We all have at least a friend or two who is a small business owner. Whether it’s on the side, or their full time gig, owning a business takes a tremendous amount of time and effort. So often we as people want to support and encourage our friends however we can, but is the way we are “helping” really help?
Here are top tips for supporting a friend with a small business, even if you may not be “doing business” with them:
1. Be a Listening Ear
Honestly this is really just a good relationship tip altogether (whether it’s your friend, your spouse, your kid, etc), but we are going to approach it specifically from the perspective of small business ownership.
Running a business, any business, is a lot of work. Even if it’s something you’re passionate about it still comes with lots of ups and downs.
As humans we all want a compassionate ear to listen to our struggles once and a while, and a friend that will truly celebrate with us during our wins.
What this might look like:
When your business owning friend opens up with you about something they are struggling with take a moment to really listen to what they have to say. Not only that, but try to see things from their perspective. While you may be focused on the fact that they get to set their own schedule, they burn out because it’s “always business hours” for them. Or when you may see that they get to be home with their kids, they deal with the hidden struggles of that (like the fact that your children being ever present, as much of a blessing as that is, can make it extremely difficult to get things done).
Everyone, whether they own a business, are a full time stay at home parent, or work a 9-5 job (or any combination or derivative of these things) deals with their own set of struggles. Just because they are having a hard time dealing with something in the moment doesn’t mean they don’t realize how blessed they are! So take a chance to provide them with encouragement, but avoid potentially hurtful statements like “well, at least you don’t have to deal with a cranky boss”. While it may be true, it’s really just taking the focus off of what they may be needing help with (or just someone to rant to) and placing it on how awful your situation is. If you don’t know how to encourage your friend you can never go wrong with saying something like “yeah, I can see why that would be difficult.” At the end of the day we really all just want someone to hear us.
Side note: Sometimes being a listening ear may mean listening to something your friend is highly passionate/excited about, that you may not care about at all. This is just as important as listening to struggles! It means the world to me when my husband or a close friend lets me go on a photography rant even though I know they have no interest/knowledge in what I’m speaking about.
2. Speak Life Into Their Business
This tip really piggy backs right off the last one. When the going gets tough there is nothing better or more important than that one friend who speaks life into your situation.
Let me explain what I mean by that a little.
Speaking life is speaking positivity, hopefulness, and or love over a person. That being said I don’t mean to say you should only say “nice” things about your friends business. The best type of support you can give is to be honest with your friend, but to do it in a positive way that stems from your love for them.
What this might look like:
Let’s pretend for a minute that your friend Bob runs an online business selling handmade furniture. Now Bob is extremely talented ,a master of his craft, but he isn’t particularly tech savvy and his website is hard to use (and for that matter hard to look at). One day Bob comes to you seeking advice because his business really isn’t performing the way he thinks it should and he can’t seem to figure out why.
What you should not do: Bluntly spout out the fact that Bob’s website looks like actual crap, and if he hopes to sell anything he had better higher a web designer because clearly he has no idea what he is doing.
What you should do: Start off with what you think you think they do really well, and follow it up with a loving suggestion of what you think could be improved.
Something like this: “Well you know Bob, I definitely don’t think your product is the issue. Your furniture is amazing and you definitely aren’t asking to much for that quality of work. However, I did notice your website was a little difficult to use and that might be driving some of your customers away. Maybe you should look into getting a web designer to help you with that.
At the end of the day you gave the same advice but one way likely just crushed Bob and the other encouraged and enlightened him.
Now obviously thats a rather straight forward example and you wouldn’t actually ever tell your friend their website “looked like actual crap” (I hope at least) But I do hope it at least illustrates the point of this tip.
Side Note: As far as unsolicited advice goes my advice would tend to be just don’t give it. There are some exceptions to that (if your friend is about to make a huge mistake that could either ruin their business or their personal life as a result you obviously don’t want to just let them jump off that cliff, but you do need to be very careful about how you approach the topic). Most of the time when we give advice that isn’t being sought out it’s going to be ignored anyway and likely just annoy the person. I think a good rule of thumb is, if it’s really just an opinion (ie: You don’t think they chose the most beautiful colors for their logo) then you should probably just keep it to yourself unless asked.
3. Network/Spread The Word
One of the top ways small business gain consumers is through word of mouth. Every person in the world has a “network” (the people that make up their circle: friends, family, acquaintances) and the people in your circle are going to vary from that of your small business owning friend(s)
That being said one of the top things you can do to support them, even if you aren’t using their service/product, is to refer them to your friends. (Obviously I would only suggest this if you actually think they are selling a quality product/service otherwise you will just create animosity on one side or the other)
This one actually comes more naturally than you might think. At the end of the day it really just comes down to keeping your friend in mind when you hear the topic come up.
