Mixing Business and Friends

A friend of mine opened a small business.  When he was planning it, he called to ask about IT support and service, as well as purchasing hardware.  I gave him a proposal including hardware leasing, but we came to the joint conclusion that it was best for him to purchase the equipment.

Now we’re left with providing ongoing service.  This is a much tougher dilemma than I thought it would be. 

  • He is in Austin and we are in Houston.  That makes it tough to perform any support that requires being on site.
  • I have a really hard time sending a monthly invoice to a good friend.
  • Do I prioritize his needs so I can maintain my friendship with him?  This would probably irritate my employees, who have a triage system that works for us.  It would be upset whenever I call and say “drop everything and help my friend.”
  • Do I make my friend go through our regular process – call our support line, send a support email – or can he call me directly?

Having this business/personal relationship actually makes me think everytime I answer a phone call from him “Is he calling me to catch up, or to report a support issue?”  I think I am going to try to find him another support provider in the Austin area.  Thoughts?


6 Responses to “Mixing Business and Friends”

  1. 1 Dave Richards February 26, 2008 at 5:44 am

    I’ve done tons of business with friends over the years. I lost a good friend over a transaction early on in a career. I felt so bad due to this that I came up with a policy that has worked beautifully ever since that incident. What I always tell my friends, at proposal stage and during the transaction is, “Our friendship is more important than any one deal. If you’re not happy at any time, we drop the deal, the money gets refunded, etc. I’m telling you right now that the friendship is more important than this deal, transaction, contract. If you are unhappy at any point, we can sign off on the deal, and I will hold absolutely no grudge and you will be my still be my friend”. Or something like that. It takes all the pressure out and they know exactly where I stand. And I mean it. By the same token, if THEY make ME feel uncomfortable, ask for some ridiculous discount, etc. I say, right away, “I can’t make this work. I’ll give you some names of people I know that are good at this business”. We’re still friends and I hold zero grudge”.

  2. 2 asblumberg February 26, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    Thanks for the advice, Dave. I’ll try that approach, because I know I’ll have other friends that will ask for our services.

  3. 3 TrueLightTracey February 27, 2008 at 2:27 am

    I love doing business with friends. Matter of fact most of my clients end up being friends. Not all certainly! The key for me is to be honest. We never promise something we cant deliver. Integrity is key. Owning my own business allow me to have fun doing what I love. Doing it with my friends seems basic to me. I mean why not really?!

  4. 4 Misty Khan February 27, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    Love Dave Richards response – great advice. I think you absolutely have to keep your friends as part of your regular system – especially if it works really well. After all, as TrueLightTracey points out, many of your clients may end up becoming your friends – especially if you take good care of them.

    As you know I am a huge advocate of standard business processes – if you start thwarting that system (without a formal Gold/Silver/Bronze service type program in place) your services for everyone will decline.

    Good luck with this issue – I know it is a hard one!

  5. 5 therockson February 27, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    Dave, I had a simialr experince with selling real estate. One of my best friends in the world (we were even arrested together once) was buying a house, and using me as his realtor. Becuase of the friendship, I was doing things I did not normally do, and felt really bad when I had to deilver bad news. When it came down to brass tax, I asked them to fire me. I did not want to loose the friendship.

    Because of this situation, I now refer family and friends to an agent I trust to work with them. I still am involved with helping my friends, recieve a commision, and can step in when need be. It has worked out well.

    Dont know if that is a viable option for you!

    Hang in there!

  6. 6 Steve Markowski February 27, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    Help your friend through the dark night of start-up,
    find him a dynamite provider for ongoing service,
    send him a no-charge invoice so he knows this a business
    and be friends forever.

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