Doing Business With Friends: Five Tips for Preserving the Friendship... and Your Sanity!

My colleague, Jane, recently lamented to me an all too familiar story about mixing business and friendship. Jane subcontracted copywriting work out her friend, Joan. Jane's copywriting business was blossoming (partly in response to her most recent brilliant article marketing campaign) and giving the work to Joan seemed like a win-win for both of them.

As expected, Joan delivered a glorious first draft. The only problem was halfway through the discussed project, Joan suddenly disappeared!

It turned out that Joan was becoming overwhelmed with juggling her own work and the freelance work. The freelance work sunk to the bottom of her priority list because, hey, Jane was her friend and she wouldn't mind. However, as the days turned into weeks, Joan became embarrassed and began hiding from Jane's e-mail messages and calls. Now both friends were in a pickle!

Jane would have preferred Joan tell her up front that she couldn't meet the agreed upon terms. She didn't get angry with her friend, but it made her wonder how wise it is to involve your close friends in professional endeavors.

One the other side of the fence is the business person who agrees to do something for a friend for a reduced price or free. Another writer stated that she believes she gives away too much of her goods and services dirt cheap or free to friends. She's had experiences doing business with friends in which she's thought, "Oh, I'll do this one thing for him and then he will do something of equal value for me." Often this writer ends up feeling irritated because she's running short on time and money and she often doesn't get back what she put into the trade.

Here are some tips to help you no matter what side of the fence you're on:

1. Your time and services are valuable. Don't give them away. You can volunteer for PTA bake sales, donate blood, or give money to your church, but your business services are not free. You've got bills to pay and a professional reputation to maintain.

2. If you're thinking about doing business with a friend, ask yourself, "Is this a person whose services I would pay for even if I didn't know him? Do I admire and respect the way she operates her business?" I have some friends who are great business people and some who are just great friends (and I'm not convinced they're savvy business people). That's okay. If you can't give an honest affirmative answer to these questions, DON'T do business with this friend.

3. If you choose to do business with a friend, be clear about the project specs, deadlines, and payment arrangements before the work starts. Get it all in writing (e-mail is fine). Be specific! Did I mention be specific?

4. Frequent check-ins are a must. (E.g., "How are you doing with that dog food project we talked about? Do you need any further information or material from me? How can we work together on this?"). Nip any problems in the bud with constant communication.

5. Listen to your intuition. Does your friend generally keep her promises? Is she a good, clear communicator? How would you feel about her if the business arrangement you're thinking about didn't work out well? If you have any nagging doubts, it's best to err on the side of caution and NOT hire your friend.

In business and in life, communication is key. The people who have the most successful business relationships and friendships will always be those who can speak and write clearly, efficiently, and concisely.

Copyright 2005, Ann Zuccardy, All rights reserved.

Ann Zuccardy is a freelance technical and copy writer with 17 years of industry experience in marketing and technical communication. She currently consults with IBM in Essex Junction, Vermont where she writes software user manuals, training guides, and release notes. Ann is also the owner of Vermont Shortbread Company. She can be reached at Wordbrains.com.

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