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Business and Friendships: Keeping the Lines Divided


Can business and friendships happily co-exist? Certainly, if the lines are not crossed and respect is given from both sides. Much too often ill feelings can arise when friends attempt to do business with each other. One person crosses the line with their expectations of what they feel should be acceptable behavior because of their friendship with the business owner. I hear time and time again how this has happened to many business owners, especially women in business.

It can become a vicious cycle if you are not careful. What can happen is people become accustomed to the discounts or free offerings and when you put a stop to them, they can become bitter and distant. All of a sudden, in their eyes, you are not the wonderful, supportive, business owner you used to be. You are no longer the person who gives out discounts and “freebies”. Unfortunately, some people consider a business owner as being supportive only when they can benefit from that business. They look at how their business can grow from the special services and products offered to them at a discount or free. There are others who feel they deserve the special treatment because they are a family member, friend, or associate of the business owner.

I receive many emails and phone calls from women in business who don’t know what to do about their situation. They have family and friends taking advantage of their services or products they sell and feel defeated because their income is not what it needs to be. What started out as a one time favor has turned into an expectation from them.

Awhile back I witnessed a conversation where one person was complaining that she had approached a business about purchasing product from them at a discount, and the company said “no”. The business owner had responded in honesty and stated that she could not do that as she was trying to earn an income and build a business. This makes perfect sense. How can a business grow or create any sort of income if they are undercutting what they need to make? What I heard next from the individual who had approached the company for a discount surprised me even more. This person stated their frustration that they couldn’t receive a discount, then went on to say to their associates, “But I know that I could ask any of you for this and you would do it.” I thought this was such an unfair assumption and expectation to put on people.

Could your business survive if you gave away your product and services or if you gave everyone a discount? Not likely. Do not expect others to offer what you are not willing to offer yourself. And do not expect others to offer what you may already be offering. Each business is different. Each has different budgets, expenses and goals.

Ask yourself the following questions: Are you expecting special treatment and rewards? Do you put your friends on the spot to extend favors to you?

Do you judge other business owners by what you think they should be doing for you? Do you get angry when you don’t receive perks from your friends in business? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you need to step back and look closely at your motives and the way you conduct yourself in business.

When I resigned from my outside job to be a work at home mom, I needed to replace the income I was making. This was the understanding that I made with my husband, for our family. For almost the entire first year I found myself continually giving free services, time, and even product to people. I felt bad and even guilty every time I would hear of someone who didn’t have enough money or didn’t have the proper skills/software to do what they wanted in order to help their business grow. What ended up happening is that I felt I couldn’t say “no”, and because of this, I put my family’s finances at risk. This was unfair to myself, my family and my business. I have had to learn to say “no”, and have had to learn to draw that line between business and friendship. It is a struggle, and something that is still not fully resolved.

Am I saying that you should never help others by offering discounts and free services? No, definitely not. What I am saying is that you need to be careful and not fall into the trap of attempting to make everyone happy and of taking care of everyone else’s problems. If you run your business this way, you will run it right into the ground. Pick and choose what you can do for others.

Help others when you can – when you and your business can afford to. You will find both you and your business will run more smoothly when putting limits on your generosity.

Doing business with friends can work wonderfully and be beneficial if done properly. By setting up some guidelines and having candid conversations up front, you can have a business relationship with respect and understanding.

Guidelines to Follow:

1. When becoming a customer or client of a friend, don’t expect any special discounts or treatment. This is unfair to the business owner and directly affects their livelihood. If you each want to extend a discount or other perks to each other, be open and up front about whether it is feasible. Remember, if your friend gave a discount to every friend/associate they had, they wouldn’t be able to make the income they need. You are not the one to judge what another person needs to earn or should be earning.

2. Pay your bills on time. Do not treat your friend’s business any different than other companies you deal with. Put yourself in their position. What if all of your customers/clients did not pay you when their bills are due? Paying on time not only shows respect but is the right thing to do.

3. Don’t take “no” personally. If your friend cannot offer you a free or discounted service, respect that. She/he is attempting to run a business and not only has their business expenses to pay, but an income to earn. It has nothing to do with the type of person they are. Do not judge someone by what you can receive for free from them. You do not know what their situation is or all the free services/products that they already provide to others.

4. Do not over-extend yourself. Many times people allow themselves to be taken advantage of out of guilt. They feel they need to help and offer their services for free or at a discount to everyone. Unfortunately, some friends, family members or acquaintances will try to make an individual feel guilty.

You know what you can and cannot do in the area of helping others. Do not put yourself in a bind so that your business or family suffers – financially or time wise. This is unfair to your family. You cannot be everything to everybody. Be true to yourself, your values and your needs. This does not mean you are being selfish. It means you are being realistic and will help where and when you can.

Cyndi Webb is the Founder and President of Moms Network – an organization dedicated to the promotion and success of Moms in business. Since 1997 she has promoted and worked with thousands of work at home moms in coaching and guiding them in how to help grow their businesses. Over the years Moms Network has evolved to include more than 20 websites offering free resources to moms from all walks of life, the Connecting @ Home print magazine and the annual Celebrating Moms Expo which attracts thousands of moms in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Cyndi makes her home in Minnesota with her husband and two children.


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One Response to “Business and Friendships: Keeping the Lines Divided”

  1. It’s amazing to me how some family members feel entitled to discounts and free services, and when you can no longer give them they become belligerent when you don’t do as you have always done. I think it shows greed especially when they try to put you on a guilt trip for it. I’m a mom with my own business from home and I’ve recently experienced what your discussion is about regarding a family member.

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