How to Make the “Family” in a Family Business Work


Entrepreneurs and small business owners too often underestimate the role of their families in their own success. Almost 40 years ago, my parents, Steven and Susan, made the decision to run a business together. They had just had their first child (me) and were living in a one-bedroom apartment. I saw first-hand how difficult it was for them, especially juggling the business and family responsibilities.

At the time, Mom was a stockbroker and Dad owned a jewelry store in New York City. Once Mom decided to join Dad in his entrepreneurial venture, they had no idea of the difficulties they’d face blending their personal and professional lives together. Nevertheless, they both wanted to succeed and took great pride in operating a business entirely on their own.

Like many new companies, their launch got off to a rocky but exciting start. They were testing out what worked, what didn’t work and the best way to grow and manage their business. Dad, being the creative-type, thrived in the new environment while Mom leaned into her highly-organized personality to focus on the administrative and financial responsibilities.

But soon after, they realized managing work-family balance was hard. For many working parents, there’s just not enough time. Forty-six percent of families have two full-time working parents. Of that, nearly 40 percent of working mothers say they spend too little time with their kids, and 50 percent of working fathers say they don’t spend enough time with their kids, according to a Pew Research study.

To alleviate some of their issues, they exercised three key practices on a daily basis:

1.ย Appreciate each other’s strengths.

It’s like running a household – one person may be great at cooking and the other person may be great at washing the dishes. Successful couples regularly express appreciation towards one another and acknowledge that their success is the result of both skill sets blended together.

2.ย Let things go.

Don’t make disagreements personal. Remember why you started the business together and keep in mind that the business is there to make your lives better overall.

3. Find individual working spaces.

One of the biggest problems couples face early on is that they try to do everything together. Similar to dividing up the decision-making power and responsibilities, it’s just as important to carve out respective work spaces to prevent unnecessary frustration and friction.

These were critical to their success in working alongside each other. Today, my parents are still in business together. Most successful businesses need both roles – whether that’s coming from two co-founders or one person carving out specific time looking at the books and coming up with new products.

One surveyย conducted by InsuranceQuotes found roughly 20 percent of new businesses fail in its first year in operation and 70 percent fail after 10 years. To this day, Dad still tells me that their business wouldn’t have survived without each other, and he feels pretty lucky he got to work with his best friend for nearly four decades and made it work.

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