“People talk all the time about how successful people ‘find out who their real friends are’ when they hit the big time,” a mentor of mine told me. “But almost nobody talks about how successful people treat their friends when they hit the big time.”
As I’ve ventured into entrepreneurship, I’ve discovered this is true – and most of the time, successful people aren’t the only ones finding out who their “real” friends are.
I’ve witnessed a lot of entrepreneurs abandon their friends on their quest for success, reasoning that their friends will still be around when the dust has settled. Others have preemptively accepted that their friendships with people who aren’t entrepreneurs will naturally fade away. Some simply think losing friendships is the cost of admission to life as an entrepreneur.
But research has shown that friends make our lives better – and entrepreneurs are no exception. People with close friends are half as likely to die early, making friendships a better health regimen than avoiding smoking or maintaining a healthy weight. Spending just six hours with friends makes us 12 times more likely to feel happiness. And doubling our friend group has the same impact on our happiness as boosting our salary by 50 percent! Are we willing to give all that up for entrepreneurial success?
Why Friends Are Key to Entrepreneurship
Friends not only make me happier, but they also make me a more effective and efficient businesswoman. Rather than treat my close friends as distractions, I view them as rewards; the faster and more successfully I complete a task I’ve been dreading, the faster I get to spend time with my friends. They provide motivation, simply by existing, on the days when my internal motivation is flagging.
They also give me perspective. One time, after I lost a client who had provided a quarter of my business’s monthly income, I was complaining to a friend of mine. I was telling her that I couldn’t figure out what I’d done wrong, and I had no idea how my company was going to make up that missing income quickly. In the worst-case scenario playing out in my head, I was imagining having to lay off my two best employees and do everything myself again. The burden I felt outweighed the money.
My friend looked at me and said, “This just proves that you have attracted high-paying clients, and you can do it again. You’re feeling sorry for yourself for things that haven’t even happened yet. Go out and try to get another client before you start complaining about how unfair things are.”
Ouch – but that was exactly what I needed to hear. I recruited one of those high-performing employees to help me drum up new clients, and within a week, we had two new clients who made up that missing income. If my friend hadn’t given me a kick in the pants, it may have taken us two months to find a new client or two to fill the void, and the stress of missing that income over a two-month period would have been much heavier.
What Our Friendships Say About Us
And here’s the real rub: If we can’t be good friends to the people who matter most to us, we’re not the relationship builders we need to be to run successful businesses. Building relationships is the most important aspect of building a business, and people who lose empathy and perspective in dealing with their closest confidantes are one step away from treating every relationship as a transaction: What can you do for me?
An entrepreneur I know was searching for a business partner a few years ago, and he was talking to several of us in his network for recommendations and feedback on the people he was considering. He mentioned one man in particular who had a stellar track record of attracting new business. A couple of our fellow entrepreneurs cringed and shook their heads when the name was said.
“He’s good at bringing in business, but he’ll scare all your employees away,” said one. The other agreed and said that he’d found that the businessman in question was always looking over his shoulder when he talked to him, on the lookout for better opportunities.
Our entrepreneur friend ultimately brought the man on as his business partner, but he had to leave his own business three years later. After his partner had cycled through a new staff each year, our friend found he had no power to overcome the negative relationships his partner had built. He told us that if he’d known the man had no friends outside of work, he would have given him a wide berth – he would have realized he had difficulty building lasting relationships anywhere.
How to Blend Friendships and Entrepreneurship
Telling people to maintain their friendships while building a business is easier said than done, but it’s worth the effort. Here are a few ways I’ve managed to keep my friends close.
- Double up your efforts. Do you need to get in a good run to burn off some stress? Do you need to start getting some ideas for holiday gifts for clients? Do you need to eat? These are all things you can invite your friends along for, and they’ll make your to-do list much more pleasant.
- Schedule your friend check-ins. You probably schedule check-ins with prospects or clients, whether it’s through your personal calendar or your CRM. Why don’t you do the same with your friends? By setting aside 15 minutes here and there to send an email or a text to ask how a friend’s doing or follow up on an event she had, you can make sure you don’t fall out of the loop, even when entrepreneurial life is crushingly busy.
- Include your friends in your business accomplishments. Did your company hit $1 million in sales? Did you expand to a second location? Did you finally have a profitable year? These are all great excuses to throw a celebration and invite your friends to toast your hard-earned success. (No need to plan anything elaborate – I usually book a party room at a restaurant so I don’t need to worry about cooking or cleaning.)
Business success is wonderful, but your business won’t be there to celebrate or console you when you need it. Your friends are the ones who will see you through thick and thin, and while it may seem easier to focus on building your business, success can feel pretty lonely when there’s no one to share it with.