Mixing business and friendship

Consulting tends to be a people business and people like to do business with people they know. Every so often, you may be approached to by a friend who has a great personality but makes a lousy business partner.

Many years ago, I fell ill and knew I wouldn’t be able to complete a project. My client knew one of my friends and asked if I’d feel comfortable with him finishing the project. I said I wasn’t sure he’d be a good candidate. But the client was desperate to have someone put the finishing touches on my project and couldn’t wait for me to recover (it was a major health issue).

Well, the friend – let’s call him Joe – had some experience and skills that were similar to mine. But that’s where it ended. Joe had absolutely dismal writing skills – and this was a writing project. The client asked me to mentor Joe, but I knew it was a lost cause. Joe really couldn’t write. My client soon realized their mistake in inviting Joe to work on the project. I ended up having to take over Joe’s work from my sick bed. I had to work like crazy to finish the project. And Joe was miffed that someone thought his writing skills needed work. His nose got out of joint and I don’t think he ever recovered. I learned my lesson – I never again worked on a project with someone who struck me as less than solid in their professional skills.

In the situation above, I was very ill and had a desperate client. Normally, I wouldn’t have partnered with someone like Joe. But I know other consultants who fall prey to social pressures over and over again. They end up taking on a partner because they want to preserve a friendship.

If you want to preserve a friendship, don’t do business with a shaky friend. What’s that saying? Don’t mix business and friendship? It’s bang on.
Should a friend ask you to work with them when you think it’s a bad idea, you can:

  • Say that you don’t like to mix business and friendship
  • Thank them for the compliment, but say it’s not a good fit right now.
  • Let them know the timing isn’t right – this leaves the door open for future work, since, down the road, they may have a better skill set or approach.
  • Point them to someone else who can help

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2 thoughts on “Mixing business and friendship”

  1. Great advice! I see this a lot because many folks are lured to the consulting world because they think being able to command $150+ and hour is unheard of in the corporate world. People start asking if you would hire them or sub contract to them. Like your experience, it rarely leads to something positive and only truly works if there is synergy between the two parties. e.g. if 1+1=4, it could work. But if 1+1=2, then forget about it. You are better off solo.

  2. I cannot agree more. Our friends are our friends and our business associates are our business associates. It’s a great idea to network to have those backup referrals.
    Don’t think a friend who likes doing what you do is a good replacement….ever.

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