Should You Advise Friends?

I received an awesome question this week. It's one that I've got personal experience with, and one that I know a number of people will have too.

Should we take on friends as clients? If so, what are the things to do differently?

Personal confession time. I have lost friendships as a result of this. It's not because of anything in terms of our professional relationship. The friend in particular I'm thinking of got value from our work together and there was nothing but positive business outcomes. 

The problem was what working together professionally did to our friendship.

To cut the chase and not share the whole depressing story in its full glory, over time we went from being mates who sometimes talked business, to most of our interactions being about business.

I'll take part blame; I should have done something about it sooner, but at the end of the day friendships are about reciprocity. When it becomes one-way traffic, then it becomes about one individuals personal benefit. Under those circumstances, friendship will usually wither and die.

It's easy to become friends with people you work with. Working with people who are friends can often be a good way to lose friends.

Unless you take certain steps.

When this question came through, I didn't just rely on my experiences. I spoke to a few people who have had experience with this and found it's not an uncommon thing.

Still, there are some steps you can take to make sure that the friend who needs your professional advice, remains a friend as well as becoming a client.

Here are 7 key things to think about.

1. Spend additional time making sure you’ve understood the scope. It’s vital that despite being friends you don’t make any assumptions. Make sure your file notes use their words as much as possible. That reduces the risk of a later "I-said-you-said" situation.

2. Spend additional time ensuring you set expectations. Make sure your friend is under no misconceptions about the fact that there will be ups and downs, and understands what you can and can't do.

3. Get clear on why they need your help now. If the request for help is coming off the back of a bad experience with another professional, make sure you understand clearly what they didn’t get from the last person. You want to be 100% sure it’s not an expectation problem at their end.

4. Make sure they understand that you will be getting insight into parts of their financial affairs that you wouldn’t otherwise discuss as friends, but that your discussions about that end at your door. 

5. Keep professional discussions in a professional context. A big danger here is your role as their adviser spills over into your social engagements. You don’t want to find yourself delivering a review when you’re supposed to be having dinner as friends. It’s key you keep the separation

6. Don’t discount. You will look after your friends as you would your top clients, but you don’t want to feel like you’re both looking after that person and being underpaid. That can bring resentment and you don’t want that.

7. Say no if you need to. If you don’t feel it’s right, there’s nothing wrong with instead helping your friend to find someone you feel can help better. This is what friends do, and it's the higher responsibility..

There’s nothing wrong with working with friends in a professional capacity if you know you can help them.

However, in my experience, you both need to be clear that there must be a separation or the friendship can suffer.

Did I miss anything? If you've had experiences with this, good or bad, would love to know what additional advice you'd give.

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