How close is too close?

When Gini Dietrich wondered why her friends asked for referrals to other PR agencies, not if she could take on their business, my thought: it was too close for comfort.

  • People like that we like them, don’t want to damage the friendship.
  • It’s too hard to be candid, open, honest when money starts changing hands.
  • Friends don’t want you in their private business, judging them, seeing their dirty laundry.

Circles of Friends

One reason I like the social side of the Internet is community. Being 1) a solo PR and 2) a chicken who hates the Atlanta traffic with the heat of a raging bull on crack eyeballing a red cape the size of Texas, I am a little isolated and don’t get out as much.

I’ve met people and made friends online. I’ve developed great work relationships: people I’d love to have dinner with, be happy to offer the rides to the airport, share a glass of wine. But I will always keep some things private.

Then there are the real Circles of Friends: people you secretly hate, the ones you wish would hire you already, folks with bad taste in TV (raises hand) … and my theory of the smallest circle of all: the ones whose names you’ll remember when you hit the lotto.

“Don’t shit where you eat.”

I love that line in Moonstruck for many reasons including the fact that I don’t think professional and personal always make good work fellows, not sure if friends can be good clients.

A friend who’s known you 20 years, well they know where the bodies are buried.. being a friend, they helped bury them right? Now of course in times of crisis, we step up and help out our friends but what happens next? If you know the working together won’t work for the relationship do you bow out? How to say “No” to a friend and not also damage the relationship?

How close is too close? - It was a pleasure working with you on that weird, pointless project
Grr.. I’m falling into this trap of asking questions rather than offering answers, and while I may not have a solution, here are some ramblings that may help. If you do want to work with friends, you have to establish some ground rules.

  • Business is about relationships, don’t let that scare you.
  • Not all relationships are friendships and ‘friends’ will vary greatly. Blame The Facebook for corrupting the ‘friend’ word.
  • If you’re already worried about the work damaging the relationship, that’s a sign to sit down and discuss it before you go any further.
  • It can be nice if a professional relationship turns personal friendship, but you can’t let that get in the way of doing business.
  • Take the friend out of the equation if possible; maybe find another point of contact within the company.
  • Want to hire me? Read this blog, check my tweets, maybe even peak at my Klout score to see if I know WTH I’m talking about. (Yes, I feel dirty just typing it.)
  • If you get frustrated while working with a friend and think “if this was any other client, I’d …” Game over. You’ve already lost.

Anyone have an success stories or personal nightmares to share from working with friends?

Photo credit: Someecards twofer. 



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12 thoughts on “How close is too close?

  1. It all depends on the people. When you work with a friend the lines between friendship and business can blur quite easily so you both need to be tough.

    I have worked for several friends and only had one bad experience and that was really due to his ex-wife being a partner in the business. The two of them stopped getting along and things got a little bit ugly.
    Jack @ TheJackB recently posted..Are You Trying To Live Your Dreams

    1. Even when business partners get along and are friends Jack, they won’t always see eye-to-eye. I’ve had and lost clients when the projects couldn’t move forward because I could not get everyone on same page. Maybe it was my contact who liked everything, but his boss didn’t or they just could not agree on what was needed. (I now do my damnedest to have to satisfy one point of contact, let clients iron out their issues on their own time.)

      Something I think would help for working with friends is limit work hours; keep shop talk focused, then ban it during personal time. Still won’t solve the matter of them liking everything, agreeing all the time – that’s business .. but I think the defined scope maybe helps limit the overflow, blurring lines, which could hurt the relationships. FWIW.

  2. So, any advice on how I send a supplier partner off into the wild blue yonder after 4 years of working with him? He’s become a dear friend, yet this is business, and it’s a tough conversation especially as Irene did tremendous damage recently, and I’m sure money is tight. But a 2 month notice should be more than OK, right?

    Hard not to ask about the kids and the wife or husband when working together; it’s also hard not to console someone when they’re down, too. And then you talk business.

    I always got in trouble for not taking time to smell the roses (really, Jayme, you say?). I’ve probably rectified that and then some!
    Jayme Soulati recently posted..Five Tips From Low To Grow

    1. Think the exit strategy for you needs to be a transition strategy for this client. Economy, competition, marketplace changes; it’s your job to point out that maybe he needs to scale back, could get more ROI doing something else. Present the idea that you’ve gotten him and his business thus far, but you’re not in a position to go further or perhaps, there’s a more affordable option for him to consider as he looks to turn things around.

