As a small business owner, you can spend 10, 12, 15 hours a day working to keep operations running smoothly. Wouldn’t that be much more fun and fulfilling with a trusted friend? Experts warn that mixing friendship and business is a slippery slope; however, there are many success stories of partnerships that remain on even footing while creating and nurturing thriving businesses. Here, five business owners share their advice on successfully taking your friendship to the next level.
Crystal Pinkston and Sharon C. Norman, co-owners, YogaSix
Who we are: Chicago-area owner/franchisee of yoga studio that brings an adaptive yoga experience to those practicing at any level.
We have always enjoyed taking a variety of fitness classes together, including yoga, and became interested in YogaSix because of the opportunity to combine our passion for a wellness lifestyle with business ownership. Partnering made sense for us because it was key to opening a business while still maintaining our careers and family commitments. It lessened the individual financial requirement and also gave us the benefit of the unique skill sets and strengths we each bring to the equation. Aligning our goals also shaped the type of business we decided to open. We elected to open a franchise because we both wanted structure and a proven business model for a first business. YogaSix, in particular, provided us with the business model we desired and a product — boutique fitness/yoga — that connected with our interests and passions.
Before deciding to open a business alone or with a friend, it is important to identify your “why,” understand your areas of strength and opportunity as it relates to running a business, and determine the amount of resources (both time and money) you are willing to invest. Once you know these things personally, it is much easier to determine if pursuing a business with a friend is right for you. We’ve been friends for over ten years, so we knew that we shared similar values, standards, work ethics and expectations — that’s the easy part. We also took the time to share our business goals and boundaries with each other to make sure we were aligned.
Staying friends while opening or running a business comes down to having common goals for the business, good communication, self-awareness and having fun. There will be times of high stress, and there will be differences of opinion on how to accomplish goals, but the key is not taking those differences personally when they arise. It’s critical to give each other grace when needed, to be open to feedback (even if it’s hard), and to be able to talk — and laugh — it out. We also manage to make time for fun and a yoga class together, whenever possible. Follow YogaSix on Instagram & Facebook.
Derek St. George, Karl Schmidt and Leigha Schmidt, co-owners, Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh
Who we are: A destination for fresh, healthy and authentic Mediterranean cuisine based in Boston, MA.
The three of us have been friends since middle school. A few years ago, we decided to embark on a journey together by opening the first Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh restaurant in the Boston area. We felt opening a restaurant franchise was a great move, because among the three of us, there was a business background, a finance background and experience in the restaurant industry. We wanted to get into a sector/market that hadn’t reached its full potential, and saw the Mediterranean diet restaurant concept as just that. Of course, there are some brands that are beginning to forge the path for quick-service Mediterranean food, but no one has cornered the market — there is no “Chipotle” or “Qdoba” of Mediterranean cuisine. We looked at the overall financial aspect of the brands in this space and we chose Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh because we feel it has great potential to be a staple in the Mediterranean sector.
Our advice, or words of wisdom, on staying friends throughout the business process is three-fold: don’t forget to have fun, it’s okay to disagree and don’t take anything too personally. Maintaining the laughs and jokes while integrating the business into the equation is essential. Don’t lose sight of who you are because the shared relationship is the foundation friends need to have to go into business together in the first place. Having an odd number of partners helps as well: when the vote is 2-1 on something, it makes things easy and smooth. Follow Garbanzo Mediterranean on Twitter & Facebook.
Who we are: A fun and attraction-filled indoor adventure and trampoline park in Lake Grove, NY.
We’ve been best friends since Kindergarten and always talked about opening a business together, but the timing was never right. In late 2019, after extensive planning, we were finally able to make our childhood dreams a reality and opened an Urban Air Adventure Park. We decided to do it through the Urban Air platform because of our shared interest in creating fun experiences for kids through physical activity is a large part of the reason we chose a family entertainment business. Both having children within the Urban Air audience demographic, we liked the idea of helping kids reduce their screen time and get back to just playing and being kids. We decided to open our first location right near where we grew up because we know the area, understand the community, and believe that Urban Air fills a need that hadn’t been met.
