Working with friends sounds great, but what about when something goes wrong? Agony aunt of the freelance world, Sian Meades-Williams, shares her advice for whether working with a friend is ever a good idea.
Q: A good friend has recently set up a small business and has asked me to help her write her website copy, but I’m unsure. We’re very different people when it comes to work – I’m very methodical, she has a lot of ideas jumping about at the same time. I don’t want working together to damage our friendship but I really want to help her business become a success. What should I do?
Sian Meades-Williams says: Working with friends can be a dream – two of my bridesmaids were friends I also work with. But there are times when things don’t go according to plan. I’ve experienced the sadness of irreversibly damaging a friendship as a result of working together. A beloved pal and I stopped talking after I hired her for a big copywriting project. Shortly after, she left the country and moved across the other side of the world without saying goodbye.
As friends you’re equals, but when you work together there can be a shift in power. Your friend is doing the hiring here – she’s in control. She can tell you what to do and that’s an odd change in gear for even the tightest of friends. When I asked working friends Anna Codrea-Rado and Tiffany Philippou about how they work together on their podcast Is This Working?, Tiff was conscious of knowing what to expect. “I think the most important thing when starting out with a friend is that you both have the same expectations.”
Be clear from the start
Outlining your expectations can resolve any issues before the work has begun. Working hours, deliverables, rates of pay, communication methods, deadlines for feedback – don’t make anything implicit, hash it out. You can both refer to these points if there’s confusion. It doesn’t sound like money is an issue that will rear its head in your situation, but it can complicate matters further. You should always outline a financial agreement in writing, even if you’ve known each other for years. Especially then. It’ll stop any blurred lines and miscommunication.
Saying “I’m happy to help with web copy, but unable to offer tech support” stops any panicked late-night messages if there’s a WordPress glitch. If you’ve got a timeline to stick to, keep your friend updated. Silence can be a killer, especially if she sees you on Instagram out for a long lunch but has no idea what stage her copy is at.
Feedback can be an issue. With friends we’re even more likely to be casual in our approach to criticism, without realising we’re being hurtful. On the flipside, we want our friends to be proud of what we do (and – let’s be honest – impressed by it), so we’re more likely to take criticism personally, which can be damaging to a relationship on a personal and professional level. “A lot of people take on different personas at work or won’t have the same priorities as you,” says Tiff. “You need to be on the same page and have a huge amount of respect for each other.”
Your friend is rightly excited and wants to try new things, but by drawing out boundaries early on, you’re less likely to become a sounding board rather than a copywriter. If your pal is still really keen to go through all of her ideas, this is when you need to switch to being her friend again. Take her for lunch, suggest some people who would really be able to help with the business side of things. It’s important to remember that even though your friend has a different work style, she really wants her business to succeed and she trusts you to help her with that. That trust is a really great thing in a friendship. Her venture is still fresh, so celebrate your friendship and tread carefully, whatever you decide.
If you’re still uncertain about working together, put a time limit on the process – agreeing a short spell of days rather than a finite amount of time should be enough for you to see how it’s going to pan out long term. Listen to what your gut says but remember that she’s likely to have similar worries. If you can resolve those, you might find that your skills and expertise complement one another and it’s the start of a brilliant partnership.