Business relationships

Friends as clients. Does it work?

- February 18, 2017 3 MIN READ

We all entered business life with the same standard warnings:

  • Don’t expect to get paid holidays ever again;
  • Cash flow will always be a problem because bills are never paid on time; and,
  • Whatever you do, never have friends as clients.

I’ve stared all these warnings in the face and asked what makes them think they are so true.

Then I‘ve challenged them.

The one that has been the most rewarding to prove wrong? ‘Never work with friends.’

It’s a great source of happiness to me to be able to professionally support people I both love and admire – my friends.

I began work with one of my dearest and oldest friends four years ago. We’d circled each other for years, wondering if and when the moment would come. It finally arrived and we were both excited. I’d be her publicist at last, and her amazing life and business story would be told to the media. It felt more like an honour than a job.

We worked together continuously for the next three years. Sometimes we had raging success – the media loved her story and we experienced the highs. Other times we heard silence as a pitch failed to launch. We both understood this as part of business. There have been no regrets and much to celebrate.

I’ve had at least one close friend as a client ever since. Right now I’m working with three friends.

Your friends have good reason to work with you and there are positives for you both:

  • They’ve heard you talk about all the highs and lows – unfiltered. You’ve shared your successes, failures and problems with them over the years. They know the best and worst and they still want to work with you.
  • They know you can deliver.
  • Their trust is deep, and you know them very well. This means you can be brave together. Friends trust you to go that extra step. You can push them to do the same. Together you might discover something wonderful and new.
  • Delivering a great result to a friend feels fantastic. Who doesn’t want to help someone they love?
  • You get to hang out even more with people you adore.

There are also important rules when having friends as clients:

  • Be extremely clear about the work being done, goals and the solution applied. This is the same for all clients. Do the paperwork right. Know roles and responsibilities.
  • Charge properly. Whatever you’re worth in the market, you will be worth at least that to your friend. Once you start discounting yourself, you’re creating an environment of compromise. If you work together over time, make sure you put fees up reasonably.
  • Know which hat you’re wearing whenever you speak or meet. Business time is business time, apart from some quick social bits. My friends and I attend birthdays and kids’ occasions. We hang out on weekends. If your friend talks biz, offer to call them next week to have that chat.
  • Communicate constantly. Don’t let months go by without speaking. This goes for all your other clients. Anticipate sticky moments in advance. Schedule calls for those times and even tell them why. Act fast when things don’t go well. You don’t just want this friendship to survive, you want it to get stronger and thrive.
  • Your friend may need TLC. They are now your client and in your guiding hands. Don’t presume they know it all just because they’ve heard you talking about it for years.
  • Never trade on the goodwill of your friendship. The trust you’ve created over decades is like capital. Use the trust to innovate and take exciting new steps together. Don’t deplete this trust with any kind of trade-off.

Neither my first friend who became a client nor I would be where we are today without our friendship and business relationship.

When I told a new client I was writing this story, he asked ‘What about clients who become friends?’ That’s a happy circumstance I also enjoy sometimes. We spend a lot of time on our businesses. Be brave. Challenge the myths and create the kind of relationships you desire.

Have you experienced having friends as clients? How did that go?