• Promoting friends' businesses taught me an important life lesson
We have all heard the warning that business and friendships do not mix. Whether it be in partnerships or simply a provider-consumer relationship. Whenever there is a relationship that is more than that of buyer and seller, there are bound to be complications.
In the social media era, where businesses are conducted through multi-user platforms, merchants rely on the already formed relationships to take their businesses off the ground. As a social media user, one is often bombarded with requests to “please follow, share and promote” a certain business page that was created by a friend or a follower.
Many of these online-based businesses depend on the ready-made social media connections to survive. This means the people running these businesses use their social media ‘friends’ as their primary market. They also depend on these friends to recommend their businesses on their own social media platforms, therefore creating a secondary market and potential free marketing.
Due to the destabilised economic situation and high unemployment rates, many of my peers have ventured off into their own businesses. I have, therefore, been on the receiving end of these business requests, where I am informed about the business, requested to like the page and share it among my own connections.
Over the past couple of years, as I struggled with finding a fit into my future career, I find myself being overly empathetic towards old friends and colleagues who have ventured into business. I find myself obliged to do the necessary regardless of my current relationship with that person. Sometimes I feel a need to prove my patronage by promoting said friend’s business and ordering from them.
With time, I made several purchases of various items and services from old schoolmates and colleagues who run their businesses online. Most of the time, I would not really need the items. I end up buying from them not only because I feel obligated to promote my friends’ struggles, but in some weird way to create a favour bank that carries the moral debt forward. In case I come up with a business, I, too, would expect these ‘friends’ to come to my aid.
After doing this for about two years, I realised my reasoning was flawed. In this dog-eat-dog world, the people I considered friends were a shadow of a life that only exists in memories. They are only my friends because that is the title social media gave them. To help promote their businesses, I would engage in small talk with these persons, catch up, and they would reply kindly. I would then make the purchase (at full price!) and never hear from these so-called friends again.
I finally stopped feeling the guilt and sense of obligation when I realised the people I considered friends were no longer interested in maintaining old relationships as much as they were in maintaining returning customers. These days when someone reaches out on social media and asks the favour of promoting their businesses, I say, “Of course, I will like and share your page!” before disappearing from that person’s radar for good.
These situations extend beyond the boundaries of social media. I recently started looking into real estate projects for future consideration. An agent connected me to a developer, whom I started talking to on the phone. On the phone, the developer was kind, knowledgeable and considerate about all my inquiries. When I finally visited his project site, I realised the developer was an old classmate of mine!
Granted, we have not seen each other in over a decade, but my instant feeling was excitement as I had been reunited with an old schoolmate, whom I had not seen in many years. In a few short minutes, I realised my excitement was one-sided. The kind developer, whom I had spoken to for months prior to the meeting, suddenly became cold and rigid. It instantly hit me that he might be apprehensive to have an old classmate as a potential client, as I would likely ask for the ‘friends and family discount’.
After the lukewarm reception, I got the hint and said my farewells quietly, noting to myself that I will never engage in any form of business with friends again.