Avoid my mistake - the time I had to threaten my best buddy with a lawsuit.

When I started my photography business I was big on ambition but short on industry friends - that quickly changed after I had spent a few years establishing myself as a trusted wedding photographer who was willing to do whatever it took for my clients. 

Industry professionals were starting to notice and like my work and that felt great. It was natural for me to want to do more work with the people that I liked spending time with, and to give something back to my community of friends who had supported me. 

100% of my focus is on still photography so when I would be asked about video services I was thrilled to start referring them to a buddy of mine that specializes in wedding videography. I was initially nervous because our styles and approaches were so different - I remember one time a client invited me to dinner at his house. I was stoked, I couldn't wait! My buddy on the other hand declined the invite and told me I was crazy to spend time with my clients outside of the shoot. I was comforted by that fact we were both dedicated to a quality end product - or so I thought.

Everything seemed fine until I started receiving messages from brides asking me if I had heard from my buddy - they had been able to reach him by phone, text or by email. I was quick to defend my buddy. I told them I was sure he was busy, he had been traveling, I was sure he will get back in touch soon and it has probably just been a misunderstanding. I reached out to him on their behalf and was shocked to discover that I too had difficulty reaching him - unless I made it clear that I wasn't calling about work. 

I dipped my toe into the 'doing business with friends' tub and this is pretty much how I felt about it:

Unfortunately, by the time I realized how he ran his operation I had already recommended him to a bunch of brides. A bunch. One after another my brides started reaching out to me trying to get ahold of him, asking if I would go to his house to give him a message, could I give them a refund, did I know if they would ever get their wedding videos. I had a couple of brides, so frustrated with inability to reach him leave messages for him on my Facebook page. I was literally feeling their anxiety.

This wasn't just a mistake - it was a HUGE mistake. Lovely, sweet, patient brides had gone over a year and a half without as much as a highlight clip from 'my buddy' and they were livid - my clients who were publicly thrilled with their wedding images and had left me 5 star feedback were now threatening legal action unless they could get their footage and a refund. My business turns a modest profit - but nowhere near enough to cover my expenses and the shortcomings of another wedding vendor. 

Just today I received a call from a bride whose grandmother was ill and didn't have long to live - she was reaching out to me to see if I had any video clips at all from the dances or the speeches at her wedding to share with her. 

Here is my advice, to anyone who might be considering doing work with a good buddy or someone who you like / love / respect:

• Trust but verify. As a friend, I took everything that my buddy told me at face value.  When a 1 star review showed up on his account he told me they were from 'crazy' clients that he had never worked for. I should have looked deeper and been more cautious. 
* When our business partnership dissolved so did our friendship. The guy who was once my best buddy (I took him skydiving for his birthday) is now spreading rumors about me and my wife to cover his own shortcomings. 
* Never, ever, ever do a joint contract with another wedding vendor. The biggest mistake I made in the course of this process was allowing my buddy to piggyback on one of my contracts. Now, even though I have provided 5 star service, I am looking down the barrel of a lawsuit designed to punish him.
Devil's advocate. The warning signs were there all along and I refused to see them. He was my buddy and I was finally in a position to help him. I was blinded by my desire to be a hero and I ended up leaving myself critically exposed to lawsuits and all sorts of unnecessary drama.

I hope that you never have to go through a situation like this.