Can our clients/customers be friends, and can our friends be our clients/customers?
We all know that our co-workers can be our best friends. But can our clients, customers, and employers be our friends? Can our friends also be our clients, customers, and employers? This is a touchy subject, one that I ask myself often when making moves towards a business relationship, or when considering moving a business relationship in the direction of friendship.
To spoil the fun, the short answer is yes. Our clients/customers, or employers, can be our friends.
Our friends can also become our clients, customers, or hell, even our employees.
I am friends with almost all of my clients. Even if we aren't quite drinking buddies, I can recall many scenarios in which I have been perfectly comfortable "being myself" with a client.
This is part of my personality. This is also a part of my business style and business ethics. I believe in vulnerability - as long as it's a two-way street.
You Push me, I Push you.
Friends of Virtue
A great friend of mine - Tyler Davis - Founder of Trainer Push - is also one of my clients. I provide him with web design, digital marketing, and consulting services.
Tyler, by trade, is a personal trainer. His startup connects professionals and travels with personal trainers. I have even been Tyler's client! He has helped me learn fitness techniques that I have taken and applied to my health and fitness.
We have both provided valuable assets to each other, as friends, and in business, even when it has just come to lending an ear to one and other about our challenges within our businesses. We have both paid for each other's services. And when it's time to party or just time to relax, the business takes a back seat. Sometimes it doesn't enter the picture at all.
Our work and our friendship is a two-way street. Even if we did not have work to provide each other - we would still be friends. We are friends of virtue.
Another very close friend - Author J.M. Jacob (Joy Willet) - has been my client for PR and marketing related to her book. Clear communication has allowed us to conquer our tasks effectively at the business table. Compartmentalizing our business away from our friendship has allowed us to maintain our status as "Friends of virtue," and practically family.
Where do we draw the lines?
Giving "deals" to friends can be a raw deal for everyone involved.
Where does this become a problem? Can people who are already our friends also be our clients? This can get tricky. There can be times in relationships where friendship can make the business at hand sentimental, and therefore more complicated.
A great example is a friend who maybe needs your services. Maybe he or she needs a website. Or maybe they need help with their logo. Someone with a lot of time on their hands or someone who does not think they are hurting for cash (these are not always the same) might think to do it for free. OR, in the same manner, they might think to do it for free for other reasons, they say, "Oh, well this person is a friend, I shouldn't accept money for my work... I shouldn't charge them."
I have told myself, "Oh... I can afford to do this thing without pay." This is a dangerous and slippery slope. It can stem from a lack of confidence, rather than from a desire to give.
Let me just say that I have never been so wealthy in my life that money was not something that I needed to consider. However, because I have been comfortable with my circumstances, I have told myself, "Oh... I can afford to do this thing... without pay." This is a dangerous and slippery slope. It can stem from weakness. It can stem from a lack of confidence, rather than a desire to give.
This is not the kind of vulnerability that I am talking about when I say that any great relationship requires vulnerability.
This can be self-deprecating and can devalue one's own time and skills. It can hurt us in the short-term and the long-term. The exception would be doing free work out of a place of compassion and a desire to gift. For instance, in the case of a person who TRULY needs our work, and TRULY cannot pay for it. Someone who will truly be at a loss without our gift of time. If we truly, out of the joy of the act of giving, just want to provide a service as a gift.
However, giving a gift to a friend of our service or product is not the same thing as doing free work because we do not want to charge on the basis of friendship. We might also think that we need to give "deals" to friends, or preferential treatment. This can be fine, as long as the friend does not take it for granted, or as long as we are not at a serious loss as a result.
For instance, if you can barely pay the bills, yet you give your friend a service for free, or give them a huge deal, you might think you're doing them a favor, but you could really be shooting yourself in the foot.
Artists, freelancers, and small business owners do this... constantly. I see it. All. The. Time.
Sadly, I have also done it far too often.
The other side of the coin - when we hire someone who is our friend - we can run into circumstances where they are not delivering. They are constantly late or they flat-out haven't delivered anything at all. I have been on both ends of this table.
