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My best friend is hurting my business…

Ask Annabel

My best friend is hurting my business…

Dear Annabel,

Six months ago I started a business with my best friend. My job was to drum up the business and find some customers. Her job was to set up systems and get us ready to grow.
It’s been a tough six months, but we are trading and beginning to make some money. Now that I am not out on the road quite so much I can see that she is not really doing a lot to take the business forward. Nor can I see any sign of any systems. I feel as if I am in business on my own, but having to share a very small amount of money with her for doing very little. What should I do?


Give your business partner time to explain her views and listen carefully

Dear M,

This is a very common problem when starting a business with a friend. You need to have an open and honest conversation with her about what your expectations are and about who does what – particularly when it comes to the division of work. It is not a good idea to start off by blaming your friend though – or accusing her of not doing her share. Let her have her say.

There may be reasons why she is not doing what you think she ought to be doing.   Sometimes if one partner is more confident than the other, the less confident one waits for direction, instructions or even approval before doing anything that might turn out to be ‘wrong’.

Book yourself a long lunch or coffee break with your business partner away from where you normally work. Explain that you both need to review how the business is progressing with regard to the financials, marketing and administration etc.

Give your business partner time to explain her views and listen carefully.   If you didn’t each agree clear goals at the outset then this needs to be discussed.   If you did both agree what you wanted to put in and take out of the business (in terms of work, hours and money) now is the time to review the situation.

It is not unusual for business partners to get out of step with each other, but you should never wait until you are really frustrated or angry before tackling this.

Start with something positive and review what has gone well so far.   Ask for your partner’s opinions by asking questions like: What do you feel our biggest achievement so far has been? What do you feel your best contribution has been?   How do you see the next six months going forward? What tasks do you feel you would like to tackle next?

Listen very carefully to your friend. They could have been working very hard and you are just not aware – or they could be completely out of their depth.   This is your time to listen but probably not the best time for you to give an opinion.

If your friend is really out of their depth it’s possible that they may not want to continue in the business. A business separation can be done with dignity and respect if you don’t leave this conversation until you are angry.   Or it could be that you have been unknowingly holding up their work and once a few key decisions are made it will all fall into place. Whatever happens you need a REAL agreement about the breakdown of responsibilities going forwards (and who owns what if you separate in the future.

And if you want to keep your friend as a friend (whatever the outcome) then you need to make sure you create a space that has nothing to do with the business so that your friendship can continue to flourish.

Here are some top tips.

  1. Agree clear signals so you can make it clear when you are ‘the boss’ and when you are a ‘best friend’.   You can choose anything that works for you and your friend.   I like something clear like “This is your business partner speaking now, not your friend…”   followed by a pause to make sure they have registered this differentiation.
  2. Create a space (if possible) where you have your business conversations. If you have a desk or an office do it there.
  3. If someone wants a business conversation with you in the pub, during a social event – say great – let’s schedule How about at my desk/in my office on Tuesday at 11am? (or whenever you are free).
  4. Don’t talk only about your business all the time. Your friends still want the old relationship they had with you. They will resent it if you stop being interested in their conversations or their business!   It’s really tough but give them a signal – a way of shutting you up when you have gone on too long. For example, my family simply groan and say – “not the boss again!
  5. Make a special space – family Sunday lunch, birthdays or whatever is important in your life with your friends and family. Put those dates in the diary right now for the next 5 years. Trust me you will be grateful you prioritised them.


You might think this is just common sense – but I have lost count of the number of friendships and personal relationships that I have seen broken as a busy start up entrepreneur got going.


Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd – which she founded in 1980. She also runs KoffeeKlatch (founded 2009) to help entrepreneurs with the people side of lean start ups.  For a list of her next free conversational style webinars designed to help you manage the people in your business click here

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