The Advantages Of Running a Business With A Loved One
If you're thinking of going into business with a friend or intimate partner, you may have been dwelling on the potential pitfalls. But what about the positives? Are there any? Is it ever a good idea to mix your personal and professional life?
I met my girlfriend - or 'fiancée', as she likes to remind me - at work in 2015. Rach and I were on the same team at a digital marketing company, where we enjoyed three or four successful years before leaving to go travelling through Europe in a self-converted camper-van. Eventually, after a couple of years of travel, we suddenly remembered that we enjoy showering, and made our way home. Upon our return, we began working together again, this time as co-owners of a creative design agency called PolyWood Studios.
Popular wisdom has it that working with close friends or loved ones is a bad idea. I would’ve been inclined to agree with that back in 2014, after a business venture with close friends ended unsuccessfully after just a few years. However, in the two years since Rach and I registered PolyWood Studios as a Partnership with Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs - sorry, His Majesty's Revenue & Customs - I have come to realise with more experience that there are many advantages to working with 'real life' friends or partners. You just need to understand how to exploit them.
I've outlined four of these advantages below, in the hope that it will help anyone thinking of taking this particular plunge. The following applies to working with loved ones of any kind, be it intimate, platonic, fraternal, sororal or otherwise. And now, as much as I'd love to keep impressing you with my vocabulary, we must get to the point(s)...
1. You can use your deeper understanding of the person to avoid unnecessary tensions
All teams are made up of different personalities and it can sometimes be difficult for every member of a team to get on. This is almost always due to a lack of proper understanding and trust between the warring personalities. There is no such issue when your team is made up of close associates. Rach, for example, has a good chance of knowing on any given day whether my ranting is born of a genuine problem with the way a piece of work is going, or if it's something more serious… like hunger pangs. It's much easier, therefore, for her to make an informed assessment as to the best way to deal with her lovely colleague.
2. Spontaneity and freedom breed the best ideas
A big cliché around this subject is the idea that it's vitally important to be able to switch off at the end of a working day. And granted, if you work at an abattoir or in sewerage then you probably are well advised not to take your work home with you. But, with most areas of business, a huge advantage of working with friends or partners is that you can relay a good idea or new concept as soon as it comes to you, whether you're out playing pool, in bed, or sitting on the sofa watching TV. Who cares if you're slap bang in the middle of a great episode? Actually, that can be annoying - make sure you pause the TV.
It can be hugely beneficial to be able to think about work together in non-work settings. Simply being in a different environment can really serve to free the mind, similar to how a painter needs to occasionally stand back from a painting to see it with fresh eyes. What's more, the really great ideas are often arrived at through a shared dialogue, where each person expands upon the other’s thoughts (or edits their rants). It is the stuff great work meetings are made of. If you work with people you frequently socialise with, you’ll find that great work meetings can happen any time, any place.
3. Honesty means efficiency
The kind of honesty you share with a friend can be like a superpower in a business context. If you use it right, you are giving yourselves a head start on your competition. For example, think of all the time a truly honest relationship can save in a creative collaboration; if one of you doesn't like something about a presentation the other has put together, for example, a close and healthy relationship should hopefully allow you to cut straight to it. None of the pretence, beating around the bush, or second guessing that normal working relationships are often beset by. It might not seem massively significant, but lots of small gains like this will soon add up, and before you know it your operation will be running like a slick and streamlined paragon of efficiency.
4. It’s easier to make values-based decisions
What is the greatest foundation on which you can build a business with another person? No, it’s not concrete, although that is a good answer. It’s shared values. By definition, friends and loved ones tend to have shared values and morals, which should stand them in good stead when working together. You’re far more likely to agree on all those big, fundamental, fork-in-the-road business decisions if you’re making them with someone close.
And there I rest my case. (See Rach? I can rest them.) To anyone reading this who is feeling a little uncomfortable at the prospect of joining a friend or loved one in business, I sincerely hope the above helps to put your mind at ease. In my opinion, the world needs more tight-knit enterprises. Afterall, a business that is made up of people who deeply care for each other in and out of work can only be a good thing, can’t it?
Originally written for Sophisticated Cloud in October '22.