When friends fail to deliver...
We've all been late in life.
Sadly, I have been late on many projects in the past. I have improved by leaps and bounds since I started my first freelance business, but this does not change the past. I have chalked this up to many problems in my life, from focus to time management, finances or even my "A.D.D." But none of those elements can truly be the cause. I am the cause. If there is a problem in my life, it is me. And as long as I own my own problems and take responsibility for my own lateness, I know that I can still get things done and make amends. I know that things will be alright.
Sometimes, when we don't charge our friends for work, our paying work takes a front seat, and we fail to deliver on time for our friends. Unfortunately, I am guilty of having done this in the past. It's far better to be upfront with a friend and charge them what is necessary to get the job done on time.
...It's far better to be upfront with a friend and charge them what is necessary to get the job done on time...
I've also had friends who have not delivered for me. I even paid them in advance, at times, and never received a result. We have to remember that these people are human. If we objectify them as "objects" that were supposed to work for us who "failed" and choose to see ourselves as "victims" of their deceit, then we are committing a grave mistake that overlooks the whole story. There is always more to the story.
Some people just don't deliver, and we need to choose to keep our friendship with these people completely separate from business.
Some people just don't deliver, and we need to choose to keep our friendship with these people completely separate from business. Or to sever business ties altogether. But that doesn't mean they can't be friends. Sometimes, the problems are less clear. Maybe a friend is working out past issues, and when business enters the picture, it is creating some kind of cognitive dissonance. Sometimes, people just disagree, and that disagreement can cause a wedge.
Fear of approaching friends with business.
There are times when I still feel uncomfortable approaching people that I see as friends about business propositions at times. Part of this is rooted in fear. The fear that I will lose a friend if the business relationship goes south. Out of fear that I will lose the friendship once the business begins. I often fear that the friend will think I was just after their business all along, and that I never really wanted their friendship at all, but that they'll think I just wanted to get inside their pockets.
...I'm afraid that they will no longer value my work for them. I'm afraid that they will no longer feel the need to pay me. Or worse, I'm afraid that I will show them too many of my personal flaws in a casual setting...
I also have clients that I'm afraid to become friends with. I'm afraid that they will no longer value my work for them. I'm afraid that they will no longer feel the need to pay me. Or worse, I'm afraid that I will show them too many of my personal flaws in a casual setting, and therefore, they will feel somehow "disillusioned" and want to hire somebody else.
These are all very real possibilities when we mix business and friendship. However, when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable in all of our relationships, not just in business, we can overcome these problems.
Fearlessness and Vulnerability.
The kind of vulnerability I am referring to does not come from weakness or lack of confidence, quite the opposite. The kind of vulnerability that I am talking about comes from a place of strength. It comes from fearlessness.
To be completely open. Allowing yourself to be free from these fears from a sense of knowing that no matter what happens, you will be okay with the result. As Plato suggested - a Friend of virtue is a person with whom our friendship is basically unconditional. We simply love and enjoy the company of this person, and have a bond with them that remains regardless of circumstances. Any relationship founded on principles of openness, honesty, and communication can share both directions if we choose - business and friendship.
So long as both parties value each other's time, do not take each other for granted, and openly communicate with one and other, there is no reason they can't succeed. When both parties are open to this way of thinking, magical things happen.
Friends can not only become clients but can become partners. They can become allies. You help them succeed and move forward, and they help you succeed and move forward. The power of each individual increases tenfold. There are no secrets. No fears of failure. Only two forces giving each other what they need to succeed. This is where business transcends dollar signs, and enters into the realm of true value - true exchange of benefit.
That which goes around comes around....The law of karma plays an essential role in all business transactions, as well as basic life transactions....
That which goes around comes around. The law of karma plays an essential role in all business transactions, as well as basic life transactions. From tipping your cashier to how you treat people in the office. When we accept this fact and take it into account in our daily lives, the art of work and play, business and friends, becomes very simple. Even if our clients aren't our friends, if we think, "How would we treat our friends?" with all of this in mind, we will never fail to build strong foundations with the people we work with - provided that it's a two way street.