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5 ways to stay sane in a family business

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According to the Institute for Family Business, more than 3 million companies in the UK are operated by families — showing that it can be done right. The trick is knowing how to stay sane. 

Dealing with complicated circumstances at work as well as managing employees can prove challenging at the best of times, never mind when they are related to you. It is therefore crucial to know how to handle, and indeed how to prevent, these situations from arising wherever possible. 

Here are five tips on avoiding common slip-ups to help you stay sane within your family business.

1. Remember to communicate 

It might sound obvious, but communication is everything. Often, members of family-owned businesses make the mistake of thinking that because they have a solid relationship with family members outside of the office, they don’t need to be as clear with their expectations within work. In fact, this couldn’t be further from the reality. 

Relatives should be treated just like any other employee, and that means giving them clear and open instructions. It might seem a little official at first, but it is important that personal, out-of-work dynamics don’t dictate the way you treat one another within the business.

Don’t assume that your family will automatically know what you’re thinking. Instead, talk to them just as clearly as you would communicate with any other business colleague.

2. Don’t fulfil family needs with business resources

While your life shouldn’t revolve around the family business, it is unwise to mix personal decisions with company decisions. For example, if it’s unlikely that you’d let a non-family employee use business property (such as vehicles) outside of work, then don’t let family members either. Double standards only serve to create tension between employees, not to mention projecting an unprofessional image.

It’s also never clever to write off personal expenses as business outgoings — as illustrated by the Dow Chemical Company revelation in 2014. Even if you have co-founded your company with your husband or wife, that doesn’t make your holiday to Tenerife a business excursion. If you wouldn’t take [insert non-family employee name here] from accounts, then it doesn’t count. Save yourself trouble further down the line and professionalise the business from the outset. 

3. Make your business relationship formal

Even if you have the closest family in the world, like all business partners, it’s not uncommon for disagreements to crop up from time to time. This is why a written agreement makes good business sense. 

A lot of family-businesses are reluctant to formalise their company in this way, in case it damages family relationships, however, the fact remains that a written agreement is there to provide everyone with protection.

Sam Prochazka and his twin brother founded Novosbed together, and he strongly suggests “putting everything in writing” at the start of a business venture. Their business was founded on a formal structure, and it has now become North America’s premier online memory foam mattress brand.

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