Keeping it in the family?

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Being a business owner comes with its fair share of challenges but when you add family into the management mix, it can either be a dream come true…or your worst nightmare!  My entrepreneurial journey covers several ventures, all of which involve my husband, some of which also include other close relatives.  Here’s our top tips on how to get the most out of the family firm.

Spell it out

Before going into any venture, it’s critical that expectations are clear and voiced freely. Spell everything out and be very specific about what each person’s role will be, what each of you will get out of it, and how you’ll make decisions moving forward. You don’t want there to be any room for misunderstandings that could impact personal relationships.

Which hat are you wearing today?

When you’re working with close family, it’s important to establish boundaries, otherwise it is too easy to flip conversations from business to personal. When in discussion, ensure you understand which hat each person is wearing: father, daughter, colleague, Director, etc.  If you find a review of sales data slips into a chat about what’s for dinner, make a conscious decision to park that topic and re-visit after the working day has officially ended.

Know your role

When you’re working with someone you love, it’s easy to “drift out of your lane” and into theirs. Try to have faith in the other person’s abilities and trust that they will do their designated job, whilst you do yours. Stop yourself if you find you are interfering in their area.

Spare a thought for feelings

When you’re completely at ease with someone through years of shared experience, it’s easy to be brutally honest – and you might find that you communicate your differences of opinion in a tone and terms that you might not use with other employees e.g. “No, you’re wrong”, “That’s complete rubbish”, etc. Instead, ensure that you ultimately respect each other’s opinions, value each other’s differing points of view and communicate in the manner in which you would like to be spoken to.

Change your perspective

The flip side of conflicting views is that you may be so attuned to the same views on life, the universe and everything,  that it’s too easy to disappear into a cosy bubble and fail to take on board an external view of the world. Make sure you consult opinion from those outside the family and consider other ideas before making strategic decisions.

Give and take criticism

Giving feedback is essential to the success of the business – don’t shy away from it for fear of hurting feelings. Try the “sandwich style” to deliver constructive criticism that ends on a high note – in other words, focus on strengths, then provide feedback on areas of improvement, and lastly reiterate the positive, as well as what they can expect by making the change. If you are on the receiving end, don’t take it personally – try to consider due criticism with a rational reaction, rather than an emotional mind.

Hire and promote based on merit

Just because there is a role in the company doesn’t mean that your sibling, aunt or cousin is best equipped to fill it. Make sure that you only appoint the person who has the right skillset for the job – otherwise the business will suffer.

Treat everyone equally

Set the same rules for everyone, and that also means annual leave allocations, tea breaks, project deadlines, etc – when you start giving preferential treatment to those close to you, it can cause resentment amongst other employees.

Schedule white space

The most important tip is to schedule white space in your calendar, especially when you’re working with your spouse. It’s all too easy to come home after work and fall back into business mode instead of spending quality time with one another and the rest of the family – so try designating the dinner table a company-free zone. Funny work related anecdotes are acceptable, lengthy discussions about cash flow forecasts are not!

And finally….don’t forget to have fun!

Don’t fall into the trap that snares many an entrepreneur — working so hard they forget to have fun. Remember to laugh, learn and enjoy the journey!

Follow these tips and your family business will succeed…with your sanity intact!