Got a great idea for a family business? Working with someone close to you has its pros and cons.These entrepreneur duos share their top do’s and don’ts for managing their unique business relationships
THE BEST FRIENDS
Unable to find workout clothes that could take them from gym to brunch in style, best friends Vera Yan and Ve decided to launch their own activewear label, Nimble, in 2013 – and it’s taken their friendship to new heights.
Do be upfront about your goals
Maintaining a successful business and friendship can be hard if someone wants to make a lot of money and exit quickly but the other person wants longevity. It’s important to make sure your goals are aligned from the very beginning.
Don’t start a business just because you’re friends
Just because you like each other or have similar interests doesn’t mean you should start a business together. If you both love the same things, there’s more potential for you to step on each other’s toes. In our business, one of us handles finance and the other looks after the creative side of things, which means our skills complement each other and we don’t feel the need to jump into each other’s roles.
Don’t let problems pile up
We learnt quickly that if we’re feeling something, we address it straight away instead of letting it brew, because it’s not good for the wider team or our relationship. Everyone has different opinions and while we don’t disagree often, when we do we look at who has the stronger opinion and trust each other’s skills.
Steve Hokin was always good at building houses, but after realising he lacked the administrative skills required to help his company, Aria Homes NSW, grow to its full potential, he found the perfect business partner in sister Jody Smith.
Do divide the responsibilities
Our roles were clearly defined from the get-go and this has made running a business together so much easier. One of us is the builder while the other runs the office.
Don’t make assumptions
Because we know each other so well, it seems easy to assume we know what the other person is thinking, but this is where family businesses can run into trouble. Open and honest communication is essential, so we always ask questions and over-communicate.
Do put sibling rivalry aside
We’ve been each other’s support since we were kids and it’s the same in business. It’s natural for siblings to be competitive, but it’s also important to encourage and appreciate each other. By celebrating the wins, team morale improves and it also gives the company a chance to grow.
Don’t talk shop at dinner
Running a family business means we’re available 24/7 and this can make us feel like it’s impossible to escape work. To keep our relationship and mental health safe, we try to only talk about work at work and never at family gatherings.
THE HUSBAND AND WIFE
After working in the hospitality industry together for six years, husband-and-wife team Gary and Stephany Burton took the plunge and purchased Sydney’s Poolside Café in 2007.
Do take separate cars to work
We realised early on that we’re better off not working side-by-side as it can get quite intense. We don’t drive to work together and having our own commute means we have a chance to get our heads around the day or decompress on the way home. Having these moments away from the business and family allows us to reset and refocus.
Don’t turn date night into a meeting
When you have your own business it’s easy to get stuck in a rut and always want to discuss work, but it’s important to switch off. Bringing up work issues at dinner usually leads to someone getting fired up or going into stress mode, so we try to change the topic pretty quickly, otherwise it could ruin the whole night.
Do have an exit strategy
Just because you’re going into business with your spouse doesn’t mean things will work out, so you need to set up a proper exit strategy. We had shared bank accounts as a couple and made the same choice in business so everything is 50/50. This means if we ever split up, our profits and liabilities are shared. This may not work for everyone, but you need to have some sort of arrangement in place.
Don’t bring work problems home
Before we had kids we could worry about work at home, but we don’t want to seem stressed in front of them so now we discuss any problems we have over the phone. We call each other constantly throughout the day until an issue is resolved and that means by the time we get home we’ve already had the discussion and brainstormed a solution.
When Josh Willoughby married his wife Abby in 2011, he also married into the 25-year-strong family business, Jogger’s World Group. Joining forces with his father-in-law, Tom Warhurst, the pair now work together to ensure the company’s continued success.
Don’t underestimate each other’s experience
It can be a challenge working in an inter-generational set-up. While the younger generation may disregard their parents’ skills and what they’ve done in the past, it’s important to respect their experience. And while it can be tough for parents to trust their kids, they need to be open to new ideas – as long as they don’t negatively impact the business – and play a mentoring and support role.
Do give each other performance reviews
We set each other KPIs. As soon as one of us takes our foot off the pedal and starts to cruise, it impacts the business and the other person has to pick up the slack, so we keep each other accountable. We catch up every Monday for two hours and talk about the previous week’s work and workshop why we didn’t reach specific targets.
Don’t let family disagreements affect your work
As with any family, disagreements can be a weekly or daily occurrence. Our number-one rule is that if we need to make a decision and our emotions are running high, we sleep on it because usually everything is fine by the morning. For a family run business to work, communication is your biggest asset, so even if we need to walk into another room and cool off, we always work it out.
Do be honest about the finances
The majority of arguments are about finance, so we remove the emotion attached to money by being open and honest. In our company, there’s no hierarchy – we’re on an equal wage and having that information rules out potential blow-outs.
For more practical advice on how to stay in control of your business, check out WestpacBusiness Hub