I have a relative who runs a fairly successful fashion design business. The company does well and is in the process of expanding. My relative approached me about coming on board to work with him in some form of partnership. It would just be a very small piece, but we haven’t ironed out the details yet. I respect him and see that he is good at what he does, I’m just a little leery about going into business with family members. I’ve heard so many horror stories, and I really don’t want to ruin the good relationship that we have already.
Can you give me any advice on how to determine whether or not I should work for my relative? I’m not even sure how I should go about analyzing this situation. I just don’t want to make any mistakes.
Dear Relatively Shy,
This is such a great question and kudos to you for taking the time to think about it before taking the leap. Working with family members can certainly be a tricky situation, but it doesn’t always have to evolve into a horror story. Take time to fully asses this situation before making any commitments. Here are a few things you can ask yourself and your relative before you dive into a working relationship.
Do you know how your relative acts in a professional setting? You may have only experienced him in a personal setting, so you may have no idea what it’s like to work with him in a professional setting. We often act differently in our personal relationships than we do in our professional relationships. If possible, spend some time with him at the business and see how he interacts with other personnel, or vendors, or clients. Be aware of the environment that you’re signing up for.
Are your communications with your relative clear and open enough that no matter how challenging a situation, you can always work through it? Being in a professional relationship with a relative is more challenging than most professional relationships. It’s easier to take things personally, and we often have a really hard time being direct and objective with our relatives. So ask yourself how good your communication skills are, and how good your relative is at communicating. Do you feel like you will be able to give and receive frank and honest feedback about the business and your working relationship? If that feels uneasy to you, or if you feel like his communication skills are sub-par, you may want to think twice about diving in unless you both commit to improving your skills.
Do you share the same work ethic? You want to make sure that there is a mutual respect for each other at work. With relatives, it’s easier to just dive in without really thinking about how each of you works. Just because you’re related does not mean you’ll have the same work ethic or level of professionalism. Ask him about the values of his company and what his expectations are in the working environment. Like I mentioned above, if you do have the opportunity, spending some time inside the business before you start is a good idea. Don’t confuse the way someone carries himslef in a personal setting with the way he behaves at work. Know what you’re committing to.
Finally, if you are going to work with your relative, make sure you’re inspired and on the same page. Do you buy into his long-term vision? Just because what he’s doing now may seem like a good fit for you, if you’re going to commit, you need to know where this business is heading and if that works for you. Do you know how he plans on growing the business over the next five years? Are you clear on whether or not that vision fits with your personal vision? Be sure to discuss the bigger picture here before you commit. You want to make sure you’re both headed in the same direction in order for the relationship to be successful.
Good luck! Working with relatives can be challenging, but can also be extremely rewarding if you get off on the right foot!
Holly Howard runs Ask Holly How, a small business consulting company based out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn that works with a wide variety of businesses from restaurants to retail to art studios and pretty much everything in between. Her clients report increased income and profit, decreased expenses and a significantly better quality of life. Holly heads up the Small Business Book Club at McNally Jackson Books.
Want valuable insight into how to grow your business? Holly hosts free 30 minute strategy sessions at The Yard in Williamsburg. Email her to set up a time firstname.lastname@example.org or to ask a question for the next Ask Holly How.