8 Ways to Support a Friend’s Small Business (Even if you Don’t Need What They’re Selling)

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I was having a conversation last year with one of my close friends, Christine, about friends we shared who had started their own businesses in the past few years. She had ventured into the world of podcasting with Christory Online.  We then, specifically, started talking about another friend of ours from school (Rob) who started his own small business 6 years ago.

The topic was this: Rob is a talented tattoo artist; him and his equally-talented wife, Dianna opened their own tattoo shop, The Black Duck Tattoo Company and it’s doing amazingly well – and they do beautiful work to boot.

I support them fully – as cherished friends and also as my clients of my small business. Rob and I have been good friends since middle school (he even gave a hilarious speech at my husband and my US wedding – he moonlights as a standup comedian!) and he has always been one of my favourite people and also someone I have always been able to count on when shit hits the fan.

However, I can’t provide him and his shop any business from me personally – because I don’t have any tattoos myself, and I don’t plan to get any.

In short: I am not his business’s target customer, and this is something we all accept.

Support Small BusinessGetting a tattoo has never been something on my radar, personally, and quite frankly, even though I am old enough enough to have legally reached adulthood twice (and then some), I’m still sure my parents would still try to ground me for getting one. Not only that, Rob has already said on numerous occasions that he wouldn’t ever tattoo me, because he also knows my mother would kill him.

Plus, I can’t even commit to a shampoo brand, much less permanent body art.

So as it stands now… I will forever be a blank canvas.

But how do I support my dear friend’s small business knowing full-well I won’t be getting inked? Especially given that they came to me when they needed a website?

Well, come along on this ride and I’ll tell you how, including other ways you can support your friends as they travel into the wild world of entrepreneurship.

 

Background of my small business

When I launched my web design business in 2018, my initial clients were friends or friends of friends. Rob and Dianna’s tattoo shop were among my first clients (and later as an update to the original site) and I was ever grateful they trusted me with something so important for their new business because I had only officially launched my own a week or so before them.

The beginning days of being a small business owner are terrifying – if you’re not someone with business experience, you’re not exactly sure what the hell you’re doing when it comes to running one –  and you’ve risked a lot to get to this place, something everyone will remind you about ad nauseam.

I mean, I don’t have a business or marketing degree. I was trained as an educator, and then as a web designer – but I’ve never taken a business course in my life.  I was a walking panic attack when Star Mountain Design launched.

I can look back now and see that had no need to be, either – I had friends and family on my side.  What I didn’t realise at the time was how valuable this support would be, especially in those early days.

 

1) Help them on social media

small businessSocial media is probably still one of the best ways to informally get the word out there in a more personal way than say, paying for Google Advertising.  90% of our work has come from friends and word-of-mouth.  Our friends and former clients have kindly recommended us to their friends and family.

From there, the network grows and there’s a personal connection with each other. Social media is the easiest space for this because it literally costs nothing in terms of money and time to re-share a friend’s business post.

But there are certain things you can do if you’re re-sharing a friend’s post from their business.

1) Make sure to react/comment to the original post. Give it some oomph.  A like is good, but a “love” or “haha” is better.  This is the post that can travel because it will be public, so leaving a comment on someone’s personal Facebook page (if your business-owning friend reposted the business post on their own timeline) won’t get as much traction in the social media algorithim.

2) Share the original post, not just the link – if possible.  This is easier on Linkedin than it is on Facebook, but both still can be done and the result pays off, because the original post is there with context. On Instagram, you can share a post to your “story.”

3) Make sure you add some of your own commentary to the post or story when you share it too.  It’s a nice gesture to repost, but there’s something that catches the eye more when you say, “Hey everyone, this is my friend’s awesome new business and they do an amazing [insert product/service here].”

4) For X (the artist formerly known as Twitter) – a retweet is great, but one with commentary is even better in the ol’ algorithim.

 

2) Assist them with making connections

I’ve been lucky enough to have friends who pass on Star Mountain’s business information to their friends.  For some, they take the extra step up of setting up an introduction email/message with us both.  Doing this helps to remove some of the awkwardness that comes with a “Hi, you don’t know me but I’m so-and-so’s friend!” message.

 

3) Be ready to recommend their small business

Star Mountain DesignWe fortunately live in a more digital world now where it’s as easy as sharing a link or a Facebook page when you want to recommend a friend’s business to someone who might benefit from their services or products.

However, in the world of old school physical paper advertising, there is nothing wrong with keeping a few of your friend’s business cards or marketing materials on you in case the need ever arises. This could be keeping a business card of theirs in your wallet or maybe a few of their marketing cards in your car.

Rob and Dianna have some of my marketing cards in their shop so they can tell people we built the shop’s website.  I have promo materials from their shop as well and immediately recommend them when I have a friend in the New York area looking for some new ink.

 

4) Lend a helping hand where possible

Does your friend need someone to help move some stuff into their new space?  Do they need an extra set of hands at a pop-up event? What about someone to watch the kids for a couple of hours so they can meet a potential client?

All of these things cost you nothing but would be invaluable to the friend who is kickstarting their entrepreneurial journey.

 

5) Attend their events (even if they’re not your thing)

Star Mountain DesignWhile your friend’s product or service may not be something that specifically interests you, it would do your friend a world of good to see your smiling face in the audience when they are delivering their sales pitch to potential customers or investors.

Events like this can be extremely nerve-wracking for the newly-minted entrepreneur (I’ve been there), and the support of friends can make a world of difference when the jitters set in.

This is especially supportive if they are concerned about filling the space for one of their events – too many empty seats is the stuff entrepreneurial nightmares are made of.

