My sister and I started a family business called Fatty Sundays in 2012. I was a Graphic Designer and she had a job lined up as an Accountant. We had totally different backgrounds and goals, not to mention zero intention of ever starting a small business together! But, to make a very long story short, we did have one thing in common: we were determined to re-invent and modernize everyone’s favorite sweet and salty treat: chocolate covered pretzels! Our mom, Karen, used to make us delicious sprinkled pretzels; these were the inspiration behind our entire business, and we haven’t looked back since.
Starting a family business is exhilarating, exciting, challenging, fun, terrifying, educational, lonely, and everything in between. There are so many ups and so many downs, and I can confidently say that there’s no one better to be on this journey with than our family members! Our mom, dad, and older sister are still very much involved in all different ways. Before you jump into starting a family business, here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. The trust is real.
Through the good and the bad, there’s no trust or bond like that between family members. For any founders of a new business, decision making is a very important aspect of leadership that can be quite stressful. Having family relationships and a foundation of trust to fall back on through the process is extremely helpful.
2. It’s hard to shut off.
You have to be okay with talking about work outside of work. This dynamic is going to be present in any kind of family firm. Strategic planning is essential to finding time to leave work aside, even if it’s just for an hour. It may be helpful to set some ground rules, or have a code word that family members can understand to mean, “I need us to switch from our work hats to our family hats.”
3. Know your strengths.
Having totally different skill sets is ideal, so you can confidently tackle different parts of the business. As with any management team, it’s a good idea to round out your team with diverse experiences and strengths. Even if some of your family members aren’t ‘business experts,’ they may still possess skills that could be very valuable to your business, under the right guidance.
4. It can get emotional.
Even if you try your best to be “professional” in tough situations, there’s generally more emotion involved in family companies. Successful family businesses typically agree to not let financial performance and other aspects of the business dominate the family dynamic. As in any career, it’s important to take time to reflect on each situation, think about the common goals, and remember that everyone’s in it together.
5. Everyone wins and loses together.
There’s no question about it! As a family business leader, it’s essential to share the wealth and the blame. That means no one gets singled out or ostracized. Family is all about unity. Your family business should be, too.
Family is all about unity. Your family business should be, too.
6. Sometimes the best solution comes from someone outside the family.
Have conversations, ask questions, and get advice from third parties when needed. Non-family employees and business advisers can provide a vital outsider perspective that may resolve issues you didn’t even realize were there.
7. Share the passion.
There’s nothing better than going after your dream with someone who shares the same passion and energy. You definitely don’t want a situation where some family members get involved in the business out of a sense of obligation. Check in with everyone and make sure they believe as strongly in the business as you do. Beyond that, make sure everyone feels confident in their specific roles. Sometimes a seemingly minor change can lead to major results.
8. Avoid fighting in front of the rest of your team.
It’s not a good look! Yes, sometimes families argue, but your family and your family business are not interchangeable. Your family office is not your family home.
9. Family is forever!
Cheesy, but true! If you put in the effort to make it work, there’s no one better to go on this journey with. Family supports you unconditionally, and they’ll always have your back. That’s priceless.
10. It really is rewarding.
Though starting a family business presents some unique challenges, it also presents many unique benefits. Most people agree there’s no one better than family to rely on throughout life. Why can’t the same be true for your business?