Small Biz Advice: Firing Friends


Holly Howard will teach you the secrets of the restaurant business.

Holly Howard will teach you the secrets of the restaurant business.

Holly Howard runs Ask Holly How, a small business consulting company based out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn that works with a wide variety of businesses from restaurants to retail to art studios and pretty much everything in between. Her clients report increased income and profit, decreased expenses and a significantly better quality of life. Holly heads up the Small Business Book Club at McNally Jackson Books.

Want valuable insight into how to grow your business?  Holly hosts FREE 30 minute strategy sessions at The Yard in Williamsburg.  Email her to set up a time or to ask a question for the next Ask Holly How.

Dear Holly,

I started my coffee business about a year ago.  I run a small cafe and am in the process of putting in my own roaster.  When I started the cafe, I needed a small staff and ended up hiring people that I knew, and let’s just say I consider them friends.  I thought that it would be awesome to work with people I really liked, and so it seemed like a good idea at the time.  But, a year later, it’s not working out so well, and I feel like my friendships have now become strained because of the business.  How can I resolve this problem?  Is it too late to establish boundaries and rules, or will I have to fire my friends?  Please help.  This is really stressing me out.


Caffeine Headache

Dear Headache,

Believe me, you are not alone in this dilemma.  A lot of small business owners hire people they’ve had a previous relationship with because they think it sounds fun and who doesn’t want to work with people they genuinely enjoy spending time with?  We tend to think that because someone is our friend, we share the same values and work ethic.  We also assume that because we are so close with our friends that they are mind readers. We quickly lose control of the situation when we don’t set clear expectations, establish boundaries, and embrace our role as the leader.  Here’s what you can do now to resolve the situation.

First, put everything in writing and create job descriptions for each role in your business.  Do NOT write this based off of the person who is currently in the role.  Write it based off of the actual needs of the role.  You need to take an objective look at the personnel your business needs to succeed.  Consider the requirements and responsibilities needed to carry out each role within the business.

Next, work on your leadership.  So often, small business owners neglect this side of their business.  But if you are not able to establish a vision, communicate that vision, lay out clear expectations, and hold employees accountable, your business won’t grow.  These are all skills you can develop, just like learning to brew a perfect cup of coffee.  Know that it’s your responsibility to be the best leader you can be.  If you’re not investing time in this now, make it a priority.

Once you have the expectations of each role clearly written out, sit down with your employees and make this a company wide change.  Don’t single out the people who are your friends.  You’re more likely to have success with this transition when you hold everyone to the same standard.  We don’t always recognize it at first, but people love structure and guidelines when they are implemented in a way that is inspiring and motivating.  Be sure to tie in this new way of working into a much bigger vision for the company.  Show how everyone working together to achieve this vision will be beneficial for all.

Finally!  Acknowledge that once you make your vision and expectations clear, there’s a good chance that the people you have filled those roles with might not be the best fit.  Be willing to let them go.  One of the biggest reasons for small business failures is that employers choose to keep people in positions even when they underperform.  We even tend to hold our friends less accountable than we would a typical employee.  We worry about “hurting someone’s feelings” or “being the bad guy”, but if you can’t make the tough call, it’s likely you’ll never see the success you deserve.

Good luck!  On the other side of this challenge is the potential for growth and continued success.  I’m sure you can make it through.


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