So Happy Together: How to Work With Your Friends (And Stay Friends)

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Apple. Microsoft. Twitter. Hewlett-Packard. These aren’t just some of the biggest names in tech, they are also examples of successful businesses that were founded (and grown) by close friends.

Of course, not every business dreamed up by friends survives, and working with your pals isn’t always a walk in the park (though Steve Wozniak, who founded Apple with friend Steve Jobs might disagree; he’s said that the pair “never, ever had a face-to-face fight or argument”).

If you’re thinking about starting a business with a friend, you’ll want to give the matter some serious consideration before saying “I do”–after all, many experts have likened the relationship to a marriage. And if you’re already sharing a cubicle wall with your BFF, there are steps you can take to preserve your friendship and get the job done at the same time.

Advantages of Working With Friends

For many people, working with friends seems like an ideal situation. After all, you are friends because you enjoy each other’s company, and why wouldn’t you want to spend your working hours with a person (or people) you actually like?

Pamela Skaist-Levy, who co-founded the fashion label Juicy Couture with her best friend Gela Nash-Taylor, has said, “You spend more time with a business partner than almost anyone… When you’re together, the highs are even higher and the lows don’t seem so bad.”

And outside of shared successes and having someone to lean on, there are many other good reasons to go into business with a friend. For one, there shouldn’t be any surprises; you already know the person, you trust them (hopefully), and you feel comfortable communicating openly as you begin to define roles, set expectations, and plan for handling difficult situations.

Additionally, working with friends can be good for business. In a blog post for the Harvard Business Review, professor Christine M. Riordan wrote:

“Camaraderie is more than just having fun…It is also about creating a common sense of purpose and the mentality that we are in-it together. Studies have shown that soldiers form strong bonds during missions in part because they believe in the purpose of the mission, rely on each other, and share the good and the bad as a team. In short, camaraderie promotes a group loyalty that results in a shared commitment to and discipline toward the work.”

Disadvantages of Working With Friends

Working with a friend can also have its pitfalls. In some cases, your chummy relationship may set the stage for one friend to put in less work, show up late, or goof off, and assume that all will be forgiven because you’re friends, right?

Furthermore, disagreements at work–whether they are about unbalanced responsibilities, differences in work/management styles, or financial struggles–can wreak havoc on a friendship, and even end it.

Before going into business with a friend, you should not only be honest with yourself about their potential to be a good and reliable business partner, you should also be prepared for the real possibility that your relationship could suffer.

Tips for Working With Friends

Outside of choosing a partner wisely, there are steps you can take when working with a friend to ensure that both your personal relationship and professional relationship remain in tact:

1. Have a Partnership Agreement

A partnership agreement is a contract between partners that should be created with the help of a lawyer and an accountant, according to the Wall Street Journal. A partnership agreement generally addresses compensation, roles and responsibilities, and exit clauses, and includes an outline of who owns what and who has invested what. While it might feel like asking your friend to sign a prenup, a partnership agreement is absolutely necessary.

2. Have an Advisor

Inevitably, you and your friend will disagree from time to time. This is where an advisor can come in handy. Your advisor should be an expert in your field, and someone that both you and your partner trust and have agreed to consult when times get tough.

3. Set Boundaries

When you work with friends, it can be easy for the line between work and life to become blurred. However, for your well-being, the well-being of your friendship, and the well-being of your business, you should set boundaries. For example, maybe you and your friend agree not to discuss business when you’re in social situations, or perhaps you agree that one day a week, you’ll both work from home to avoid best friend burnout.

It’s definitely possible to run a successful business with a friend–the proof is in the Apple pudding–but it requires a cautious, honest, and studied approach. Good luck out there, friendtrepreneurs!

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