The Family Business: How to Succeed Without Going Crazy

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For many small business owners, your second employee (after yourself, of course) is usually a family member. Whether it’s your spouse, your sibling, parent, or child – the family business is a lasting tradition in America, with a history of enviable successes and spectacular burnouts.

And if your choice for a new employee, or the next in line to take over, is a family member, it doesn’t have to be a messy ordeal to work with them.

In fact, keeping a small business in the family can create new, stronger bonds, forcing you to communicate openly and share in the successes, and failures, like never before.

So whether your children are toddlers, or you’ve never dreamed of working side by side with a sibling before, it’s never too soon to consider bringing on a family member to help you achieve success.

Transforming a Business Into a Family Business

There are many positives to employing or even going into business with family members. For one thing, you can build a sustainable business for future generations and give your family a way to provide for itself. Additionally, it sets a great example for the younger generation to aspire to, even if they don’t ultimately end up working for you.

But if passing your business onto your children is your goal, bringing your kids around the family business early on will help them to understand everything you do – and decide whether or not it’s something they are interested in pursuing. Jason Schadewalt, owner of Addi Cakes Bakery, lucked out when his daughter Addi showed an early interest in the family business, and he now says his plan is to build a sustainable bakery that he can leave to her one day.

Fast forward a few years and Jason’s plans might resemble that of John and Jackie Hall, who, in 2007, took their love of great cooking and spice recipes, and founded the Doc Kendrick Spice Company in Tucson, AZ. They recently passed the business onto their son Joe Garnett and his wife Brittany, who continue the family tradition today.

What’s the takeaway? Both Jason and John’s stories illustrate the need to exposure your children early to your small business in a positive way. Instead of treating work as something that takes you away from family, encourage your children to see it as another way to spend time together and learn from you. And even if they choose not to follow in your footsteps, turning your entrepreneurship into a positive experience for your children will teach them not to fear branching out on their own.

Letting Your Children Prove Their Worth

However, your hard-earned business isn’t just a set of golden keys that you simply hand off to your children. Allowing your older children to work for other companies, and when they’re ready, start out at a beginning level at your business, will teach them the value of hard work, and engender a sense of respect among co-workers.

One of the more famous examples of a generation-spanning business is Bigelow Tea, which began with family matriarch Ruth Campbell Bigelow more than 60 years ago, and continues today with her granddaughter Cynthia Bigelow, as president of the family business. However, Cynthia didn’t walk right in to the position, and instead began her career at Bigelow as a cost accountant who reported to the CFO, not her father, who, at the time, was president.

This story of success also highlights the need for providing alternative forms of mentorship for your children. It can be taxing on your personal relationship and have unintended negative results when you are their sole mentor. Allowing them to grow at your company outside of your influence will also let them forge relationships with co-workers, earning the respect of those around them.

What’s the takeaway? If your child is seriously considering joining the family business, make sure they are prepared with real-world work experience. While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to leave something to your child, handing over your hard-earned business to someone who isn’t ready will end disastrously. Don’t let your love of your child cloud your judgment, and give them time to grow.

From Rivals to Partners: Working With Siblings

A sibling can be a trusted collaborator who understands your goals more than anyone else, and can also be exactly what you’re looking for in a new employee. But just because you ruled over your little brother with an iron fist when you were kids doesn’t mean you can treat him the same way now.

During working hours, maintaining even a minimum level of professionalism will help you to focus on the work at hand, allowing you to more easily accomplish yours goals and preserve your relationship with your sibling. Swirlies and noogies are definitely not to be employed as teaching tactics (no matter how hilarious they are).

One of the best examples of siblings working together to find success is the family-owned G.B. Proudfoot’s, which began as a brother and sister venture, utilizing their grandfather’s natural recipes to create completely natural body products. Now completely owned by the brother, Cam Proudfoot, the business continues to thrive because of civility and planning between the sibling co-founders.

What’s the takeaway? Remember, your sibling has his or her own ideas and experiences to contribute to your team. Even if you began the business on your own, it wouldn’t hurt to listen to an outsider’s perspective on how you can improve operations. And if you and your siblings are in the process of taking over a business from a parent, it’s even more important to work together toward the common goal.

Ultimately, running a business with your family can be as frustrating, or rewarding, as you make it. But one of the best parts of including your family members is being able to watch your business continue to grow and evolve, long after you’ve retired.

Would you ever go into a family business? Share below!


About the Author

April Atwood

April is a freelance writer who combines her marketing and writing experience with a love for supporting small businesses. She writes, bikes, and uses a coffee press, but not in the pretentious way. Connect on Google+.


  1. The Family Business: How to Succeed Without Going Crazy

    A family business can create new, stronger bonds, forcing you to communicate openly and share in the successes, and failures, like never before.

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