by Rachel Smith
29 March 2019
One subject that always divides people – probably in most industries – is whether or not you should work with friends. This could be on a minor, one-off-story-commission level, or an all-in, lets-start-a-business-together level. Some will be dead against both. Others will say that mixing friends with business is the main way they have gotten ahead.
I’m in the latter camp, obviously. I started freelancing knowing literally a handful of people. Not even a handful. And I didn’t know any of them well enough to lob up to their house with a bottle of wine and moan about an editor who was annoying me.
But that changed. I made friends. I started Rachel’s List. I went out for pizza and dumplings and lots of wine with Listers. I made more friends. I did more in-house jobs and picked up more freelance gigs. And I met more people along the way. And so many of those people are my very good friends today.
When it comes to business, did I get a little help from my friends? Absofuckinglutely.
So many of my friends have given me work over the years, passed on contacts, introduced me to editors or clients, recommended me to digital agencies, sung my praises at networking events. Being reliable and filing decent copy is important, of course, but you can’t deny that friendship connections contribute a great deal to the whole ‘being in the right place at the right time’ kind of success. Similarly, I’ll do whatever I can to help my friends out whenever I can.
But mixing friends with business in regards to going INTO business with a friend – that’s next level.
I’ve experienced that too, obviously. Regular readers will know that Leo and I have been in kahoots for many years running Rachel’s List – and good friends for decades overall. Once upon a time she was my editor – and now, we squabble over the RL editorial calendar and negotiate our time in chunks: “I’ll write the AUW if you can slam together a great Friday post on what’s happening in XYZ” or “Hey, it’s me! I have 10 minutes to discuss that thing… What, Charlie is vomiting? Crap, let’s reconvene tomorrow over a vino when you’re not knee-deep in washing sheets”.
That’s pretty much how it goes. In between wrangling 4 kids between us (three on her side, one on mine – some days we’re not sure which one of us is luckier), freelancing for both our own businesses, and running Rachel’s List, we chat. We plan. We giggle. We commiserate. We talk each other off ledges. We recognise when the other one is in a mood and go softly-softly. We try to be completely flexible and empathic and recognise the other person has a life beyond the business (which stops us being irritated when one of us answers the phone saying, “Can’t talk Ted’s just about to jump off the…” and hangs up).
Of course, with the good stuff comes the bad. Do we argue? Oh boy, do we ever.
I’d be the first to admit it’s not easy running a business with a friend. In fact, it’s downright bloody hard – especially when you don’t live in the same State and seeing one another in the flesh involves military precision, meticulously-planned childcare and a plane ride. Mixing friends with business will put your friendship to the test, over and over. You’ll want to have skills that complement one another. You’ll want to both be passionate and persistent about making the business work, even during the slow times. You’ll want to feel like you each have each other’s back.
For Leo and me, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns, but somehow, we cobble together our time in such a way that it works and we try to be compassionate and kind to one another in the hard times, which is when it counts. We’re also pretty proud (most days) of the business we’ve built and are building, and I would say it’s only been a positive thing for our friendship overall.
Do you work with friends? Have you started a business with a friend? Did it work out or all go horribly wrong? We’d love to hear your story in the comments!