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Starting a business with family


Launching your own business is an exciting, but also daunting task. As a budding entrepreneur, you will often hear that you need to talk about your project to people, gather feedback, remain open to being challenged...

Another common piece of advice is that surrounding yourself with a team of trusted associates will drastically increase your chances of success. How large this team should be and how you choose them is entirely dependent on your preferences and your project.

Before we delve into the topic at hand, however, I’d strongly urge you to have a look at this article which speaks more generally about partnering up with people whom you trust. Following the steps listed in this article is essential to preparing and setting up your partnership!

In this article, though, let’s have a look at a special type of partnership: starting a business with members of your family.

Partnering up with family presents several advantages: most notably, chances are high that you already know your potential partners very well, and I hope that you trust them (both in terms of honesty and in terms of their ability to contribute to the project and handle money). You also probably have similar views and a similar culture if you are considering partnering up with close family members, which can make communication that much easier.

Still, there are various traps that you can fall into if you’re not diligent about your preparation. Here are four key potential pitfalls that I’d like to highlight:

Mixing business and personal matters

This pitfall is insidious, because it is extremely difficult to avoid. When you start your business activity, your life inevitably becomes consumed by it. You will want to bring up your worries, your successes, your concerns with the people who are closest to you: even more so if they are also directly involved in the company!

What this entails, however, is a situation where you end up talking about your business activity at family gatherings, at the dinner table, when you’re on holiday...

How can you avoid this? The answer is that you need to set up boundaries and stay disciplined about keeping them. Ideally, you should define with your potential partners

  • when and how business meetings are held
  • under which circumstances it is OK to bring up work matters (for example only when no other family members are present, or only during the day before 7pm)

Additionally, starting a business with a family member can also mean that work discussions will erode your personal relationship with that person. It is important to deliberately work on this personal relationship by organizing meetings that are not work-related, possibly involving fun activities that you all enjoy, or date nights if you happen to be starting a business with your spouse.

Family and social dynamics

I alluded to this in the earlier point, but it is distinct enough to warrant underlining: be aware that launching a family business will change the dynamics between you and your business partners, but it will also directly affect any other family and friends that you are close to.

For example, when I took over a business with my sister and my brother-in-law, it not only affected our relationships with each other, but also our ties with our parents and the friends that we had in common.

Think carefully about how this venture could affect the family dynamics, and plan for it. Talk to the people who will be affected by it: explain to them that there will be a transition period, that there may be changes in your relationship with them and try to get their full understanding and support. In other words, nurture your ties before launching your business!

Trust is good... but write things down nevertheless!

This cannot be stressed enough! It is very tempting to think, at the start of a business partnership with people that you trust and are close to, that there will be no differences in opinion or that you will never get into disagreements.

Unfortunately, arguments and discord can arise even with the people that you trust the most. That is why it is important to discuss possible situations before they arise – and don’t underestimate how important it is to write your conclusions down!

This is especially true for partnerships with people that you cherish personally, where emotions running high can make it difficult to stay poised. You don’t want any work disagreements to spill over to your familial relationships, so discuss all possible situations in depth (I point you once again to the article mentioned at the beginning of this post 😉), take notes of the most important points and validate these notes with all partners.

Starting a company with your spouse: fulfilling, but also risky

Let’s talk specifically about running a business with your spouse. As you can imagine, it can be extremely fulfilling to run a successful family business, but I can assure you that it will not always be a bed of roses. In addition to all previously mentioned challenges, there are two that I would like to bring up:

  • Be aware that you will be working with your spouse 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Make sure that you are both OK with this! Also think about how you will manage your children, if you have or plan to have them.
  • Financially speaking, partnering up with your spouse implies less security in case things go wrong. Indeed, a failing business could mean that your whole household would not have any income while you either manage to grow or stimulate your business, or one of you goes back to being employed.

At the end of the day, starting a business with your spouse is not a decision to be taken lightly. Because launching a business is highly stressful, you need to ensure that you are both able to cope with potential relational and financial stresses.

Starting your business with your spouse or other members of your family can be fun, fulfilling and allow you to support each other, but it also requires long-term commitment from each of the partners. As in any relationship, it is essential to deliberately work on treating each other with respect, patience, kindness and trust. This is especially true for family members with whom you want to build a lasting business.

To take things a step further…

Video : Starting a business solo or with a team, Gather the conditions to start, Inheriting a family business

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