Beyond the Rhetoric


Should You Work With (And For) Your Friends?

May 3rd, 2011 by
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Dot Com Pho - John Chow and Gary Jones

Every small business owner has likely asked him or herself this question at some point: Should you work with and for your friends? Now, I’m not really discussing the matter of becoming business partners with your friends. Instead, I’m much more taking the perspective of a service provider like that of a consultant, graphic designer, or freelance writer.

In this way, it’s probably more accurate to ask whether you should be taking on your friends as clients.

What’s the Problem?

And therein lies an incredible range of possible concerns. In some ways, you could say that a customer is a customer is a customer. You could say that if they’re willing to pay and you’re willing to do the work, what could be the possible harm in taking on a professional relationship? Then again, you could run into problems related to a friends and family discount.

You see, you’re bound to have friends who not only feel like they have a discount owed to them, by virtue of your friendship, but they’ll also assume that the project they provide should take priority over your other clients. Is that a fair assumption to make? Or do they have a better understanding of how your small business works and they respect that they have to join the queue just like everyone else?

The Upside to Working for Friends

Yes, when you take a personal relationship and turn it into a professional one, you could add a great deal of strain and ambiguity to the mix. Depending on the types of services that you provide, it might be in your best interest to refer out to a colleague. That would make sense if you were a psychiatrist, for instance, as your friend may not want you to know his or her innermost secrets.

That said, there are some benefits to blurring the lines between a professional relationship and conventional friendship. This is part of the reason why I attend Dot Com Pho. Trust and friendship is earned first, and the business side naturally falls into place as a result. We respect one another for what we do, and know that we can trust one another to do the best possible job. See the two guys in the photo above? I’ve worked for both of them (and continue to work with John).

I assume nothing, but you’ll find that someone who is your friend first and your business associate (whether as a service provider or as a client) second is more likely to engage in free word of mouse marketing on your behalf. That’s a huge bonus, especially in an industry like mine that relies so heavily on personal referrals. I’m sure the realtors, accountants, and lawyers in the audience will agree.

Blurring the Lines

Whether or not you choose to work with and for your friends is completely up to you. It boils down to the same kind of discussion you’ll need to have with yourself when it comes to separating work and play. Should your professional and personal lives be as separate as possible, or is there more value to be gained in the synergistic effects of integration?

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4 Responses to “Should You Work With (And For) Your Friends?”

  1. John Chow says:

    Hey! Where’s my friends and family discount?

  2. Great post, Michael! Some really valuable points to consider.

    This is a really interesting area. Years ago I would have said: “absolutely not”. I had some bad experiences and witnessed a really bad experience my parents had in operating their business.

    But in the past few years, I’ve had to come to terms with (sounds strange to put it that way, but there it is) the fact that I actually *like* most people I’ve worked for as a contractor and we’ve become friends – and that I liked others enough to trust that we’d work well in business/partnerships. So far it’s worked out well.

    I don’t know if this is because I’m more mature (ha!) now or am trusting my judgement a bit more, or having a few rules as to who I work with, for and refer work to (reliable, sane and calm are three qualities I value immensely) – or if it’s all just plain luck…

    I have have found that I really enjoy working with people I like in general, am flattered when people I work for value me so much that to want to spend time with me socially, and find it very satisfying to refer people to people I like.

    • Michael Kwan says:

      From the outside looking in, I would have agreed. Work and personal life should be separate. Now that I’m engulfed in this world, though, the lines are so blurry that there is oftentimes no real distinction at all! Also like you, I’ve seen the relationships go in both directions. Friends become clients, just as clients become friends.

  3. Ray Ebersole says:

    That is a great point Michael. I don’t work for family at all and friends only with the explicit understanding that it is a client relationship and the costs are X and need to be paid Y.

    Your analogy with Dot Com Pho is a really good one where the relationships developed into a partnership that you both felt comfortable about business side of the relationship.

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