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All in the family

How not to run your business right into the ground March 1, 2001 SOHO Synapses Hed: All in the Family Dek: Run the business, but not into the ground. By Joe Farace

The only thing that holds a marriage together is the husband being big enough to keep his mouth shut to step back and see where his wife is wrong.
-Archie Bunker

Many of us started our SOHO businesses with members of our family, and I’m no exception. When I established my photography studio almost 20 years ago it was in partnership with my wife, Mary. Not everyone is temperamentally suited to working with his or her spouse. On more than one occasion, people–including clients–asked Mary, “How can you do that? If I worked with my husband, I’d strangle him!” While I’m sure that Mary was tempted more than once to do just that, it never happened. The truth is that partnerships of any kind, with or without someone you’re related to, can be difficult, and they get more difficult as the operation grows in size.

Having been on both sides of these kinds of issues, I’ll toss out a few tips that might make running a family business a little less traumatic.

Don’t look at employees as the source of problems; look at them as part of the source of your income. I have watched spouses of small business owners–who had no clearly defined role in the organization–verbally attack employees in front of their peers for some perceived slight. This kind of attitude creates turnover, and employee turnover is one of the most expensive aspects of any SOHO operation. Make sure that all family members have a role to play and are not just the boss’s spouse.

Stop thinking about payroll as if it’s your money, not the employee’s. Even though it may actually come out of your checkbook, they earned it. Part of your gross income also goes to pay telephone and utility bills, but do you think that it’s their money or yours? If everyone is not on the same team, you’ll end up competing against one another, which retards an operation’s growth and ultimately takes money out of your pocket–but not for the reasons you might have thought.

If you have a brother, sister, son, or daughter on the payroll, nothing you can do will change the perception that they got the job because of nepotism–it’s the truth. What you can do is make sure that relatives pull their own weight. Otherwise, this viewpoint can be a morale and productivity destroyer.

Some people don’t like to work for a family business because they think there’s no career track. They believe that Uncle Archie, Cousin Edith, or Meathead will get any and all promotions; but it doesn’t have to be that way. Make sure you use the same kind of employee evaluation form for everyone, and make sure the same work standards apply to everyone as well.

The very best SOHO operations run as a family, whether all of the characters involved are related by blood or not. The opinions of each cast member are appreciated and sought after. But just as in a family, it’s not a democracy–somebody has to make the final decision, and people may like it or not. What matters most is that when they don’t like it, there’s no animosity toward any other member of the team.

Contributing Editor Joe Farace is the author of almost 1100 magazine articles and 23 books related to his SOHO business.

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