      If you are friends Jayme, then perhaps it’s that ‘friendly’ come to Jesus meeting you can have, if that’s the tact to take. It is a twist on one of my downsides, but in this case it is a positive: You’re the friend doing for him, this heart to heart with exit plan, that perhaps you wouldn’t for another client, show that you’re taking those extra steps.

      Hope that helps, please keep me posted. 🙂

  3. Truly, as Mark asks, “What is a friend?”

    We’ve had a couple of not-so-pleasant situations with “friends” who turned out to be wolves in sheep’s clothing, for lack of a better term.

    What we’ve learned from those experiences, though, is to get everything in writing. Don’t allow the relationship to create an illusion that everything can be done on a handshake, and that you can work out the details as you go along. What a friendship affords the business relationship is flexibility on the terms as the project progresses — but you are the one in control of that flexibility. You can throw in extra perks along the way that show your friend that the relationship is different.

    What’s that saying about good fences make good neighbors? Good contracts preserve relationships. It’s true.
    Michelle Quillin recently posted..How to Change the Names of Your Facebook Page Tabs

    1. OMG Michelle, I know someone going through a Jeckle Hyde thing now, just crazy how people flip on you. Love the fences/contract line, LOVE IT. When F&F balk at the contract, putting things in an email “can’t we just call?” you’re like, what did they really expect? This is business, this is work. Then the whole “they know their biz but you know yours” battles, when as a friend you will toss in perks, do things you wouldn’t for any other client.

      I’m not dismissing it outright, but realizing things change the minute friends work together, as do work relationships outside the office. There are upsides to working with friends, you do have more understanding, appreciation for quirky personalities. Like everything, gotta balance the downsides.

  4. Love it when you talk dirty in your blog posts.

    Boy, what is even a friend? Let’s start there. Are we friends? Getting there. Me & Gini? Love the gal but never met her.

    I guess my best shot at “friend” is somebody who will tell you the truth and still love you, somebody who would never gain at your expense, somebody who is connecting you beyond business. Business be damned in the end any way. The Beatles had it right.

    let’s keep working it Davina!
    Mark W Schaefer recently posted..Why Klout matters. A lot.

    1. Let’s keep working it is right Mark, especially since this social experience is about the connections, relationships we make .. dirty talk and all. 😉 We’re Twitter friends, blog friends.. one of those qualifiers we use to differentiate since there are many types of friendships. The particulars of any given relationship will vary, change the dynamics.

      Some clients you may love to work with, have a total blast but you’d rather be stuck outside the dressing room while your wife shops for 2 hours than be sat next to them at a dinner party; some friends may light up a party, but you’d take a gig digging ditches before you went to work for them. This is all because you know them, a ‘real’ side of them – and they you; there are times, it is too close. FWIW.

  5. You find the best graphics! In actual tears of suppressed mirth reading the Google+ real circles, and the ones you named are even more REAL to me. I think you’re right, in some cases, and in other cases I think people might feel (at least I would) as if they can’t afford someone as highly regarded as Gini, but they’re sure she must have a friend or two who’s cheaper. The question is of course whether they’d stop to find that out instead of assuming.
    Shakirah Dawud recently posted..Genuinely Curious Monday: How Many “Dead” Posts Can You Stand?

    1. I had fun on that “12 Most” post too, all the ‘real’ G+ circles, I could probably have too much fun with that. Or assuming any one of a million things; maybe you’re the friend who’s always late to dinner. They think it means you’d miss deadlines or be flaky to work with but don’t realize the work version of you is ON it.

      They could hear all your complaints how clients don’t get it, the money .. and not know what’s fair, assume too much of the ‘F&F’ plan discount, and insult you as the vendor. you could have a great boss or mentor, but the second they learn you’re leaving for bigger, better things they turn into psychos from hell – people you don’t recognize.

      We are often very different professionally Shakirah, we just are and until you work with someone you don’t know that side; and our work friends, who see us all type-A anal obsessive, they don’t get we can let our hair dow. And be cool too. So when one half of that works but the other doesn’t, I don’t know what to do that won’t hurt both sides.

      1. That’s true, and I think you’ve illustrated some thoughts that may go through all our heads when we meet each other as people before we need to do business together. It’s happened to me, where I’m like, who do I refer this client to? Not her, she’s got… issues. Not him, he’s a bit too messy. She’d be perfect if she weren’t saying she was so busy all the time… Yeah. I get what you’re saying even more clearly now.
        Shakirah recently posted..Ripping The Heart Out Of Personal Branding

        1. I know and friends, the close ones who are the family we choose for ourselves, makes it that much harder. IDK I’m still kicking things around in my head, always with my default position of having a reason for keeping a healthy separation between personal and professional.

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