Should you start a business with your friend? Hmm, it’s a tricky question, but one definitely worth thinking seriously about, because most business partnerships that start in friendship seem to end in tears.
That might sound melodramatic, but when I think back to all the business partnerships that I’ve come across over, say, the last 10 years (which would be more than 200 businesses, although some barely got off the ground) only a handful emerged unscathed.
That’s not to say don’t do it. Having a business partner can be fantastic. If you find the right person, then you’ll have a better business than if you go it alone. And it’ll probably be more fun too.
But just because someone is your friend, doesn’t mean she’ll make a good business bedfellow.
When people ask me whether they should go into business with their friend, I get them to answer these questions. It’s not an exhaustive list, but I know that if many of the business partners who’ve had a rocky ride had answered these before they’d started, they probably would have done things differently.
1. Do we want the same things out of the business?
“Are we in this business for the same reasons?” is, to me, the biggest question. I think you need to get really honest about what you want/need the business to do for you in terms of money and what you are prepared to invest in terms of time. If there’s a bigger purpose to the business that you both believe in and are motivated by (helping people in some way), so much the better.
Being in business for the same reasons will help you get through the wobbly times when the business seems to be sucking your time without giving you enough in return. And it will help you navigate the tricky times, such as when you or your business partner starts or expands her family.
2. Do we have the similar values?
It’s often hard to articulate one’s values, but really it’s just about the way you do things and within that, what you hold as important.
A small example is time-keeping. Some people are obsessed about being on time to places, other people couldn’t give two hoots. If time keeping is important to you, it’s one of your values.
In a business sense, you and your potential business partner may have quite different values – you may be pernickety about quality while she just wants to get the job done and out of the door. These differences feel pretty minor to start off with, but they become increasingly irritating the more you work together. Not unlike, some may say, a marriage.
3. Do we have different but complementary skills?
There’s no point in going into business with someone who’s good at the same things as you, and lousy at the stuff you’re lousy at. You want to find someone who can do the bits you can’t.
If you’re a marketing/sales person you might want to join forces, for instance, with a numbers/operations type. Some of the best partnerships I’ve ever seen are where a quiet and studious technology geek joins up with a sociable marketing maven. As friends you wouldn’t put them together, but as business partners they are amazing.
4. Do we talk straight with one another?
Finally, can you tell your friend exactly what you’re thinking, without worrying about hurting her feelings?
Many of the business partnerships I know that failed did so because the partners couldn’t talk to each other about the less-than-pleasant stuff. Small things grew into big resentments because they weren’t discussed and knocked on the head early enough.
My last piece of advice would be this. If you’re keen to have a business partner, work out all the characteristics you would like that partner to have, then go looking for someone who’s got them. If that person turns out to be your friend, fabulous. If not, then in the long run you’ll be happier having kept the friendship and business separate.
This article first appeared on The Business Bakery blog.
Julia Bickerstaff advises small businesses through her consultancy The Business Bakery and is the author of How to Bake a Business.