When Professional Gets Personal

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Owning a Business with Family, Friends and Spouses

Couple WorkingThere are a growing number of family-owned businesses in North America. Some of the world's largest businesses, such as Wal-Mart and Ford Motor Co., are family-owned. Many other successful business ventures, such as Google and Apple, were started by friends. But anyone who has started a business with a friend, family member or a spouse can tell you it's not always easy to draw the line between business and a personal relationship. So how can you make sure your business succeeds when the lines between business and personal blur? Here a few tips to consider.

Define roles. Experts agree, when starting a business with a friend, family member or spouse, one of the most important steps is to clearly define each person's role and responsibilities in the business. Especially if you have other people working for you, you must make sure that the lines of responsibility are drawn and that your employees know who to go to for leadership in certain areas.

Create vision and goals together. With all the stress and obligations involved in running a business, even with friends or family, it can be easy to forget goal-setting, a critical part of any company. Take time to sit down with your business partner and clearly create goals. Determine your business's overall vision and your strategy for achieving it. Working together on this process ensures all members of your team are invested in the success of your enterprise.

Share the dirty work. Make sure all owners have an equal say in the role-defining process to ensure equal buy-in, and share the least-favored tasks equally. If one person has all the mindless, boring tasks while others get the fun, glorious jobs, you can bet that jealousy, even anger, will arise. To keep your business and personal relationships strong, share both the exciting and the unpleasant tasks.

Keep personality and skills in mind. One difficult aspect of working with a friend or a family member is that you know them well. You know their weaknesses and hot buttons. But, you also know their skills and aptitudes better than probably anyone. Make sure that you use this knowledge professionally, keeping your ultimate business goals in mind. Create tasks and define roles that suit their skills and personality. Also, don't let things get personal by using someone's weaknesses against them. This might help you win an argument, but it will hurt your business and your relationship in the end.

Require personal responsibility. Each member of the ownership team should agree to being personally responsible for making sure their job gets done. Without personal responsibility, when things slip through the cracks, the blame game begins, and it can get very heated. When one partner lacks personal responsibility, it's difficult and draining for the others to pick up the slack. As simple as it sounds, this essentially boils down to the golden rule we were taught growing up. Each partner should agree to treat others the way they want to be treated. This ensures that everyone on the team, and ultimately, your business, wins.

Ensure accountability. Defined roles and clear goals don't mean much if people aren't held accountable for following them. Choose an objective adviser or board of advisers who can help you answer difficult questions, hold you accountable, act as a mediator and keep you looking toward achieving your goals. It's usually best not to choose other family members to serve in this capacity, even if they will do it for free. It only complicates the existing relationships to have family members trying to serve the objective mediator role. Find someone everyone on your team trusts equally, even if you have to pay them. Consider using an organization that specializes in small business coaching to keep things neutral and make sure you are en route to achieving your goals.

Each business will have its unique challenges and obstacles when those working together are family or friends. But by using these tips, you can reap all of the benefits of working with people you have relationships with and at the same time, help your business boom.

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