Top 10 tips for anyone considering starting a family business

Starting a family business is known to be a big challenge but here, two co-founders explain key points to consider before working with family.

Ian and Joe Syer’s online business sells artwork from the likes of Banksy, Damien Hirst and Andy Warhol. Here its co-founders, who are brothers, share how they managed to start a family business-My Art Broker- and make it a success.

1 – Family first, business partners second

Don’t jeopardise your relationship as family, we always fear that falling out at work would also mean falling out with each other personally and what that would mean for the wider family. It’s with this in mind we have stepped down from the edge when we’ve been close. You can end up talking to a family member in the workplace like you would never be able to with any other member of staff, like you are 13 years old or worse so remembering to keep it professional at all times and keeping the fact you are family first at the forefront of your mind is critical.

2 – Defining who does what, and sticking to it

Be very clear on job roles and try to have some kind of structure in place, allow each other to run a business within a business and be responsible. If business demands change, try and ensure you hire in the right people for different tasks rather than trying to do everything yourselves.

3 – Seek a fresh perspective, regularly

Make time and find a good intermediary to discuss the business with, they’ll give a balanced perspective and look at other angles you may have missed. This is especially handy for when you are pulling in different directions or are seeking a sanity check on any big decisions.

See also:

Eight of the most successful UK family businesses

Why even fast growth tech firms can be a family businesses

Three big reasons why working with family members can make your job much easier

4 – Accept your differences

Allow for differences, you may be genetically similar but you’ll probably have a very different skill set at work.

5 – Families that play together, stay together

We find time to do something together that we enjoy when we should be working away in the office. We try and play golf once a week and seem to get more done in a different environment when you are not in work mode. Ideas flow much better.

6 – Manage expectations from the outset

We find that clearly setting our goals, defining who will be responsible for what and who will invest in new projects is something to be agreed on straight away. Most people might call this a business plan, but essentially this serves to ensure as a family unit everything is crystal clear so nobody feels hard done by, or they are carrying someone else’s load on a day to day basis.

7 – Don’t listen to the naysayers

We often sit up and pay extra attention when we are told something is too hard, too risky or something is already being done. As a family unit we drive success together and you can achieve huge results when as a family unit you all pull in the same direction. That includes people saying not to work with family. Big challenges that might seem daunting or unachievable on your own are easier to tackle with more hands on deck.

8 – Don’t jump into working with family just because you are related

Treat any business partnership or prospect like you would any other. Just because you are related is no reason to head on into business. Try honestly evaluate your relationship from an outside point of view. Do you argue lots or frequently clash? Do you live under the same roof? Are they your only family member? Do you both already have the same idea and vision of your business idea?

9 – Establish your business goals from the outset

You need to have the dream agreed from the outset. Are you looking for a lifestyle business that you and your partners can build to a level that allows a comfortable income and balances family life or outside interests? Or are you wanting and willing to sacrifice everything for growth in order to try exit the business at some stage with a huge payout. Either goal is fine as long as what you are working towards is agreed from the start. Nothing dampens cooperative growth more than one party wanting to extract profits when the other wants to grow a business so try think ahead.

10 – Agree an exit strategy

Should you decide working with family in the family business comes at too much of a cost or one of you wants to exit a clear agreement should be in place for how that is managed to avoid conflict later on. Whilst it might be uncomfortable discussing such things at the start of an exciting new business, your family relationships are at stake should these issues not be clear and defined so treating the business like anyone else would with properly sorted shareholder agreements is vital.

Find out more: My Art Broker

Michael Somerville

Michael Somerville

Michael was senior reporter for from 2018 to 2019.

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