How to do Business Online with Colleagues & Friends: An Etiquette Primer

Feb 10, 2016

A few years ago I was hanging out with a colleague who was also becoming a good friend, and the subject came up of the sometimes troubling (but mostly wonderful) overlap between online business and friendship. Without naming names, we shared incidents when we’d each felt uncomfortable or kinda betrayed by someone we’d met online and supported in their business.

Like receiving an email that started very personal and suddenly segued into a pitch to join a high-end mastermind group. Or having a friend stop returning emails after she scored an Oprah gig. Or getting to know someone in person and discovering you didn’t trust him, and being embarrassed about previously supporting his work publicly.

The online world is still so new and the way it’s designed can more easily blur business and friendship in ways that don’t exist in the brick-and-mortar world because we can appear anyway we want online. I’ve been troubled by some of the things I’ve seen or heard about and, deeply hurt by some of the actions of people I thought were friends or colleagues.

But first a caveat…


He always said, “Business and friendship don’t mix.” I say nonsense (love you, dad!). Case in point: being part of the Brain Trust. It’s a group of six teachers/coaches/writers who’ve met regularly for close to 10 years to support each other. I first gathered the group because I was tired of feeling alone in my business. I wanted more brains to bounce ideas off of. We stuck to business for two or three years… then we began to trust each other enough to reveal our patterns and fears – and become wonderful, close friends. I attribute being the most happy and successful I’ve ever been in part to being in the Brain Trust. 

Working with your friends and supporting friends is wonderful. It’s a huge part of a well-lived life. And it can get messy and hurtful without care and thought. Thus I wrote these eight thoughts on conducting yourself with aplomb and kindness in the overlap between your heart and your bottom line.


It took us a few years to understand this in the Brain Trust. If one of us had a new project – a course to promote or a book, for example – we all just jumped in to give our input and talk it up. But as our businesses grew that sometimes became less possible. I remember a particular moment when one of us acknowledged that loving each other didn’t equal being able to share each other’s work. Obvious but still, if we hadn’t talked about it, it could have become a wound.

Are you feeling pressured to always share a friend’s work or drop everything to support a colleague? What would feel cleaner? Even without your own Brain Trust, you may need to state your boundaries.


When you do ask someone for support, are you clear about what you are asking? This is so simple and so damn overlooked!

  • What are you asking for?
  • By when? Or how often? Or?
  • How will the person know they completed your request? Is it clear?
  • Are you making it as easy as possible for him or her to help?
  • If you don’t hear back, did you follow up – with clarity and lightness?

Here is what I see too much of: vague overly long requests that make my head hurt. Or clients saying to me, “No one ever supports me,” and then it turns out she never asked!

For the next week, examine every request you make to see if it fits these criteria. If not, revise.


Are you thinking about who you asking, and when? I don’t live my life in a tit-for-tat way. It’s heart constricting and not me. But I also have made the mistake of not knowing where friends are in their own businesses or personal lives before sending a request saying, “Can you help?” Not kind. If someone’s grandparent is dying or they’re in the midst of a big project themselves, you need to know.

And even though tit-for-tat is not my style, if someone is making asks of me and never offering their support, that doesn’t sit well with me. I know we all get scared about our projects not being successful and freak out – I did that with someone last year, and afterwards? I could have shriveled up right then and there. Super embarrassing panic moment. Or we fall in love with our work and unconsciously take on an edge of entitlement in our asks. Totally natural, and worth checking out with yourself.

Before making an ask, take a moment to inquire: Have I caught up with him or her lately? Have I supported their projects, dreams, or well-being lately? If not, does it still feel okay to ask for support?


This might sound snarky but here goes: I observe people becoming online colleagues too quickly. I watch people throw around support for each other’s work without really knowing who or what they are supporting. I’ve done it myself and ended up really regretting it – from bad hires to championing people who turned out to be unethical. Take your time in building a network of people you respect and know. Also, take time to cultivate a stable, trusted support network. Private Facebook groups and quick Google chats can be delightful but you need colleagues and friends who know what you are about, keep track of where you’ve been and where you want to go.

Cultivate wise support over time. A wider shallow network is good too, and be sure and distinguish between the two.


When you admire someone, you may approach them as a friend while being more interested in their ability to help you develop your business or recommend you. It’s a fuzzy line between networking, asking for mentoring, and using people. How do you know if you’ve crossed it? Examine your motives. Notice if you are believing you can’t stand on your own feet or that being friends with so-and-so will “make” your business. I can promise you: it will not.

Being mentored is powerful, and a mentor is not going to make your business for you. Build a robust business plan and learn to stand on your own two feet while also cultivating honest loving support from peers as well as seasoned mentors.


You may naturally become friends with people who do work similar to yours – other insurance agents, nutritionists, health coaches, writers, yoga teachers. It’s also totally natural to find yourself feeling uneasy or even threatened. You may worry you are going to inadvertently steal a marketing or teaching idea, or that your clients or customers will like her work more. Clients and customers do move around. But when you lose business to a friend? It can get weird. Best idea: talk about it, preferably at the beginning of your acquaintance.

One of my favorite things in the Mastermind Starter Kit is How to Start a Group Agreement. Instead of waiting until something goes south – talk it out beforehand. “What will we do when…” Too late? Then talk it out now. You can be friends without discussing business: I know, radical idea!


“We should do something together!” We’ve all said it – at a conference or after a few Skype calls. You like her, she likes you; it would be so fun to do a project together! It may well be, but you know what? You could also just meet up for a fun weekend somewhere. You could create a soul posse together. You could just hang out.

Who would you love to just be friends with? Do you need to say “no” the next time someone says, “We should do something together!”? Or at least ask: does it fit with my business? Do I have time and energy? (This took me the longest time to learn.)


You don’t have to be friends with everybody you do business with online. People who work in “straight” jobs don’t befriend everyone they work with! That sometimes over-the-top casual intimacy of social media can trip you into thinking everybody has to come over for a sleepover.

Colleagues are important and good to have, too. Nodding acquaintances are fine.


We all want to be liked and included. We all want our businesses and creative endeavors to thrive. We all want to be supportive and be supported. And we all need to bring boundaries, love, and integrity to how we conduct ourselves online. And not take it too personally when things go a bit south. (Note to self!)

I do hope this was useful.



P.S. If you want to feel less alone in your business and you crave a well-structured, dependable, and truly useful peer support group – where nobody is the leader and you aren’t paying somebody thousands to organize – you are going to love my excellent Mastermind Starter Kit! It includes The Perfect Invite Checklist (this is where so many people go wrong right out of the gate), How to Start a Group Agreement (set yourself up to get through the hard spots every group experiences), and a video interview with Danielle LaPorte about her group. Get it free by clicking here.

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