“Ick” Management

Business WomenBy Donna Shea & Nadine Briggs

There are times in all friendships when “icky” moments occur. There are times in business relationships when “icky” moments occur too. The potential for “ick” doubles when you are both best friends and business colleagues like Donna and Nadine. We also own two nearly identical social skills centers that serve the same clientele.

Friendship and business rarely mix well. Friendship and, what could be seen as competing businesses, would be nearly impossible, right? Not if you practice what you teach. While this post isn’t our customary one about helping kids, it is one about social skills, communication skills and problem-solving in general. It is also about the importance of friendship and close relationships.

So, how do we manage to stay friends and be in business together AND separately? By recognizing and addressing the unique pitfalls that we may be subject to and pro-actively practicing “ick” prevention.

For example, while our centers are somewhat of a distance apart and we draw from different service areas, there are some towns in-between us that give parents both of our centers as an option. That’s no biggie. If a parent chooses to visit both of us and then decide which location and available group best suits their needs and schedule, we just know that’s how the chips fall and it’s not an issue. We run the same program that we’ve worked together to hone over the years, with slight differences in delivery. (For those of you who are thinking, “why don’t they just work in one center together?” while many of our ideas, interests, and programs are the same, our individual preferences for business models is different.)

Where an occasional “ick” has shown up is when a family attempts to jump from one center over to the other without us directly referring them (sometimes this happens because one of us has a better fit for a particular child). Sure, neither Nadine and I (or our staff members) can be everyone’s cup of tea. This is where our friendship runs the business. We are not going to risk our friendship and all that we have built together over a client that wants to jump ship from one to the other. This can happen either directly or by not telling us and then somehow we discover that one of our clients has mysteriously shown up in the other’s groups when we do a mutual event, etc.

We prevent this particular “ick” by having as our policy to ask straight out if an interested family is currently involved or enrolled in the past with the other one’s center. If that is the case, we either refer them back to resolve what needs to be resolved at the other center, or provide resources for other social skills programs. We do not take each other’s clients. It prevents hurt feelings and damage to our friendship. Sometimes a potential client consciously chooses not to disclose this information.  We can’t know that this has happened due to our adherence to client confidentiality. It still feels “icky” if a client’s non-disclosure somehow comes to light, and it’s just something we know happens beyond the scope of what we have control over. For us, it’s not worth us allowing these rare instances to crack our friendship and business code.