Best Friends in Business
Would you start a business with your best friend? It’s tempting. You see eye-to-eye on so many things—maybe you even share a passion for a business idea.
But is it worth the risk of losing your shirt, your BFF—or both?
Laura Loving and April Wilkins decided to take the gamble and become business partners in 2009, launching a line of greeting cards, bags, and tiles emblazoned with images from Loving’s studio art.
Best friends since 9th grade, the two women knew the strengths they’d bring to the company, called Laura Loving Happy: Wilkins’ organizational skills plus Loving’s creative juices. A perfect match, right?
But working together takes practice, says Wilkins. You think you know your best friend, but you don’t really know her until you start a business with her.
“Regardless of what people say, business is personal,” says Wilkins. “Just like a marriage, business partners have to know how to communicate, compromise and work through issues.” The two routinely disagree about all kinds of day-to-day things, “from the shade of gray we’re going to use on the website to an email message.”
Here’s how they stay focused on the bottom line.
Divide, conquer, outsource. Naturally, the two play to their strengths—Loving is “creator-in-chief” and handles sales and client relations; Wilkins deals with operations, accounting, logistics. “If there is work neither of us likes or wants to do—like shipping or other mundane tasks—we take turns or figure out a way to outsource so we can spend our time in areas more valuable to the brand and our happiness,” says Loving.
Keep the bigger goal in mind. The first test of their partnership came even before they’d signed on together. Loving had a shot at two big national licensing deals—but neither one felt right. “The negatives felt like too much of a sacrifice to move forward. April helped me make the right decisions on these two opportunities and saved my intellectual property. Walking away from a big deal is easier with someone behind you.”
Squelch jealousy. The two agreed to a 50-50 partnership, so they get paid the same. When it comes to media, Wilkins dislikes the spotlight, “whereas I keep one in my purse,” says Loving. “It helps to have a 28-year friendship.”
Get it in writing. If Wilkins and Loving have one piece of advice for friends going into business together, it would be to “make a contract and discuss all the big subjects before you get started,” says Loving. “It will protect your friendship and save tons of time when you face bumps in the road or hit it big one day.”