Friendpreneurs: How to Find Success, Preserve Relationships

When Morehouse buddies Patrick D. Smith and Ozzie E. Smith (no relation) both entered the dental field, it seemed only logical they should start a practice together. Based in Chicago, the Smith & Smith Smile Studio was launched in spring 2007 and opened April 2008. “We initially knew that we would one day want more than to be owners of a small business,” Patrick says. “Working as a team would allow us to collaborate with ideas and knowledge. Also, we figured that as a startup company looking to expand in the future, having two people able to man the ship at any given time gives us more options for future expansion.”

But going into business with a friend can be a risky endeavor. “There is a risk of meshing the business with friends, as now a dispute or difference of opinion not only affects the business relationship, it affects the friendship,” says business consultant Michael D. Brown, author of Fresh Customer Service (Acanthus Publishing; 2008) and CEO of the Michael D. Brown Co. “If not handled properly you can diminish and/or loose both the friendship and the business.”

But there are steps to take to help friends become friendpreneurs.

Agree on a vision for the partnership. Having a shared vision was the key to the successful partnership between high school friends Candace Sandy and Dawn Marie Daniels. Both entered the publishing field and at one point worked together at Simon & Schuster. Daniels and Sandy had a vision of creating self-help books for African American women. So, they authored one together, Souls of My Sisters: Black Women Break Their Silence, Tell Their Stories and Heal Their Spirits (Kensington Publishing; 2000). Realizing they found a unique niche, they formed Souls of My Sisters Inc. and have produced self-help workshops, published several follow-up books, created an online resource, and inked a publishing imprint deal with Kensington under which they publish self-help and inspirational books by other authors. “What is wonderful about this partnership is that two women can pool together their resources and have an opportunity to provide a service or a product to fill a niche and with the right strategy, hard work, and determination can become the American dream,” notes Sandy, who is also the communications director for Congressman Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY).

Define business roles. “Discuss each person’s strengths and weakness and map out who will do what within the company,” says New York-based business consultant Byron W. Perry, founder of entrepreneurial workshops Kids Inc. When Kristen Poe Hill and Renee E. Warren formed Noelle-Elaine Media, Hill says it was important that their work styles were similar. In business since 1993, the event management, media relations, and production firm counts such powerhouse companies as Black Enterprise, Ariel Mutual Funds, BET, and L’Oreal as its clients. To stay on the same page, the partners have an annual retreat in addition to their weekly staff meetings.

“Even if we just camp out at