This was the motto I grew up with. Hardnosed businessmen would put their arms around your shoulders and smile as they tricked you into signing over-priced contracts that they would never fully deliver on. And if the bottom crashed out they would say ‘hey, it’s just business, get used to it!’  With the apparent demise of business on the golf course and the onset of Facebook many businesses want to be friends with not just a few of their customers but with all of them. They even want to be friends with their suppliers too.

It’s complicated. We all like to be liked, we all want to have friends and there is nothing nicer than spending a pleasant lunch with a business acquaintance that you could also consider ‘a friend’.  But I ask myself, what is a friend and is it possible to truly have business friends?  

I have many clients that I like very much. I have many suppliers too that I will happily spend an hour or more with. But who are my business friends?  The word friend implies something deeper about the relationship between two individuals, you could even be forgiven to imply that friends in business could be suspected for not making balanced decisions, or even of being corrupt.

When I need help, I often turn to a friend because I know they are there for me, as I am for them. I sometimes just want them to listen, other times I want them to give me open and honest advice. I don’t want them to tell me the niceties that I want to hear but the hard naked truth that I need to hear. Real friends dare to risk it all to help their friend in need. Business acquaintances most likely are not.  But there is a grey zone, and that’s the zone of the consultant.

The consultant and his or her client need to trust one another implicitly, if they are going to offer each other real value. They need to fully understand each other. They need to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They need to know their limitations.  And when the client asks the consultant for advice the consultant must give it openly, honestly and to the very best of their ability. The consultant must even be prepared to lose their client, if the client does not like what they hear. So what is the difference between a consultant and a friend? After a meeting with a consultant, you can expect an invoice. After a meeting with a friend you can only expect radio silence until the next time you decide to meet up.

So the next time you’re having a business lunch or supper, don’t worry if the person you are with is your friend or not, but concern yourself as to whether they have told you what you wanted to hear or what you needed to hear. There’s a big, big difference.

And yes, consultants make the best friends because they care about you and they can never switch off from giving advice (I am told) even when it is not asked for. Thank goodness they conveniently forget to invoice their hours once in a while! 🙂

Have a good week,