Family businesses can be serious organizations. 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 have to look far, and enlisting the help of partners, parents, children and siblings can make all the difference. In theory, it’s great. In practice, it’s a different story. Would you work with your family?
Ali Asadhan knows how to work successfully with siblings. As the founder and co-owner of Vitasave, which launched in 2013 and expects to do $50 million in revenue this year, Asadhan works with his two brothers to run the company. Not only is their business booming, but Asadhan and his team have successfully transitioned it from a brick-and-mortar store to e-commerce only. Today, the company offers more than 300 brands and 8,000 natural health products.
From nearly ten years of experience working with his siblings, here are Asadhan’s nine top tips for running a 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 may know your siblings well as people, but you have to make sure no one is guessing what’s going on in your business,” Asadhan said. “Running a venture together can reveal new versions of someone’s character that might surprise you, even if you all grew up together.”
Distribute responsibilities according to strengths
“There may be a natural leader among siblings,” Asadhan said, “but each needs specific areas of responsibility to own.” As with any team, each will have different strengths and the workload must be distributed among the partners . When building the team, the brothers “applied a simple strategy from E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. We each ran one department: marketing, accounting, and operations.” This allowed them to focus on one core area and communicate their progress without duplicating efforts. Divide and conquer and watch your efforts multiply.
Separating personal and professional lives can be difficult among siblings, but is key to maintaining a harmonious relationship both in and out of business. “We set clear boundaries and draw the line so that we don’t mix work and our personal relationships,” Asadhan said. For example, “whether we’re discussing growth plans, reviewing performance, or addressing an internal issue, we stay professional and stick to the subject. Our personal lives are left at the door of every business meeting we have.”
Align your goals
“My siblings and I have our own individual ideas and unique leadership skills, and without proper strategy, our ideas can be the things that break us,” Asadhan said. To make sure he and his brothers’ plans are on the same page, together they define a clear path, agree to it, and refer to it in everything they do. “Building a company or business with your family is something that many people don’t think is possible, but with clearly laid out goals, including when to expand the product offering and how to improve the website, we have been able to take Vitasave to a respectable height.”
Encourage healthy debate
When working with siblings, make the most of being more than yourself and don’t make decisions alone. “Growing up, you may have experienced the older one deciding for everyone or one sibling taking the reins for everyone, but it’s no longer just about who has the TV remote.” Assadkhan wants you to tell your siblings and sisters everything that is in your head about your business so that you can make decisions as partners. “There have been times in the boardroom when we debate for hours and challenge each other, always to the benefit of the business. So far, this strategy is working. And there are never any insults!”
Be a source of motivation for each other
“We are each other’s biggest fuel and constantly push each other to learn, grow and stay hungry for knowledge and connections,” Asadhan said. This was as true in their childhood as it is today. “When one of us wants to pursue an idea to grow the company, the others support him and are there for him.” Asadhan, for example, believes that personal breakthroughs lead to better business and “in 2016, I wanted to attend a workshop at Tony Robbins. I shared the workshop with my brothers and we all attended together. The workshop changed our personal lives forever, which affected many aspects of our business.”
Don’t dwell on failure
Knowing your siblings well means you know what they are capable of, both massive success and colossal mistakes. “Worrying about what mistakes your siblings might make will only hinder your entire growth,” Asadhan said. “Instead, focus on your vision.” At Vitasave, when the team is focused on their vision, failures and mistakes become stepping stones and opportunities for growth, not setbacks.
Seek outside help
Working with siblings means it’s easy to operate in an echo chamber where you believe that between you you have all the answers. Asadhan knows this is not the case. “We know there are resources and expertise we need beyond what our family is capable of, so we don’t hesitate to ask others for help.” Admitting that you don’t know the answer within your family is strength and “getting help from others does not lead to weakness, but ensures success in the long run.”
Like many family businesses, Assadkhan and the brothers want their future children to build on the legacy they started. “Imagine your business three, five, to ten decades from now and think about who might be part of it in the future.” It’s never too early to start succession planning, and Assadkhan recommends you identify critical positions and develop action plans for them. “If the younger people in your family want to be involved in the future, you can prepare them early to be successful.”
Working with your family, if done well, can be brilliant. Your business will soar to new heights and you’ll wonder why you didn’t think of it sooner. When done poorly, however, it’s a nightmare that affects multiple areas of your life. Keeping communication high, supporting each other, actively seeking out expertise and help from elsewhere, and setting boundaries means it just might work for you.