Mixing friends with business: yes, no, maybe?

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.

great idea mixing friends with business

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.

Who you know counts for a lot

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).

Starting a side hustle with a friend can be amazing and bloody hard

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!

Rachel Smith

2 responses on "Mixing friends with business: yes, no, maybe?"

  1. Jane says:

    I’ve just found out the hard way that it’s not a good idea to work for a friend.
    Friends have passed on work, recommended me and I’ve worked alongside them (with a boss in common) which has all been fine (for years) but for the first time recently I took on a commission for a friend editing their book.
    They were very vocal about it not being a favour, they’d pay me my going rate, it was a professional service etc etc BEFORE I started the job but since finishing it, there hasn’t been so much as a whisper of payment.
    I put a fair few professional hours into the job on the, albeit verbal, understanding I’d be paid for it, and I’d offered mates rates, but nothing. I’ve dropped hints, even offered further help thinking it might be a reminder nudge, but to no avail.
    While it hasn’t soured the friendship irrevocably, it’s definitely taught me a lesson – work WITH friends, not FOR friends.

  2. Rachel says:

    Oh gawd Jane – that sounds like a very tricky situation. Have you actually invoiced, or were you sort of waiting for the go-ahead? Have you decided to drop it? If not I would be very direct with your friend especially if there was a verbal agreement of payment.

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