One of the best decisions I’ve made in my life was to start a business with my best friend.
Many people will warn you about the danger of starting a company with a friend---what happens if the business AND your friendship implode?
While the stakes do feel higher when you start a venture with friend, I’ve found that it can make the journey of entrepreneurship a lot more rewarding and enjoyable. (And I freely admit that I’m biased because my experience has been so great.)
I’ve been friends with Julia for over 15 years, and we’ve been business partners for nearly six. We’ve had our fair share of challenges and successes, so we’re sharing our tips with you on how we made it work.
Tip #1 Build on a Foundation of Strength
If you’re already friends, you already have a good thing going! That means fewer surprises along the way. You likely already know your friend’s strengths and weaknesses. And, as someone once told us:
“How you do anything is how you do everything.”
For that reason, you can expect a friend to show up in business the same way they show up in your friendship.
In my case, I’ve known I could count on Julia for anything since we were 13. I knew how dedicated she was to doing a great job with anything she took on, and how motivated she was to have a positive impact in the world.
Part of why I was so excited to start a company with her was that I knew she would bring all of these qualities to our business---and she has, above and beyond.
Are there any qualities you’ve observed that are tolerable in friendship but wouldn’t fly in business?
The following characteristics can be especially damaging in a business partnership (and let’s be real, they aren’t always the best in friendship either):
- Bad judgment/decision making
- Financially irresponsible
- Drama-seeking (stirring the pot)
Tip #2 Have the Tough Conversations
In the early years of our business, we were in a strategy meeting with our two coaches when we realized we weren’t very skilled at giving feedback to each other.
We’re both very non-confrontational, so we’d tend to get passive-aggressive instead of sharing our feelings with each other honestly. (There wasn’t a lot of this going on, but there were definitely things that we needed to address.)
We literally had to practice saying hard things to each other.
Over time, we got more comfortable discussing our differences of opinion. And we take it really seriously when the other one brings something up. Our motto is, “If it matters to her, it matters to me.”
It’s also important to understand that bringing up your concerns doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get your way. But bringing it up will help eliminate underlying disharmony.
Are you open to having difficult conversations with your friend?
Are you willing to hear difficult feedback about your style?
Are you willing to change to create a better working environment for your partner so she can do her best?
Tip #3 Set Aside Time for the Friendship
Hopefully you like hanging out together, because starting a business means you’ll get to spend a WHOLE LOT MORE time with each other!
Nothing is as great as working with people you love spending time with. But work time doesn’t equal friend time.
Occasionally Julia and I will realize that even though we talk at least once a day, we often still need to plan social phone calls or lunches with each other to catch up on our relationships, family life and all that best-friend stuff.
When’s the last time we talked about something other than work?
Tip #4 Plan for Disagreements
Starting a business is a very intense experience and requires a lot of hard work. Before you get in too deep, it’s important to discuss how you plan to handle disagreements over the business down the road.
We agreed early on that we would put our friendship first. Specifically, that means we’d support what was best for each other, even if it came into conflict with what we thought was right for the business.
How will we handle disagreements over the business?
What will we do if the business ultimately fails?
How will we handle it if someone’s priorities change?
Tip #5 Don’t Keep Score
Picture this: You’re in a really important meeting and your partner says something brilliant. Your potential customer lights up! But the amazing comment she just made was originally YOUR idea.
How do you feel?
Julia and I decided it doesn’t matter who gets “credit.” As long as a brilliant comment is made---no matter who says it---we’re just happy that one of us gets the point across.
We also don’t feel pressure to one-up each other. If we go into a meeting and I don’t say a single brilliant thing, but she’s persuasive and elegant and gracious, I don’t walk away feeling like I lacked anything. I walk away feeling like we won.
Basically, we release personal ownership of our ideas and successes. They’re OUR ideas. OUR successes.
Honestly, we couldn’t have done this without each other. Even if I meet and bring in a new client, I never really did that myself.
We built this together.
The reverse is also true. There’s no personal blame when something goes wrong. There’s no pointing fingers. We, as a collective, have this situation to deal with---no blame, no shame, no judgment.
Am I willing to share the success?
Could I have gotten here alone?
Do I feel like I have to compete with my friend (or vice-versa)?
How will we handle it when someone makes a mistake?
Going into business with your friend can be challenging. Don’t jump into it because you think it’ll be fun or easier with a friend. But if you both care about and believe in your vision---and you ask the important questions up front---it can also be extremely rewarding and fulfilling. For us, the pros outweigh the cons.
Julia Torgovitskaya and Jennifer Rosenfeld are co-founders of iCadenza, which provides career development coaching to musicians and performing artists of all career stages, and Cadenza Artists, an artist management company and talent agency representing over 75 music, dance, and multidisciplinary projects in a wide variety of genres. Get their free guide: 10 Secrets to Positive Self-Promotion.