There's nothing wrong with pitching business to your friends as long as you follow these unwritten rules of engagement.
Conventional wisdom says you shouldn't mix business with pleasure. There's certainly some truth to that when it comes to romantic endeavors at the workplace. But what about doing business with friends?
It's easy to create mental barriers between "friends" and "business." But there are ways to nurture business relationships with friends--without jeopardizing either. Here are four things to be mindful of to make sure both sides are happy.
1. Seek the win-win.
Put yourself in the shoes of your friend and seek out ideas for how you might be able to solve his or her problems. The stakes don't have to be particularly high early on; the key is to find a way that you can both benefit from an initial business interaction. A quick win can be something as simple as sharing connections or finding similar challenges that you can problem-solve together. Regardless of the situation, find some way to help each other and keep the conversation alive so you can continue to find situations that benefit both parties in the future.
2. Seek to help first.
It's always better to give than to receive, especially when dealing with friends in a business context. Start the relationship before you need something by offering assistance, connections, opportunities or recommendations. A great way to initiate the conversation is through two proven questions: How's business? How are you doing professionally?
3. Don't be afraid to ask...but be tactful.
When you recognize that a friend can help-either directly by purchasing your product or service or indirectly through a recommendation or introduction-it's OK to ask for their business! All relationships are built on trust, and by letting a friend know that you'd welcome their business, you open up a two-way communication that could pay off in spades. Don't be pushy, but let them know that you'd love their business.
4. Choose the right time and place.
A dinner party or a sporting event is a great opportunity to initiative a conversation, but it's generally not the right venue to talk about establishing a business partnership. Instead, use the dinner party as an opportunity to schedule a follow-up discussion in an environment better-suited for business. Lunch, coffee, an office meeting, and drinks at a bar can all be effective-it's just a matter of figuring out where you're most comfortable and what venue best fits your existing relationship.
Any strong business relationship is based on trust, so why not develop business relationships that already have a strong foundation of trust, through friendship? As long as you focus on creating value for both parties, there's no reason to erect an artificial wall separating friends from business.
KARL STARK AND BILL STEWART are managing directors and co-founders of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm focused on growing companies. Avondale, based in Chicago, is a high-growth company itself and is a two-time Inc. 500 honoree. @karlstark