communicating openly on how you want to run the business, how the money will be handled and what each person’s responsibility is.
It helped that we had already built a robust friendship for 10 years before we decided to run a business together. However, every relationship is different. No matter how long you have been friends, establish trust first.
It’s easy for personal matters to impact your business and vice versa, especially when you are already friends, or have the same social circles. There’s value in trying to keep personal and business matters separate, even when speaking to each other everyday. Try creating a different space or using a seperate communication tool for each relationship.
For example, we have decided that we will communicate using different apps depending on what we are discussing. We use Slack and Microsoft Teams for any work-related topics. For personal-related conversations, we use WhatsApp. We even have mutual WhatsApp gaming groups where we’ll find each other on in the evenings. Having different spaces and apps sets the tone for what we want to talk about and does not invade each other’s personal space constantly.
This seems to work well for us, especially as the business grows and we get busier too.
Like with any business, change is the consistent factor. As business partners who also happen to be friends, we check-in regularly to make sure we’re on the same page and make decisions together.
We’ll have a daily conversation about some aspect of the company. This ranges day-to-day, but will generally be about networking or our clients. We also schedule regular business-focused meetings every two weeks. This allows us to make strategic business decisions and ensure we are on track to meeting the goals we collectively set.
We have also decided that if we need to chat about something that is not urgent, we will send a Slack/Teams message: “do you have 5 minutes?”, instead of just calling or shouting for each other (in the office). We respect each other’s space and work ethic, and this stops us from distracting the other person when they might be concentrating or preparing for a meeting. If it’s urgent, we call straight away.
Going into business with a friend doesn’t work for everyone. Fortunately, our friendship has helped to drive the business’s direction, due in part to our similar values and goals for the company. However, if business partners don’t have the same vision from the start, it doesn’t matter whether you are friends are not.
If you are considering working with a friend, talk to them about what your/their longer-term goals, values and attitudes are when it comes to business/professional relationships. It may highlight similarities or differences that could be worked out.