Top 3 questions to ask yourself before going into business with relatives.
My wife, Carla, is an amazing woman. She is exceedingly brilliant, the owner of a whole lot more A’s in school growing up than her future husband had. We’ve known each other for nearly three decades now, the past 25 as spouses.
And suddenly we’re business partners.
Carla is the newly minted Vice President of Operations for our side gig, Johnny Boy Marketing. Right now, it’s just that … a side gig. I’m still a full-time marketing professional who’s in the middle of switching jobs and industries. She’s still a homeschool teacher, mom and part-time front-office person for a handyman company.
But we’re each digging our new titles.
The thought of going into business — even a side business — with my wife would have been absurd even just a few years ago. It’s funny how things develop. Now, she’s suddenly a huge, vital part of whatever success we are having and are going to have.
I am constantly observing. Thanks to an anxious mind and some bad genetics, I’m nothing if not hypervigilant of my surroundings. I see things, hear things and feel things much more clearly than the average Joe.
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to see, hear and feel more than a few family businesses. I’ve seen what works. I’ve seen what doesn’t. This makes me confident that where I am with our family business is on solid footing.
To that end, here are my Top 3 Questions to Ask to See If You Should Go into Business with a Relative.
No. 1: Do you trust them?
If you don’t trust someone, don’t go into business with them. If they’ve ever not paid you back for that meal you fronted them without you having to chase them down and threaten to break their kneecaps, keep your personal and business lives separate.
Seems obvious, right? But trust is about more than just your thought on whether your relative/business partner will swindle you. It’s more a matter of whether you trust them to do the job with as much vigor as they would were they not your relative. I’ve seen multiple examples where a relative gets a free pass on being, well, lazy because she happens to sleep with the boss.
No. 2: Do they add something valuable?
My wife adds a ton of value to my life personally. That’s one of the reasons we’re awesome together. But even if she were great at churning out 500 word stories that can help businesses promote what they do, I wouldn’t need her professionally.
That’s what I do well. And right now, I don’t have too much work to handle. Having Carla be part of Johnny Boy Marketing if she was good at creating marketing stuff would be superfluous.
Ahhh, but Carla is exceedingly good at math and finances. Me? I’m sneaky good at basic math and accounting, but I also have some astonishingly low high school math grades. So when I thought about actually growing Johnny Boy Marketing to the point it is now, where we have clients and invoices and bank accounts and business-related purchases, I knew it would be a really good thing to have a person who intrinsically “gets” that side of the business.
That’s Carla. She’s a math whiz with a tremendous understanding of finances. Thus, she adds tremendous value to the business.
No. 2: Would you hire them anyway?
Don’t just hire someone because it’d be cool to work with your spouse or your brother or your cousin. It might be cool at first. It won’t be cool in the long run.
If you’re the one who’s ultimately in charge of the business and you have a relative who wants to be involved as well, he better be good at something that matters. Otherwise, you’re going to find yourself shuttling him from position to position in an attempt to make him useful, and all that you’re going to do is frustrate the heck out of your other employees who are playing hangman with the word “nepotism” while not doing the work you want them to do because they’ve checked out.
I’ve seen family businesses in which a CEO put his spouse in charge of hiring even though she has no demonstrable experience or success in doing that kind of thing, only to shuffle her over to marketing, where she had even less experience, after a series of disastrous hires that set the company back months, if not years, in pursuit of its goals.
It’s hard to fire your wife, even when you know you should, and it takes a really strong marriage — the type that doesn’t exist — to say, “Honey, your performance doesn’t meet expectations.” If you have even the slightest inkling you could end up in such a situation, keep your relative as your relative and not your business partner.
A general rule is to ask yourself: “If this position were posted on LinkedIn and I got 100 resumes, would my relative at least be in the Top 5?
If not, move on.
There’s a somewhat profane saying that lays out the truth about the best relationship between work and family: “Don’t shit where you eat.” It can be applied to many work-related situations. For example:
- Don’t have a romantic relationship with a co-worker because most relationships end in power ballads and tear-stained journal entries.
- Don’t gossip around people who might have the same strong career aspirations as you.
- And certainly pause and think long and hard before you bring a relative into your work life.
Make sure you trust them, that they add value and that you would hire them even if they didn’t pop up on your 23andMe report.
John Agliata is a marketing professional with more than 30 years of communications experience. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 226-5852.
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