Starting a business can be a bumpy ride. From the start-up phase to becoming a profitable and sustainable entity, the learning curve is steep and the challenges are many. To get through it, you need a rock-solid team who believe in the business as much as you do and aren’t going to run for the hills every time you hit a roadblock.
Why not bring your family on board? I know what you’re thinking: that’s a recipe for disaster. But it doesn’t have to be.
While the pitfalls of family businesses are well publicised, in reality, the potential benefits are far greater.
Support and understanding
Family members are a constant source of support. If the business goes through a hard time, you have each other to lean on. If you achieve a big milestone, you celebrate together. There’s an in-built compassion and understanding from the start.
Trust, reliability and longevity
Many business owners dread going on holidays. Who’s going to manage that key client while you’re away? What if it all falls apart? You need to have complete trust in your business partners and know they’ve got your back. Having a family member in the business gives you that peace of mind.
Most businesses go through a rough patch or two – and when they do, it’s tempting for business partners to jump ship. But families are programmed to stick together. They can’t just walk away when things get tough.
Working with family also enhances your longevity because you don’t burn out as quickly. If you need to take a week or two and just switch off, you can do so safe in the knowledge that your family will keep things running.
Family businesses have the potential to develop a workplace culture that’s inherently different – in a good way. Family business gives people a shared purpose. Staff can see the owners and founders are so heavily invested that they get invested, creating a team of really passionate people who feel they’re part of the journey.
If you’re considering working with family, set yourself up for success by considering these important aspects.
Set your expectations
What are your goals for growth? Where do you see the business in five years’ time? If you decided to sell, exit or buy a partner out, how would you handle that? What are the KPIs and responsibilities of each position? Have early, honest and open conversations about these issues and record the outcomes. If you don’t, they’ll be much harder to tackle down the track.
Establish communication ground rules
We’re so comfortable with our families that when a disagreement arises, it can be tricky to keep it professional and not emotional. Things can get heated, fast. So it’s important to know when – and how – to defuse that emotion. Establish boundaries early and agree on what you’ll do when those boundaries are breached. Whether it’s putting the conversation on hold, choosing another forum to discuss it or just agreeing to disagree, establish ground rules and stick to them.
Know when to park it
As a business owner, you live and breathe your work. When the person you have dinner with each night is also your business partner, work is sure to come up in conversation at home. It’s unavoidable and sometimes the best ideas and actions can evolve from these discussions. However, the key is to quickly identify when discussions are heading down a heated path and to know when to draw the line. Know when park it aside to be raised again in a work environment.
Working with family isn’t for everyone, but I’ve seen firsthand how it can lead to great success through early investment in communication and clear expectations.
Pamela Jabbour is the founder and CEO of Total Image Group – a family business