Our strong friendship holds us together during business and personal challenges because we can share our problems and work together to solve them. Knowing each other since we were six years old and being as close as brothers brings a level of trust that is absolutely critical in business. We stay friends because we have a mutual respect, an appreciation for each other’s skill sets, and can divide and conquer the many obstacles that running a business puts in our path. We talk about our business openly and frequently. We appreciate our differing opinions and points of view; however, we have a similar vision for the direction of the business and the culture that we are trying to create. We have a shared history that allows us to keep things in perspective. The opening and running of Urban Air is not the basis of our relationship; it is a chapter in our lives together. Follow Urban Air Adventure Park on Facebook.
Stacy Struminger and Rachel Teyssier, co-founders, Rainraps
Who we are: Richmond, VA-based creators of fashionable and practical water-repellent outerwear including wraps, trenches, hats and bags.
Our biggest piece of advice on how to successfully start a business and remain friends is to not take anything too personally. Business is business and you must not take offense to hearing each other out. If you are able to separate that, the rest is easy. We were lucky in a way that we didn’t need to choose a business, we had an idea that we decided to create out of having a need for it. We needed a RAINRAP to protect us from the elements and figured that if we needed it, we strongly believed every other woman out there did, too.
Once we realized that we had a possible business on our hands, there was no question that we would go for it with each other. Trust is such an important variable in the equation, and it was easy. Who could you trust more than your best friend? We are lucky to have completely different strengths and interests in how to divide the roles. Our unique strengths were so clear that we never even discussed them; they just fell into place.
Anything is possible if you believe in yourselves and especially your business. People always say that if you find something that you are passionate about, it will never feel like work. We feel so lucky and love paying it forward by mentoring other small start-up businesses. Follow Rainraps on Instagram & Twitter.
Amie Hoff and Beth Wieczorek, co-founders, FitKit Wellness
Who we are: A women-owned lifestyle company out of Grasonville, MD that manufactures unique wellness kits designed to simplify healthy living and support positive lifestyle changes through activity, nutrition, stress reduction and mindfulness.
Trust, communication, and a shared mission are key to our success in both the business and in maintaining a friendship. We realized early on that these three components set us up to face challenges together, keep our eye on the ball and have each other’s backs. Knowing we were not alone in the struggles or the successes was a comforting feeling when things got scary or overwhelming.
Our business started as a fun hobby, so it wasn’t until we were featured on the Today Show pretty early on that we realized it could be a viable income generator and we had to take things more seriously. The first discussion was to decide if we both even wanted to make this a serious endeavor. Once we did, we outlined how we saw the business growing, what roles we each would play and how we would finance the growth. We also discussed how to approach conflict resolution should any disagreements arise. Sometimes, conflict can be challenging but we both also understand the ramifications of not sharing our thoughts and feelings and the potential damage of holding something back. We have found that having a partner you can trust, feel safe sharing with, and calmly listen to with an open mind allows us to work through issues together. We have a no judgement zone, which is really freeing and allows for growth — both personally and professionally.
The biggest lesson is that we did not discuss an exit strategy, for the business or for either of us. When Beth started to find a passion for home staging and design, her interests were pulled elsewhere and her commitment to FitKit started to wane. I found myself feeling resentful, but after sitting down and having a heart-to-heart, we found a way for her to explore her passion while maintaining involvement in FitKit. From this situation we also learned to really recognize when there are issues and identify where the feelings are truly coming from. I came to realize that not only was I feeling resentful, I also felt abandoned. Understanding this really helped me address it, get my head back in the game and move forward. Our strong trust in each other and open communication has really helped our business and our friendship thrive and become stronger. Follow FitKit Wellness on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter & Facebook.
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Published September 22, 2021