My dad started Bob Clements International over 30 years ago. Small business is all I have known since I was a kid. Like any small business, I have seen the ups and downs. We have had many vacations that were coupled with meetings; that was “normal” to me. If you would have asked me, up until about a year after I graduated from college, if I would have joined the family business my answer would have been a resounding “HECK NO!” After my husband and I got married and had our twins, my dad asked me if I would be interested in coming into the business and I said “yes”. And now, looking back, this is an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Maybe you are in the process of bringing one of your children, or a family member into the business. Or, perhaps, you’re trying to decide if it is the right path for you. Regardless of where you are on the spectrum, here are three things that I know to be true about family business.
- Family Business is hard
Yes, having multiple family members in a business is hard – sometimes even “gut-wrenching” hard. But, when you come out of those really hard days, I have found that you’ve gained a support system that is unapparelled. One thing my parents have done as our business has continued to grow and morph is they have made sure that there is open communication. We do this by stepping away from the business and going out to breakfast or lunch as often as possible when we are all in town. This allows us to be honest with each other, work on having a unified front of where we want to take the business, and talk about any issues that we are having.
My advice: Make a commitment to have regular meetings away from the business to discuss business. Take on the issues as they come up and deal with them.
- The clearer the boundaries; the lower the frustration.
There are certain things that I have heard people smarter than myself say about establishing clear boundaries in family business and one of the things that has stuck with me is to address my parents by their first names (not Mom and Dad) when in a work environment. Now, I’m never ashamed to admit that I’m their daughter, but if we are in a meeting and are trying to make a decision about something it’s not fair for me to call them Mom or Dad. By doing that, I use unfair, emotional leverage that makes the playing field at work “uneven”. Do I slip up sometimes? Absolutely. But the way I address my parents dictates the way that a conversation goes and I must be willing to shift between the work relationship and the family relationship.
Also, when talking about boundaries, we should take a moment and talk about job descriptions and expectations. Whether you are considering bringing on family members or already have them on-the-job, you need to have clear job descriptions in place for your entire team to see. In addition, making sure the expectations for family members are clearly defined in addition to an employee manual is critical. I will spend some time addressing this in my next blog.
My advice: Clarify that two distinct relationships exist: a work relationship and a family relationship. Make a commitment to establishing job descriptions, expectations and employee guidelines for everyone to follow.
- Non-family members can make things easier.
As our company has grown, we have found that people, who are non-family members, can speak frankly with us and can become a valuable tool in the growth of our business. It is helpful to have people who have a view of what is going on from the outside and can speak truth into a business situation that involves a family. We recently brought on a new employee in HR and accounting for our business. She is someone whom we have known for many years and she respects us enough to tell us the things that are sometimes hard to hear, but are important to help us move us forward as a company. It is always wise to take counsel from people who care about you, your family and business and who have a desire to see your company succeed.
My advice: Identify someone who you respect and has a strong interest in seeing you succeed in life. Invest your time and meet with them to get their insight and perspective on what is going on in the life of your business and family.
Family business is hard and it isn’t for everyone. But, if you do make the decision to bring a family member into your company, know that the hard work will be worth it.