I can’t tell you how many times I have had well-meaning people tell me that you cannot do business with friends. They won’t support you, they will expect discounts, they will expect free access, they won’t share their contacts, and some even say that friends can turn into “haters.” (In the case of the haters, I recommend evaluating that friendship as a whole and possibly removing that person from your roster…but that’s another post for another blog.)
It’s a recurring theme among various groups of people in various industries. I don’t hear it from everyone, but I’ve heard it often enough—and I’ve found that there are actually many benefits to doing business with your friends and personal acquaintances. In fact, immediately discounting those people as resources for business, referrals, emotional support, cheerleaders or even as clients puts you, as a small business owner, at a disadvantage. Like any healthy relationship, a friendship has to be mutually beneficial—there is honestly no point in having people in your life who don’t edify you in some way. If you get caught up on the idea that this sounds like “using” people, you’ll miss the point. Take a piece of paper, a notebook, a tablet, a blank electronic document—and think about your FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS. No, no, no…not THOSE kind of benefits…stay focused. Another way to put it would be to take a look at the top 5-10 people you communicate with most often, and think about the BENEFITS OF THOSE FRIENDSHIPS.
Who are your…FRIENDS WITH TALENT?
Whether you offer plumbing services, or run a digital marketing agency—who are your friends who can bring their TALENTS to help you grow your biz? For example, I have a friend who runs a lawn service—I use my artistic gifts to design and write Christmas cards for his customers. I also have a friend who is an amazing photographer, she takes pictures for me during events. We each make sure we get paid for our talents, we each make sure we provide quality examples of our talents. My friend doesn’t take crappy photos because I’m her friend, and I don’t design ugly or boring Christmas cards just because he is my friend.
Think about your friend who is a painter, a dancer, a scientist, a math wiz, do not discount these friends from the Talent category simply because they are in a different industry. Think about the ways in which their gifts can help you enhance your services. It is important to note that you must be respectful of your friend’s talent, and time, if you can avoid it do not ask your friend to supply you with free help. If you have a small budget for a particular project, communicate this openly and honestly with your talented friend. Work to figure out a way that you can make the process work to her/his benefit as well.
Who are your…FRIENDS WITH CONNECTIONS?
Raise your hand if you don’t think you’ll ever benefit from having an inside connection within your industry…I’m pretty sure no one reading this raised a hand. If you did, please share your totally independent secret sauce with the world, because I don’t know any successful person who has made it to the top on their own. With that being said, think about your friends who are players in the space you want to be in, or who are just really good at networking.
There are some people for whom networking is a hobby, a sport—they truly enjoy the thrill of meeting new people and figuring out ways to build mutually beneficial partnerships. People like this are always good to have around. If you find you have a friend that hoards connections, call them out on it—and find out the reason for the lack of help. It could be that friend doesn’t think you are reliable, it could be that friend doesn’t believe in your business model, or it could be that the friend is someone who has bought into a mentality of scarcity. In the case of the friend who operates from a place of scarcity, be mindful that this friend may never be a good resource for contacts no matter how well connected he or she may be. Perhaps this friend can be a good person to list under talent, knowledge, or experience. A friend who won’t share contacts is likely not someone who would land on your compassion list.
Who are your…FRIENDS WITH KNOWLEDGE?
In a world where people are openly successfully dropping out of undergraduate and graduate programs, and then go on to become wildly successful through other means of training—sometimes the benefits of academia can be lost. If you have a friend(s), who went to school to specifically learn about something that is relevant to your business—do not be afraid to reach out to that friend. This person can be a walking, breathing textbook for you! While you may have gained the practical applied experience, this person has studied the stuff, and most importantly understands how to study the stuff. This friend can be an invaluable resource when it comes to absorbing not only the history of your industry, but how to predict the trends as well. The best kind of friend with the benefit of KNOWLEDGE, is one who has not only studied, but also has the applied experience. This person is constantly keeping up and will be sure you keep up too!
Who are your…FRIENDS WITH EXPERIENCE?
A friend with knowledge and a friend with experience are two different friends, while they can be the same friend, as you make your list, it will be best that you put that friend in one category or the other. The friend with experience is the person who has the ability to help you with an aspect of your business because they’ve DONE THE WORK! This friend may have had their own business in your same industry for over ten years—why wouldn’t you learn from that person? This friend may be a C-Suite Exec, with more than two decades of experience doing something that can directly benefit your small business—RUN YOUR IDEAS PAST THIS PERSON. A person with experience will come with the beautiful battle scars of failure, the keen insight of success and the ability to help you predict what to try and what not to try. This person can save you from many potential mistakes, and help you get ahead much quicker. This friend won’t be afraid to tell you how to avoid the mistakes they’ve made, because they want to see you succeed.
“A wise man learns from the mistakes of others.”
Who are your…FRIENDS WITH COMPASSION?
So, maybe you have a close friend who doesn’t really fall into any of the above categories, but you know this person (or people) are super important to you. If you smile when you think of this person, if you have great memories and always feel better just for having been around this person—this is likely a person who is a big fan of yours. Everyone in the above categories will more than likely be a fan, but not everyone can dust your shoulders off after a rough week and make sure you live to fight another day. Think about that friend who sincerely thinks your ideas are amazing, that friend who supports your audacious proclamations of success. That person that not only makes you feel like you can do anything, but really believes it for you. These people operate from a place of belief in YOUR talent, connections, knowledge, and experience—and will be sure to help you through the patches of self-doubt. Some days, the friend(s) in this category will believe in you more than you believe in yourself. On occasion, you need that person to remind you of why you’re so awesome and why you started your business in the first place. Friends in this category are just as invaluable as all the others.
These friends are like your HEART from Captain Planet (if you’re too young to remember The Cap…find the show and watch it!). At first glance, Heart seemed kind of weak if you didn’t understand what the Planeteers were truly all about. There was one episode where Heart leaves the group, and the Planeteers call the Cap, and he’s awful, there’s the WATER, FIRE, WIND, and EARTH all kickin ass and takin names…but there’s no love. Without Heart, the Planeteers forgot what they were fighting for…see the connection? You can have talented, connected, knowledgeable and experienced people in your circle, but without someone checking in on your emotional and mental state, those things can begin to seem meaningless if you lose your way. The friends on your COMPASSION list don’t just cheer you on, do not confuse them with a person who is suppose to agree with everything you say—that’s not compassion. Friends in this category are sincere and their belief in you is proverbial wind beneath your wings. Keep them close.
As you make this list of friends, think about putting together an Advisory Council for your biz if you don’t have one already. This is not a Board of Directors, but a group of people who will ensure that you are steering your business in the right direction, with the right connections and making the right choices. Also, think about which category you fall into for those on your list. Remember, it is important that these relationships are MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL.