Before we started Big Lemon, we were friends. We went to school together, got drunk together, and grown up together – university, dogs, babies, the whole adulthood thing.
After almost three years of running a business together, we’ve had our fair share of disagreements, awkward moments, and straightforward developer vs designer arguments, but we’ve got through them all.
To mark National Friendship Day, here are a few thoughts on how to keep your friendship going when you run a business together.
Pursue your mission
Kieran and I started Big Lemon because we were both sick of doing work for companies that didn’t really appreciate us or make the most of us.
After hours of moaning together in the pub and talking about each of us going freelance, we knew we valued the same things – fun, creativity, a sense of humour – to do it together. Decide what your common goals and values are before you set out, and start pursuing them together.
Trial it first
Being great friends is all well and good, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll make great business partners. Before we went full time, we freelanced on projects together in the evenings and on weekends to get a sense of whether we worked well together. It was a great test run before going full time, and it took a few months of getting into the swing of things before we were confident enough to go it alone, together.
Stick to what you know
When you’re starting out it can be tempting to work together on everything and to make every decision my committee, but that way madness lies.
The clear designer and development roles make it easy for us to separate our work most of the time but when it comes to winning clients, running payroll, and all the other little things that make up running a business, we try to stick to our strengths and divide tasks accordingly.
Don’t dodge problems
Just because you’re not serious doesn’t mean your business shouldn’t be. You’ll come up against lots of different problems and you’ll be forced to make serious decisions that can’t be shied away from.
Spend time apart
Starting a business with someone means you’re entering into a (hopefully) long, close, business relationship with them – apart from your partner, they’re the person you’ll spend the most amount of time with.
We spend so much time together that it means we need to spend time apart, spend time on hobbies like mountain biking and Dungeons & Dragons – but that makes the time we do spend on the business all the more fulfilling.
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Honesty is important regardless of who you’re working with, but working with a friend makes it essential.
It should be easy to be honest with someone who you’ve known for a long time, but closeness can make saying what you really think much harder.
We’ve had plenty of slanging matches when something isn’t going right, but we know that if something is wrong we’ll give each other the right feedback so we can do better next time. As we've recruited staff, we've tried to keep our relationship honest while still acting appropriately as employers – basically, take any debates outside.
Plan for an exit
When you’re going into business, the last thing you want is to think about what’ll happen if it comes to an end – but that’s a reality you need to plan for. Detail what will happen in the event of the business closing in your share holder agreement.
Put your friendship first
If you want to keep your friendship going regardless of what happens in business, remember that your relationship is more important.
Your business may be a success or a failure, but at the end of it all you’ll still have a friend to celebrate or commiserate with over a pint.