Pros and Cons of Working with Family Members: 4 Tips on How to Make the Most of Your Family-Run Business Experience

I consider myself lucky because I grew up in an entrepreneurial environment which taught me valuable lessons for life and allowed me to develop crucial transferable business skills. I strongly believe that I wouldn’t have had an opportunity to be exposed to these experiences anywhere else.

My dad had a small electronics manufacturing facility and I joined him as a full time employee after I graduated from university at the age of 22 (although I was a regular visitor at his office beforehand). It was completely my choice, I felt I had to become a part of his company because he invested in my education plus I truly wanted to know what it’s like to be a business owner.

Was it the right choice for me to join him? Well, I didn’t enjoy it that much to be honest but given another chance, I’d never change the time I spent there with him, learning from him and his staff, bringing my own ideas and pushing them forward.

Working for and with our family enterprise I realised how tough it actually is to run your business. The long hours, working day and night, not letting go of it for one minute never stops. Networking, fighting to secure your place in the market, fighting with and against competition, constantly searching for new, better, more innovative ways to do run the business. And the money issue, oh my…, is always an issue especially when foreseeing growth.

But then, the joy of seeing your efforts blossom and grow into shiny juicy fruit could never be replaced by working for someone else.

Family business is not just about the owner, his family and the fun of running a business itself. It’s about giving back to the community, developing your employees, flourishing their private and professional lives, contributing to the local economy and building future.

There are many scenarios of family-run businesses, but here I share my takes on my personal experience working with my dad.

Pros.

  • You get to experience the business first hand. Full stop.
  • You get to travel to funky faraway places and attend interesting meetings which you’d never be able to attend if you started working for someone else.
  • Your work experience is 100% hands on-the entrepreneurial spirit lives in your day and night.
  • You experience risks, failures and accomplishments every day from day one, something that would hardly happen if working for a neighbouring company.
  • You get the opportunity to jump head first into the cold waters and acquire responsibility from day one. Now, that’s what I call experience!
  • You most likely get to contribute your ideas, visions and strategies directly to the boss. You’d have to fight to get them implemented but at least you’ll be in a position to do so, which again will never be possible for a young employee if working elsewhere.

Cons.

  • You are expected to ‘live’ the business and be prepared to jump in into anything unresolved matters and become a slave 24/7.
  • Business issues are brought and discussed at home at all times. Other members of the family often get involved too (oh the joy!).
  • The respect that will be shown to you will most likely be fake and people will suck up to you at all times.
  • You’d often be looked at as a spoilt brat and be expected to behave in the appropriate manner (so avoid being flashy with new favourite gadgets, clothes, cars).
  • In order to gain true respect, appreciation and loyalty, you’d have to break through many more walls than others. Be patient, but consistent.

Tips for making the most out your family run enterprises.

  • Respect the family member who actually owns and runs the business. It’s their baby and, yes, they do know better no matter what. Be smart and play their game wisely.
  • Never argue with them in public or in front of other employees – bad move. You’ll be seen as a spoilt, unappreciative brat which in turn will ruin your chances of building trust and creating friendships.
  • Do come up with your own ideas and promote them by speaking out during meetings with and in front of other managers. Have solid proof as to why your ideas should be implemented.
  • Business ethics is the rule here. Be professional, calm and authentic and never present yourself as a family member who simply sticks their nose into the family business.

I worked as an International Sales and Marketing Manager (fancy title that only a family member could get) and opened up three foreign markets in under two years. Results count if you want to make it alone one day. Experience gained from working with my dad was and still is completely irreplaceable and crucial to my current business success.

Have you worked with a family member? I’d like to hear your stories and tips from another angle.

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Katya Barry is an International Success Advisor aka Global Attitude Architect. She works with expats and those who want to break into foreign markets on business, marketing and cultural issues. She is a creator of The Foreignator show that is designed to inspire expats to start their own business abroad. Get her exclusive Free Report with 13  tips on how to create a better future.

Comments

  1. working with family members is quite stressful.they don’t adhere to set rules in the business including punctuality,dressing and respect to seniors in the business.one used to come and left without any solid excuse and at the end of the month he needed her full dues.others would want to given lunch n allowances that a normal employee would not get.i refferd mine to a friend and she is working full time from 8 to 6.im now less burdened and wont make the same mistake again.

    • I’m sorry you find it was a mistake in your situation, Robert. I believe there is always a lesson to be learned from all experiences whether negative or positive. I’m sure you’ve matured a lot after these experiences:)

  2. I’ve been running my own biz for over 3 yrs now and the family has gotten involved at least on the farm end of the biz. I grew up on a family farm and have always felt it gave me a good work ethic that I wanted to instill in my children. My son has now decided he wants to intern with me. What a complement that he wanted to work with me.

  3. Great article, Katya! I feel like I could write a book on this topic. I’ve owned 4 businesses with my husband over the last 12 years and last year the two of us decided to start a new business with my father.
    We had a LOT of meeting initially to discuss who would be responsible for what tasks and made sure to get all of the legal documents in place in the unlikely event that someone wanted out. Plus that way the division of profits are very clear. Everyone know what’s expected of them and what they can expect in return.
    It’s a lot of fun to work so closely with my loved ones, but has its challenges to be sure. For instance we have been conducting skype meetings with my dad since my husband and I decided to try running our business from Europe. Not easy for him to get used to but we are slowly getting over the hump.

    Thanks again for another insight into working with family. Always a great story!

    • Hi Amber. I too run a company with my husband and a mutual friend – completely different story here! It didn’t work out, the main reason was that the boys both come from corporate world and have some funny definition of owning and most important running a business. Lot to add here but that’s for another post!

      Where about in the EU are you? I’m in Germany and always look for other European entrepreneurs.

  4. Thanks Katya! Great article. I grew up in a similar situation but decided not to join the family business for the very reasons that you talk about! Was I wrong? I’ll never know.. love this post.

  5. You made some good points. I agree with Amber that having everything spelled out ahead of time is the way to go. I have had family members work with me a few times and the first time was quite frankly a disaster, not as bad as what Robert described but it was not good at all. The last two times went much smoother (though there were a few rough spots) and it was because we sat down and had a very frank discussion of exactly what was going to be expected of everyone involved.

    While you are going to get in the habit of talking shop outside of work you do need to be careful that it does not completely overtake your personal relationship with the family members involved which it can do if you do not pay attention.

  6. Hello, Katya! Thanks for your timely article. I am doing some consulting work for a family member, and the first thing that we did was set clear expectations about (a) my role is and (b) how we would communicate to keep things professional. We also spoke very openly about each others shortcomings, and how we’d sidestep them and work together. We even had the “worst case scenario” talk. Ahh…. so freeing to talk about it honestly and candidly, without any emotion being attached to it. Better to be safe than sorry, right? I am excited for the groundwork we created.

  7. Lauren Allegrezza says:

    Katya,
    I first clicked on the link to your post, because I am currently working at my father’s company. Then I started reading, and found it funny how similar my situation is! I just graduated college, and decided that I wanted to learn about how to run a business (which my father has had a lot of experience with) so I came home and jumped in. My mother also works here, and the experience has had it’s ups and downs so far. You’re quite right that you get experiences unlike with any other job, but it’s also very difficult because work never really stays at work. It takes effort to continue building your relationships around things other than the business. Looking down the road, I know that everything I will learn here would have otherwise cost me some big bucks at a fancy B-School.

    Thanks for the post!

  8. Working together with family is good but it has big advantages and if everyone
    is willing to cooperate everything is running smooth.