Owning and operating a small family business – whether you are a business founder or part of the next generation to operate the business – is very different from running a small business with people who aren’t family members. We asked two of our clients to share their thoughts and advice related to the family business experience. One is part of a multi-generational family business and the other has been in business with her husband for over 20 years.
MARTY SANCHEZ, third generation of Casa Sanchez
As a part of the third generation of a successful San Francisco Bay Area family business, Marty understand the dynamics of multi-generation family businesses and shares this advice:
On playing to your your strengths
In every family business, each person has a strength that really helps the family – it could be related to sales, bookkeeping, organization, etc. Learn who you are and figure out your strengths. Engage in the parts of the business that you are good at and where you can make a difference.
On communication and compromise
With family, you sometimes speak without thinking first. Nagging is a common way of communicating in family businesses. This is not the best way to communicate, but it can be effective! You must not forget that the strength of the relationships is the strength of the business. Family business means compromise. This goes for out-laws (in-laws), too, who may not fully understand the family dynamics and have their own ideas for the business.
On personal vs. business time
One holiday many years ago when the family was together, we couldn’t stop talking about the business. Someone said, ‘Let’s not talk about business at all on Thanksgiving and Christmas’… and we’ve stuck to it! This makes holiday time extra special.
On growing up in a family business
Kids get involved with a family business organically. They hang out at the business after school every day and start to help out. They learn about it without even knowing it. It’s ‘Take Your Kid to Work Day’ every day! As kids get older, they can feel obligated to help their parents, siblings or other family members. Guilt can play a large role as they don’t want to abandon the family. We need to be sensitive to these feelings and make sure that those in the next generation feel comfortable talking to someone in the family about the business and their role in it.
On compensating family members
There needs to be a clear understanding about how compensation is handled for family members and how pay and raises are calculated. Imbalances in pay or a lack of clarity lead to resentment. Create clear compensation rules that are related to roles, tasks, hours worked, etc. and put it in writing.
On getting outside support
When an issue comes up, it can be hard to talk about it openly, and in a way that leads to resolution. A family member may be unhappy but may not feel comfortable talking about it. It has been really helpful for us to meet with a mediator to discuss issues, find ways to compromise, and move forward.
On family pride
People love to support family businesses and they love to hear that I am the third-generation in our family business. Customers recognize the commitment, passion, dedication and hard work and want to support us. I’m very proud to be a part of a family-owned business.
DEBORAH BOWES, co-owner of Feldenkrais Center for Movement & Awareness
Deborah has co-owned Feldenkrais Center for Movement & Awareness with her husband, Cliff Smyth, since 1996. Here are her tips for other businesses owned and operated with a life partner:
On communication, compromise and sharing the load
- Agree on the steps to take next. Be willing to compromise and sometimes follow your partner’s dream.
- Share the stress. Be attentive to when your partner needs a break and give it to him/her.
- Be honest with what you want to do and the kind of support that you need.
- Allow each other to work from his/her strengths.
- Give a lot of support when your partner is doing something the he/she doesn’t like to do or doesn’t want to do. After all, there’s always going to be some of that!
- Make specific times for work meetings and take notes. It’s so easy to forget who agreed to what.
On managing conflict
- Don’t talk about work before going to bed.
- Go for walks to talk out difficult issues.
- When you both are around your employees, be professional with each other.
- Keep any private issues at home.
On work/life balance
- Home support is essential. Share tasks related to cooking and cleaning, and use a housecleaner if that is helpful.
- We get grouchy if we have worked all day, come home hungry and there’s nothing to eat in the house. Have food in the freezer ready for a quick meal or get take out once a week.
- Your business depends on your own self care and health. It is as important as everything else you do. Stay hydrated and try to fit some type of movement or exercise into your day.
- Laugh together and relax together.
Deborah’s last words of advice are applicable to ALL of us – “Be the kind of boss you’d want to have and the kind of employee you’d value!”
At Paul Terry & Associates, we are familiar with the challenges specific to family business owners and joint ventures. We help new joint ventures define the terms of their relationship and established partners address current issues and update agreements. Learn more about our services.
Check out these tips and resources for family-owned businesses.