Family business – how to make it work

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A printing company was owned by three siblings. They had purchased it from their dad a number of years prior. Although the industry has been challenged, they are successful and supporting essentially four families: the three siblings and their dad.

I interviewed this family for a book I wrote called “The Family Business:  How to Be in Business With People You Love — Without Hating Them.” What was one piece of advice they would give to potential family business owners?

In unison, they all said, “DON’T.” In other words, don’t go into business with family. Although they are happy to be in business together, the stress, challenges and struggles prompted them to advise others not to do it. The thought of owning a business is glamorous; the challenge lies in the implementation.

With that said, none of them would ever think of leaving the business. They have all grown in their knowledge of business and life. They love what they do and see the value to their families and the community but understand that it is a calling that works well for only some families. What other advice would I recommend for running a business with family members?

Be open and communicate. Talk to each other, not at each other.

Be respectful.

Document everything you plan on doing with the business and have business discussions upfront.

Don’t take things personally and don’t make comments of a personal nature.

Determine your exit strategy before you need to use it.

Create your estate plan. It is easier to do that when you’re young than after wealth has been created and there is a fight looming.

Don’t be afraid to discuss difficult issues. It is better to clear the air than to let something brew and not be addressed.

Below are some recommendations to consider, especially if you and your spouse work together:

1. Spend time with your spouse every week away from work. Make it a rule to not discuss work in any way. You must maintain your life outside of the business in order to attain balance and be interesting.

2. Take a day once a quarter and get away. It doesn’t need to be expensive — a bike ride and a picnic don’t cost much, but they allow you to recharge your batteries. Again, make it a rule to not discuss work (or money) in any way.

3. Take a vacation with the family once a year. Get away for one week (at least) with no work, no interruptions and no technology (I know, that is heresy). Again, the vacation doesn’t need to be expensive, but everyone needs time to reacquaint themselves with the family, find out what is going on and create memories. If you say you can’t get away from the business, you need to figure out how anyway. I can already hear the excuses: I don’t have time; I don’t have the money; I don’t know where to go or what to do. Stop it — and just make it happen.

4. Create a gratitude journal. Write down every day what you are thankful for. Have a page for all the things you are thankful for about your spouse. Then when you have a bad day, go read that page.

5. Stop trying to change your family. Let’s start with your spouse: You married each other as you are — accept each other for who you are and stop wasting your time and energy making each other change. Start looking for strengths and use those strengths in the business. When that happens, your business will reflect the joy of someone playing to his or her strengths. Or one of you get out of the business, hire someone else to do the job you or your spouse was doing, and start rebuilding your life.

6. Get advice from someone outside the family who can help to navigate business relationships. Get someone to help facilitate the business environments and relationships, and help all the individuals grow and build on their strengths.

Family businesses can be awesome when done right, disastrous when done wrong.  Build a strong foundation in the family and the business. That creates a legacy that will live on into the future.

Janna Hoiberg is an award-winning executive and leadership business coach with over 30 years’ experience in managing and operating successful businesses. She is the author of “The Family Business: How to Be in Business With People You Love … Without Hating Them.” Find more at jannahoiberg.com.