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How to support your friend when you don’t love their business idea

When a good friend comes to you with a business idea that stinks — that you know  just can’t succeed — how do you deal with that without causing upset and a rift in your friendship?

1. Don’t tell them it stinks

There are two issues here:

  1. The fact that they’re motivated enough to want to start a business deserves encouragement.
  2. Just because you don’t see their idea as brilliant doesn’t mean that it is destined to fail.

“Passion will take a person far, and with surprising frequency great success has come from ventures that others considered crazy or harebrained,” says Bill Overend, president of Overview Business Consulting in Calgary.

2. Be supportive

Overend says that when people come to him with ideas, he introduces them to a solid process to appraise and or develop their idea.

“That means point them in the direction to some improved research. Help them run some numbers. Show them what kind of chasm they will be leaping, right down to the grass growing off the cliffs. Give them the full view of the landscape that they can use to make their investment decision,” he says.

And if you don’t know how to do that? Point them towards a professional that could help them get on the right track.

3. Realize that bad ideas can turn into good ones

“You could argue there is no such thing as a bad business idea, just a poorly executed one,” says Overend, “There will be milestones along the way where it's not too late to change. So, sure, you can take a shaky business idea and make it solid.”

As a friend, you can counsel your buddy to keep his eyes open and be ready to change course when necessary, and that way they could be headed to success.

4. Sympathize with their motivation

Before giving your opinion, you need to look at where your friend is coming from with this idea, and see that it might not be motivated from the same place you’d be motivated from.

Maybe that idea won’t make your friend millions, but will afford them a better quality of life. Whether your friend wants to start a business to create sustainable cash flow, save the world, buckets of wealth, or to have a sense of accomplishment. Overend says, “With apologies to cats everywhere, there is more than one way to skin one. It doesn't hurt to make it an early decision point to consider the alternatives to reaching that personal end goal.”

So talk with your friend, help them sound things out, and weigh up the risks and benefits of their idea. “Usually, once the client better understands the risks associated with a certain path, he or she is more than willing to take a useful pause and consider the alternatives,” says Overend.