From a very young age I’ve gotten involved with many of my friends; professionally.
Working alongside them. I’ve been a part of startup magazines, small newspapers, spearheaded marketing campaigns for non-profits, sat on the board of directors of professional trade organizations, launched a podcast, hosted events and even hired many of them to work with and for me at my own company.
It makes sense that we want to have the company of those we enjoy. And for the ever-working and endlessly-passionate solopreneur, those friendships we have often include professional ties as well.
Yet when we mix together those separate tracks, sometimes boundaries become upset and what really matters gets lost in the shuffle.
I can think back to as early as middle school, seventh grade, when myself and my best friend at the time started a comic strip together for the school newspaper. After a series of what I will call “artistic differences” we ended not only the working relationship together; but our friendship as well. Out of spite I took over the comic strip by myself having really no artistic abilities to draw; fortunately the name of the comic was “The Adventures of Stickman” and I was able to get away with it for a few months.
In high school my friends and I started a rockband called “The Press Gang” – the name stemming from the fact that we were all taking HS newspaper together, and because there was a song from a band with the same name that we sang together on a near daily basis for 5 months. We fully believed that we would be wildly financially successful with this venture simply from the logic that we were:
2) had access to adult beverages which made us sound better (to our ears)
3) had nothing better to do after school let out
As “sound” as the logic was (yes I just used that pun), our drummer quit the band before our first practice and then we kicked the guitar player out of the band because he was far too talented compared to the rest of us. After a few sessions with just a bass guitar (and no clue how to use it), a cowbell (yes we found one), and a microphone we called it quits and decided to start a new club together – the James Bond Movie Marathon club.
In college that trend of working alongside close friends and colleagues did not cease. Only now the consequences for the decisions that were made held longer-lasting and more severe impacts. What transpired was a lot of mistakes of false pride and ego which resulted in lost friendships and burned bridges.
Although these stories occurred a lifetime ago; I’ve had to learn a great deal since then about maintaining friendships with those we chose to include in our professional lives.
This year alone I’ve had more than 90% of my projects include those that are closest to me in my life. In my life I’ve lost more than enough friendships (and even relationships) over work and I’ve seen it happen to countless numbers of others when they chose to work within their circle of connections.
However, balance between the two is obtainable – but requires a few certain efforts – some of which can be uncomfortable. All of which are crucial.
The first thing that must be done is to state very bluntly the expectations each person has. Not only what you are looking for (in detail), but what their goals and wants are for getting involved. There are times I’ve gone as far as to include this into a contract, and although I don’t necessarily advocate going that far, it is extremely important that the terms of the working relationship be discussed openly and candidly. There are two benefits of this. The first is that you are able to clearly define what it is that you are trying to achieve with your venture and what you feel can be accomplished with their input and addition. Secondly, you are able to get a holistic view of their intrinsic and extrinsic motivators for wanting to be involved so you can better manage what the day-to-day working operations look like.
The second thing is to check in often on everyone’s satisfaction and commitment. One of the worst mistakes we can make is to assume their either people are fully content or the opposite – that they are fully disengaged and make decisions without having those conversations before hand. We avoid this by discussing with our business partner or with the team not just how we feel things are going, but we ask for input on how they feel things are flowing and what they like or what to see changed. Don’t treat all working relationships as static and set-in-stone documents. The terms and order for how things are done can be modified in a dynamic way.
Thirdly, it is important to step away from work and enjoy time with our friends as just friends. This is something I am extraordinarily guilty of regularly (as those who work with me can fully attest to). But it is also something I am completely aware of and am attempting to make changes to better. Friendships are not made because a great working relationship can be forged from it at some point in the future. However great working relationships can be developed from friendships. The direction is one-way and as such it is important to invest time into the original friendship. Take time with your friends that does not involve work. Doesn’t matter what that time investment is – as long as it is genuine.
When we engulf ourselves into our work we often take others along for the journey. And although a business venture can often continue despite turbulence – paying the full price of lost connections and severed friendships along the way does not equate to happiness nor success.