What this might look like:
You have a friend, Jan, who is a newborn and family photographer. One day your at a birthday party for your sisters daughter chatting with another mom who casually mentions that she’s having a baby in November. You say “Congratulations that’s so exciting” (maybe ask if it’s a boy a girl, etc), and then mention “well I know a fantastic Newborn Photographer if you need one”
Then from there it’s in their hands. They can choose whether to ask for info or not. (If they are really interested they will)
The whole thing is really a very organic process. Just like we talk about our favorite places to shop/with the best sales etc, we can also give our recommendations for our service based business owning friends.
4. Engage With Their Online Presence
Another simple way to help them is to engage with their posts on social media and the internet. This is something that helps them to get seen by more people extending their reach. The really awesome thing is it literally only takes a couple of seconds of your time and it is a huge help for them.
So, like (or even better share) posts on facebook/instagram, or leave a quick comment on their blog post.
It makes a huge difference, and they will most definitely appreciate it!
5. Don’t Expect Them To Work for Free
This one is a huge problem with people who own creative based business (photography, custom art, tattoo design, graphic design, etc) but I also see it in a lot of other industries as well (lawyers, caterers, etc) and it’s kind of a sticky topic to talk about.
From your perspective it may seem like no big deal. It’s just a “quick piece of legal advice” or “bringing your camera to the wedding”. Or “don’t worry I’ll buy all the food, you just cook it”
But you don’t know the behind the scenes of that particular persons business. I guarantee you their is a lot more work to whatever it is then you know, and it puts your friend into a super awkward situation.
Instead let them have the opportunity to bless you if they feel so inclined.
What this might look like:
It’s not even wrong to mention that you are looking for whatever type of service they provide. Just don’t expect that they are going to do it for free. For me personally I offer a friends and family discount on my photography service to anyone I am close with (family, members of my church, etc). If they inquire with me I let them know my rates and about the discount, and from there it’s up to them whether they want to proceed or not. It also puts the ball in my court if I’m in a place that I want to (and can) bless them with my services for free (or at a deeper discount).
To further use photography as an example of some of the “behind the scenes” you may not be aware of
- For every hour a photographer shoots they, in general, have at least two hours of editing to do
- If they have children (like me), childcare must then be arranged.
- If they are at an event they don’t get to be present and enjoy themselves. Instead they are in “work mode’
- Professional Photography equipment costs thousands of dollars, and must be maintained and replaced.
- If your friend turns down other business to be present for your shoot/event they are losing potential income
The list goes on, and every industry has a list like this of it’s own.
There is somewhat of an exception to this rule though, and we are going to talk about that in the next tip.
6. Create a Symbiotic Business Relationship or Opportunity
The dictionary defines symbiosis as: a mutually beneficial relationship between different people or groups.
Now before I get more into what I mean by this, let me tell you what it most definitely does not mean.
It does not mean ask your friends to work for “exposure/portfolio”
I’m going to be honest with you. Unless your friend has specified that they are looking to work for exposure (in which case by all means volunteer if you want to) that’s pretty much a kick in the teeth. By asking someone to work for exposure you are implying that the work they are already producing isn’t good enough,(even if that’s not what you’re thinking that is how it will come across.) and further more, if they don’t need more portfolio work it really doesn’t benefit them in anyway (and can make them feel pretty unappreciated). I would much, much, rather someone ask me straight up if I can work for free on something to help them out then under the guise of “exposure”
What it does mean:
If you want to use your friend for a service or product but it’s not in your budget, try to find a mutually beneficial trade.
Maybe you’re a hair dresser and you can offer to cut and dye your tattoo artist friend’s hair in exchange for the tattoo you’ve been wanting
Maybe you’re a web designer who can offer your photographer friend a web design in exchange for a similarly priced photo session/package
Or maybe you have something you know that person needs/wants that you are willing to trade for
A couple of things to think about:
Make sure the trade is of somewhat equal value. Offering someone a haircut that you usually charge $50 for in exchange for shooting an $1800 wedding is not mutually beneficial
Don’t be offended if they say no or suggest an alternative.
One last thing;
Maybe you can’t think of a fair trade (or maybe you just don’t operate like that). That doesn’t mean this tip can’t work for you. Be open and honest with your friend and see if you can work something out between yourselves that helps both parties involved.
What this might look like:
You are getting married and your friend Alice is a hair and makeup artist who also owns her own salon. She does absolutely amazing work and you really want her to provide hair and make-up for you and your bridesmaids but she is way out of your budget.
This is what I would suggest in the above scenario. You call Alice and be honest about the situation (that you really want to employ her services but she is out of your price range), then ask if there is something you can do for her in order to trade or earn said services.
Some potential solutions might include referrals (Alice might offer to give you x dollars toward her hair and makeup packaged for each referral you send her that books her services)
or you might be able to work for her a few hours per week answering emails/cleaning her shop/etc, or perhaps you could provide her with X hours of free childcare so she can run her business (or go on a much needed date night with her husband)
Are you a small business owner? Feel free to post some of your top tips in the comments
I hope you found this article helpful! I’d love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to leave a comment or question below and I will do my best to respond 😉 Have a great weekend everyone 😀