Dear 80s’ Baby: Immature Friend Wants In On my Business, Should I Let Him
Hey 80s’ Baby,
I have a question for you. My good friend and I are graphic designers. A few weeks ago, he suggested we go into business together. I have been a freelance graphic designer for the last 8 years but he just started about 6 months ago. I have seen his work and it is impressive but I am not sure if he is mature enough to run a business. I have known him for a couple of years so I am very familiar with the way he carries himself and I am afraid that he won’t take his responsibilities seriously. Deep down I think he just wants to jump on my band wagon to get clients but I don’t want him to ruin my reputation I spent the last 8 years building. And I honestly don’t want to become his babysitter or end up doing most of the work. Should I go into business with my friend and if so, what can I do to guarantee that I won’t be left to pick up the pieces of the business and my career if he ruins them?
First things first, if your gut is telling you something listen to it. If you think you and your friend going into business together is not a good idea then let your friend know that up front. Right now he is probably thinking the two of you are a match made in Heaven so you may want to set him straight. If however you decide to go against your gut then there are some precautions you can take to keep from getting burned by your friend. The thing is it will be up to you to stay on top of that though.
The first thing you have to do is have a serious sit down with your friend to outline some expectations. Write down every concern you may have on paper and make him answer for it all. If you do not agree on something do not force his hand just let him know that there are certain things you will not tolerate. Now I am not suggesting a dictatorship so be open to listening to his concerns as well. If the sit down is successful, then I would suggest drawing up a written agreement and have a lawyer look it over and maybe draw up an official business agreement.
A second suggestion is to encourage your friend partake in some free business counseling. To spare his feelings, offer to attend counseling with him. I took advantage of a free session with a business counselor and let me tell you it was worth it.
In your letter, you mentioned that he has less than a year of experience in graphic design. My question is, does he have experience working with real clientele in graphic design? Were his projects paid or were they free will projects just for fun? How long did it take him to complete those projects? You need to know this because it will tell you how serious he will be about the business.
A third suggestion is doing a trial period. Write up a business agreement to work together for a short time period maybe six months to a year. Make each project commission based, meaning set a fee for a project and whoever is responsible for completing the project gets a percentage of the overall fee charged to the client. The remainder of the money made goes into a business account for expenses. If things go well then I would say full speed ahead, but if not then you need to re-evaluate going any further with him. This will also enhance his project turnaround time if it needs improvement. Basically no work no pay.
Ask your friend if he would be interested in being your assistant. If you have multiple projects to work on, give him one of the smaller fish to fry. To assess his teamwork skills give him a smaller or easier portion of a big project. See how he handles that then determine if he will make a good business partner.
One last suggestion I would make it to visit the Small Business Association website. They provide tons of free advice on starting a business with a partner.
It sounds to me like you want to give your friend the benefit of the doubt despite your insides telling you not to. I hope I helped to make your decision a little easier. In the end, you have to look out for what is best for your career and that is a decision that only you can make.
I truly wish you and your friend all the best.
The 80s’ Baby