Honestly – nothing says, “I support you!” like being a full-blown carnivore lending your moral support to your friend’s new vegan food delivery service.

 

6) Can you advertise each other’s services?

A great thing is when you and a friend are in complementary but not competing businesses.  So if you work in mobile hair services and you have a friend who does makeup, you are literally a “dream team” to a blushing bride.  Now that Instagram lets you do joint posts, it’s easier than ever to advertise your services together.

I look to recommend people for copywriting (for example, Adriana of Wildflower Digital), SEO, cybersecurity and other things my business does not do but also could fall into the scope of a digital agency.  I decided awhile back that if we wanted to stay good at building websites, we needed to focus on that and find people we trust to handle some of the other things that clients will often request.

We’re all in this together.

 

7) When you are your friend’s customer, be a shining star

Star Mountain DesignSo this is the ultimate level of support – you actually do need what your friend is selling.  This is a wonderful thing but can also lead to awkward moments that believe me, your small business owner friend is thinking about.  How can you help your friend?

1) PLEASE, please, please don’t ask about “Mate’s Rates” or other “Friends & Family” discounts. I know in some cultures this is acceptable, but it’s really tacky, in my opinion.  If your friend is just starting out and/or is a really small business, believe me, they wish they could cut you a hefty price break.

But don’t forget, they are going to have a ton of expenses that go beyond the product and/or labour:  employee salary, business insurance, taxes, accounting, advertising/marketing, website – maybe even an office or rental space – and the list goes on.

Don’t make it awkward for your friend who, like most new businesses, will be struggling to make ends meet – especially in those early days.

If they feel they can give you a discount without going in the red, they will and you won’t have to ask them for it.  If they don’t offer, please don’t request one – there’s obviously a reason they can’t and you don’t need to make it weird for everyone.

Where I can, I will try to throw in something free that is my personal labour rather than a price cut – but I am always grateful for the friends who don’t nickel and dime me, because as happy as I am that you’re supporting my business, it is very awkward to have to talk about money with friends – and even more awkward to have to say that my business can’t give you a huge discount simply because we lived through the big hair and skinny eyebrows years together.

2) Be their model client.  You are their friend, so chances are you’ve already heard some of their horror stories.  Don’t become one of them and risk a friendship ending over it.  Don’t make them chase you for payment, always agree to sign contracts even if you’ve known each other since diapers, and if you’re working around deadlines and appointments, be on time.

3) Leave them a review. It probably seems a bit weird to ask, but if they really did provide a solid service or product for you, give them a shoutout.

 

8) Avoiding recommending your trainwreck connections

This has come up a few times and something you may not consider, but it’s worth thinking about.  While it’s nice to recommend someone to your friend’s small business, please for the love of all that’s holy, PLEASE don’t recommend someone you know who is going to be a complete and utter liability.  This means giving a skip to the friend who is flaky, the one who can’t even make their rent payments on time, the friend who is dramatic and takes offense to everyone and everything, or my personal favourite – the one who loves to pepper their e-mails with passive-aggressive phrases like “with all due respect” and “as per my last e-mail.”

If you know your friend is a total shitshow, keep quiet and let them find someone else who enjoys a challenge.

There may be some who read this and think, “Well, I disagree and money is money.”  I get that.  But I can tell you from my point of view that difficult clients have actually cost me money; either by demanding extra Zoom calls, sending me emails on weekends/evenings that they expect replies to, and in some cases – especially in the early days – taking their time delivering content but also expecting their launch date to hold, which meant us consistently working outside of normal business hours.

After six years of running a small business now, we don’t cater to people who don’t value our time – if your content is late or you haven’t given us the things we need when we ask for them, then your launch gets delayed. When you’re a new business though, you’ll probably be keen to make people happy, especially if they’re a friend of a friend/family.

So, do your business owner buddies a favour and spare them your dumpster fire connection, unless of course the person you’re recommending is a therapist [insert evil giggle here].

 

In close

small businessThere’s so many ways you can support a friend’s new venture – many I haven’t even listed here.  As you may have noticed in this blog post, I have linked the entrepreneurial friends I have mentioned.  I know how invaluable my friends’ support has been to me and my business, so I constantly seek ways to support my friends and family who have their own small businesses too.

Venturing out on your own to start a new enterprise is brave and of course, challenging. I can assure you – from firsthand experience – that with the right people in your corner, it will all become a little less daunting.

 

*****

In addition, to show how my gratitude for those who have supported me and Star Mountain Design, I’ll tag my other wonderful friends and family who, when they became leaders of small businesses and organisations came to be our clients too, but weren’t mentioned in the body of the article. If you need anything they deliver, please do contact them!  All of these businesses are currently active.

– Anna and Alan Ostroff, Arts For All (New York, USA)

– Arielle Hobbs, St Augustine Counseling (Florida, USA)

– Brandon Hobbs/Clayton Smith, Osprey Companies (Florida/Texas, USA)

– Dawn Dugan, All Spectrums Therapy (New York, USA)

– Emma Beattie, Emma Beattie Hair (London, UK)

– Emmy Selcuk, RayBaè Spray Tanning (Leeds, UK)

– Helen Rogosin, Unpack Your Own Happy (New York, USA)

Long Island Paneling, Ceilings & Floors (New York, USA)

– Margaret Reiser, Sage London Counselling (London, UK)

– Mark Sternberg, Creative Content Law (New York, USA)

– Sylvia Ikomi, No Child Left Behind Consultants (London, UK)

– Vic Welsh, The Holding Space Liverpool (Liverpool, UK)