Set boundaries, communicate and don’t play favorites – or office BFFs risk crossing frenemy lines.
Going into business with your friend can be the best – when it works.
Meg Delagrange and Regina Bauman grew up talking about working together, and a year ago they launched Urban Southern, where Bauman designs handcrafted leather bags that Delagrange markets and sells.
“It didn’t even feel like working at first,” Delagrange, 31, told Moneyish. “We were absolutely having a blast.”
They still have fun – but separating their personal and professional business is a work in progress. Delagrange confessed that they get competitive when one partner is in the spotlight over the other. Misunderstandings arise when each bestie assumes she knows what the other one wants.
“A certain amount of drama is to be expected,” she said, “but as long as you communicate and remember you’re on the same team, you can make it work.”
College bros Kevin Cole and John Court, who’ve been pals for almost 20 years, went from drinking buddies to buying The Dead Poet, an upper West Side bar, two years ago. They told Moneyish that it’s been “a dream come true,” so far.
“Doing something you’ve always wanted to do with your best friend is pretty great,” said Cole. Court agreed that, “He and I are never gonna bust chops over a sick day, or if anything comes up short notice. And he brings in homemade leftovers from his wife.”
But the secret to their successful partnership was pregaming before taking over the neighborhood pub. They’d worked together in the nightlife industry previously, and knew that their work ethics and five- and 10-year-plans aligned.
“We wrote down what we expected from each other, and we spent a couple of years arranging what we needed to do legally and financially,” said Cole. “And what it comes down to is no amount of money in the world is worth our friendship.”
They’re in good company. Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb, who’ve been hosting the “Today” show’s fourth hour for the past nine years, are also BFFs off the air. On Monday, Gifford even brought the American Cancer Society’s Mother of the Year luncheon crowd to tears with her touching tribute to Kotb.
But this doesn’t work for everyone. Take hilarious BFFs Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who have been a match made in heaven on “SNL,” hosting the “Golden Globes” and starring in the movie “Sisters.” They don’t team up more often – like doing a TV series together – because they know they’re only so compatible. “We’re actually both alphas,” Fey said at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. “So, it works in short spurts, but I don’t know if it would make a real dynasty.”
Research shows that working with friends is a mixed blessing – those who are friends with coworkers say they’re happier and more productive, but they also report feeling more distracted and emotionally exhausted. And when they do disagree, coworkers who were friends before working together suffer more negative outcomes than colleagues who weren’t friends before clocking in together.
“The things that attracted that person to you as a friend don’t necessarily translate over to a business partnership,” Marissa Levin, an entrepreneur and CEO of Successful Culture, told Moneyish. “It’s a completely different type of relationship, and you need to be honest with each other about whether you’re compatible.”
Before working with one of your friends, check out these nine tips to make sure that you pair up well professionally.
Take a hard look at each other’s qualifications. Would you still go into business together or work together if you weren’t friends? “It’s important to put your emotions aside and make a decision based on what’s best for your business or career, and not because you have a certain comfort level from being friends,” said Levin
Make sure you have complimentary skills. You don’t want to work with someone who’s exactly like you. “You want a balance of competencies, like someone who will build the operation and infrastructure to support your vision,” said Levin. At Laughing Glass Cocktails, cofounders and 20-year BFFs Carey Clahan and Sydney Rainin-Smith have divided the work so that one sells their ready-to-serve margaritas while the other handles PR. “We can share a closet, but we’ve got to stay out of each other’s panty drawer,” laughed Clahan. “You each need to stay in your own lane.”
Define each other’s roles and expectations. What do the best-case scenarios all have in common? There’s no confusion about who is supposed to do what. “Right up front, clearly define what you want to do, what you don’t want to do, and if there’s something neither one of you wants to do, then outsource it,” said Levin. And you need to ensure that your mission and core values are the same.
Don’t play favorites. Whether you’re business partners, peers, or one of you supervises the other, you must treat each other the same way you treat coworkers or employees you’re not close with. It also assures other colleagues that no one is getting special treatment. Cole calls out friends he’s hired to tend bar at the Poet as much as the hires he didn’t know previously. “It’s not personal, and I’m not a bad friend for firing you – you got fired for doing something stupid,” he said.
Set an exit strategy. “Partnerships go south,” warned Levin, who suggests having an attorney draw up a kind of “prenup” of who owns what stake in the company, and how you’ll dissolve the partnership. “You want to put all of that in place while things are calm and good.” The women of Urban Southern are grateful for the contract they drew up. “Sometimes we forget what those details are that we discussed early on, and being able to refer to that has saved us so many times,” added Delagrange.
Have a third-party adviser. When Cole and Court bought the Poet, they asked the previous owner to be their future “tie-breaker” in case the two of them ever come to a complete impasse. “We haven’t needed him yet, but it’s good to know that he’s there if we do,” said Court. Levin agreed you should have “someone completely objective, who doesn’t have any skin in the game, to lead you through a strategy session or break a deadlock.”
Respect each other’s worth. If you hire a friend to freelance for you, or you’re purchasing a product or service from them, don’t demand or expect a discount. They’ve gotta earn a living, too, and this could make them feel devalued or taken for granted. “Make sure you’re respecting the business part of your relationship, and you’re not short-changing them because you have a personal relationship,” Levin said.
Communicate constantly. Just because you’ve known each other a long time doesn’t mean your bud always just knows exactly what you want. And if you don’t clear the air, small conflicts can fester into breakup-worthy brawls. The Urban Southern women schedule weekly check-ins. “That has kept everything flowing by addressing the little annoyances we both do sometimes without realizing it,” said Delagrange. For example, “She told me that I was talking over her or interrupting her in my excitement sometimes, so I’ve learned to do that less.”
Stay friends off the clock, too. The ladies of Laughing Glass Cocktails take family vacations together a couple of times a year. “Vacationing keeps us fresh, engaged and enthusiastic about our work,” said Clahan. “Vacation time is about our friendship – we appreciate how lucky we are to get the chance to balance our work lives with our fun lives.”
© 2017 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved