Family businesses can be serious entities. Some of the biggest and best companies in the world are owned by families, including Walmart, Volkswagen and Berkshire Hathaway. Business owners looking to build a team they trust don’t need to look far, and enlisting the help of co-workers, parents, children and siblings can make all the difference. In theory, that’s great. In practice, it’s a different story. Can you work with your family?
Ali Asadkhan knows how to work successfully with siblings. As the founder and co-owner of Vitasave, which started in 2013 and is expected to generate $50 million in revenue this year, Asadkhan works with his two brothers to run the company. Not only is their business booming, but Asadkhan and his team successfully transitioned it from a brick-and-mortar store to an e-commerce only business. Today, the company offers more than 300 brands and 8,000 natural health products.
Based on nearly ten years of experience working with his siblings, here are Asadkhan’s nine top tips for doing business with your siblings.
Communicate clearly and regularly
Communication is key to any successful relationship, but it’s even more important between siblings who run a business together. “You can get to know your siblings well as people, but you have to make sure that no one can guess what’s going on in your business,” Asadkhan said. “Running a venture together can bring out new versions of someone’s personality that might surprise you, even if you all grew up together.”
Divide responsibilities according to strengths
“Between siblings there can be a natural leader,” Asadkhan said, “but each must have specific areas of responsibility.” As with any team, everyone will have different strengths and the workload needs to be shared between partners. In building the team, the brothers “implemented one simple strategy from the electronic myth reviewed by Michael Gerber. We each headed one department: marketing, accounting and operations.” This allowed them to each focus on one key area and communicate their progress without duplicating efforts. Divide and conquer and watch your efforts multiply.
Separating personal and professional life can be difficult between siblings, but it’s important to have harmonious relationships both inside and outside of the business. “We set clear boundaries and draw lines so that our work and personal relationships don’t mix,” Asadkhan said. For example, “whether we’re discussing growth plans, reviewing performance, or addressing an internal issue, we stay professional and stay on topic. Our personal lives remain at the door of any business-related meeting.”
Align your goals
“My siblings and I have our own individual ideas and unique leadership skills, and without the right strategy, our ideas can be the very things that break us,” Asadkhan said. To make sure he and his brothers’ plans are on the same page, together they set a clear path, agree to it, and refer to it in everything. “Building a company or business with a family is not possible according to many, but by clearly aligning the goals, including when to expand the product offering and how to improve the website, we were able to take Vitasave to a respectable height.” “.
Encourage healthy debate
When working with siblings, make the most of your presence and don’t make decisions on your own. “Growing up, you might feel like the eldest is making the decisions for everyone, or one sibling is taking the wheel for everyone else, but it’s no longer just about who has the TV remote.” Asadkhan wants you to tell your siblings everything on your mind about your business so you can make decisions as partners. “There have been times when we debate and challenge each other for hours in the boardroom, always in favor of business. So far, that strategy has worked. And there are never difficult feelings.”
Be each other’s source of motivation
“We are each other’s biggest fuel and constantly push each other to learn, grow and stay hungry for knowledge and connections,” Asadkhan said. It was as true in their childhood as it is today. “When one of us wants to pursue an idea for the development of the company, the others support him and are ready by his side.” Asadkhan, for example, believes that personal progress leads to better business and “in 2016 I wanted to attend a Tony Robbins seminar. I shared the workshop with my brothers and we all attended together. The workshop changed our personal lives forever, affecting many aspects of our business.”
Don’t dwell on failure
Knowing your brothers and sisters well means you know what they are capable of, both tremendous success and enormous mistakes. “Worrying about what mistakes your siblings might make will only hinder your overall growth,” Asadkhan said. “Focus on your vision instead.” At Vitasave, when the team is focused on its vision, failures and mistakes become stepping stones and opportunities for growth, not setbacks.
Get outside help
Working with siblings means it’s easy to work in an echo chamber where you believe you have all the answers between you. Asadkhan knows it isn’t. “We know there are resources and expertise we need beyond our own family, so we don’t hesitate to ask others for help.” Admitting that you don’t know the answer within your family is a strength, and “getting help from others does not create weakness, but ensures success in the long run.”
Like many family businesses, Asadkhan and his brothers want their future children to build on the legacy they started. “Imagine your business three, five, ten decades from now and think about who might be a part of it in the future.” It’s never too early to start succession planning, and Asadkhan recommends identifying critical positions and developing action plans for them. “If the young people in your family want to be involved in the future, you can prepare them early to be successful.”
Working with family, if done well, can be brilliant. Your business will reach new heights and you will wonder why you didn’t think of it sooner. However, when done poorly, it’s a nightmare that affects many areas of your life. Keeping communication high, supporting each other, proactively seeking expertise and help from elsewhere, and setting boundaries means it just might work for you.