Successful entrepreneurs understand the difference between a good business relationship with more people and having more friends. In fact, the focus on social networking platforms, starting with Facebook, has destroyed the meaning of the word friend and even changed it from a noun to a verb. It’s now common to have hundreds or thousands of friends online—but no relationships.
In the world of entrepreneurs and startups, professional relationships are critical. You can’t start a business with friends alone. You need business partners, investors and customers. Of course, we all need friend relationships in our private lives, and some of these may evolve from or lead to business relationships. Here is my summary of how business relationships relate to friends.
- Everyone needs private friend relationships. Most psychologists agree that starting from a very young age, friend relationships are critical to building social skills and lead to a balanced view of morality, integrity and right versus wrong. These should never be confused with social-media friends that you have never met or hardly know.
- All business relationships need not be friends. The best professional relationships may also involve friendship, but entrepreneurs need to be able to manage relationships with competitors, partners and customers who have no interest in being friends. Friends are motivated to help you, while business people want to help their business.
- With friends, quality is more important than quantity. With maturity, most people actually shrink their circle of friends to focus on a few trusted ones who become confidants. There is some evidence that the average circle has grown smaller over the years, as the level of trust in other people has dropped from 77 percent to 37 percent.
- In business, you can’t have too many relationships. More professional connections means more credibility, more insight into the market and more customer clout. This fact is the basis for the business axiom, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Many entrepreneurs will admit that they get almost all of their business through relationships.
- True friendship requires a personal emotional connection. Friendship is a person-to-person relationship involving mutual affection, the ability to be oneself, express feelings and make mistakes without fear of judgment from the friend. Many entrepreneurs find their role lonely due to the fear that business and friendships simply don’t mix well.
- Business relationships depend on accentuating the positive. The first rule of business is that spilling your troubles won’t help your business, your leverage or your relationship. Some entrepreneurs assume that they can make everyone their friend by exposing shortcomings—only to find out that these are often used against them.
- Social networking friends have real business value. Free mobile and online technologies will find friends at no cost, with no emotional investment required, so they have very little personal value. Ironically, these friends have real business value since they may become advocates and write testimonials or influence their real friends.
- Online networking alone does not build business relationships. Networking may identify an opportunity, but personal contact is normally required to build a real relationship. It’s too easy to create a false persona online, compared to the authenticity of connecting face-to-face, comparing beliefs, goals, point of view and personality.
Friendship with emotion is the glue that makes personal relationships work, but these same emotions often get in the way of decisions in a rapidly changing business requirement. Business relationships, on the other hand, are more logically tuned to expediting business transactions. If your business seems harder than it should be, maybe it’s time to stop focusing on friends.