(By Geoff Williams)
“You got through the late night high school homework, hormones and the prom. You’ve attended weddings and funerals together. Maybe one of you leaned on the other during a divorce or a serious illness. There’s a lot of shared history between you. At this point, you should certainly be able to talk about squeezed profit margins and scheduling issues logically and reasonably.“
Some kids—and maybe you were one of them—can’t wait to grow up and get out of their house, so they can make decisions independently of their mom and dad. And some parents—and maybe you’re one of them—can’t wait until their kids grow up and move out of the house. Surely, you love your kids, but maybe they’re best in smaller doses.
So what about starting a business with your parent—or your adult child? It’s a move that definitely isn’t for everyone.
“A family business is very challenging because you have two relationships going. You have the family relationship and then the business relationship, and it’s important for both parties to know when they’re in that domain,” says Larry Grypp, president of the University of Cincinnati’s Goering Center for Family and Private Business, a nonprofit educational and informational resource center for family businesses.
Enough people seem to be up to the challenge, however. Nationwide, there are 5.5 million family businesses, according to Family Enterprise USA, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that educates people about the contributions of family businesses to the economy. And the Goering Center is one of approximately 50 family business outreach centers at universities around the country that cater to this healthy market.
In honor of Mother’s Day, we’ll give you three very good reasons you might want to consider starting a business with your mom (or with your child, if you’re a mom).
You Can Rationally Discuss the Big Issues
You got through the late night high school homework, hormones and the prom. You’ve attended weddings and funerals together. Maybe one of you leaned on the other during a divorce or a serious illness. There’s a lot of shared history between you. At this point, you should certainly be able to talk about squeezed profit margins and scheduling issues logically and reasonably.
That’s exactly how Mary Portadin, 67, sees it. Since December 2011, she has co-owned a Bordentown, New Jersey-based Synergy HomeCare franchise, with her son, Jay, 39, and his wife, Jennifer.
“With family, there’s always a bit less of a filter than you might usually have among co-workers in another kind of setting,” Portadin says. “Sometimes I watch these reality TV shows that focus on family-run businesses, and I can’t help but chuckle because it’s probably the most realistic of all the ‘reality TV’ out there.”
In fact, Portadin believes being family is what has helped the company succeed. “As a result of us speaking our minds and not being afraid to voice opinions, I think it’s helped the business to flourish,” she says. “I doubt we’d have grown as quickly and been as successful without that passionate, honest dynamic.”
Brendan Alviani, 26, also believes that working with family can be a boon when it comes to communicating. Alviani is the vice president of his mother’s company,Family Piano Co., a piano store in Waukegan, Illinois, which has eight employees and about a dozen contract workers who are employed as piano teachers. His mother, Alice, is 56.
“A lot of companies I know spend a lot of time and energy trying to get the leadership team talking candidly to each other,” Alviani says. “That’s an advantage of a family business. You can talk and know, within reason, that you aren’t going to be fired or pushed out the door for expressing your ideas.”
When You Disagree, You Already Know How to Compromise
If you’re shaking your head no to this one, then maybe you shouldn’t align forces. If you two fight all the time, starting a business is the first of many steps that will likely lead to a going out of business sale. But if you agree that you know how to work through issues with your family member, you’re already ahead of the game when it comes to successfully running a business together.
“I would definitely make sure your relationship is strong to begin with,” says Meghan Elenbaas, 29, who joined her mother’s company, Lucky Dog Cuisine Inc., last year. Meghan’s mother, Janice, originally from Toronto, incorporated her company in 2009 after retiring in Hilton Head, South Carolina. Since then, the business, which specializes in making all-natural homemade dog food and delivering it directly to customers, has taken off, earning the pair profits of $450,000 last year.
Meghan, who’s based out of Toronto, runs Lucky Dog Canada. She had helped out her mother from the beginning, even while she was working full time, and didn’t hesitate to leave her $80,000-a-year job when her mom asked her to quit her job and join the company. She says she felt confident about joining her mother’s startup. “My mom and I have always been close, ever since I can remember,” Meghan explains. “But we also learned to work together from a very early stage. You need to be able to know how to do that and make sure you don’t take everything personally.”
The biggest disagreement they’ve had, Meghan and Janice both say, is over the company’s logo. Janice had been using two logos, a vertical and horizontal one, for Lucky Dog Cuisine since starting the company, but Meghan didn’t like the horizontal one. “She thought it was old-fashioned,” Janice says. “She thought it would never fly in an urban market like Toronto.”
“Because Mom has been working with the logo for so long, she wanted to keep it,” Meghan adds.
But they decided to compromise: Janice continues to use two logos in the U.S, and Meghan uses only the vertical logo in Canada. Not exactly an epic battle, but then that’s what makes this mother-daughter team successful. Throughout the years, Meghan says, they’ve rarely had conflicts.
You Both Want the Other to Succeed
Anyone going into business with a partner naturally wants the other to succeed. After all, if your partner is successful, that helps the business, which helps you.
But with family, there’s a stronger desire to see the other person succeed. This is your mom, the woman who gave birth to you. The last thing you want is to see your mother fall flat on her face. So that whole office politics thing? That’s pretty much nonexistent, Portadin says. (At least with a parent-child business. Large family enterprises could be a whole different story.)
So it’s little wonder that when Meghan joined forces with her mother, Janice helped her daughter out by paying for some of the startup costs for the Canadian operation. While Meghan spent her own funds on her incorporation costs and continues to pay for her own advertising and marketing, Janice ponies up funds for the public relations costs and purchased the induction burners her daughter uses for cooking dog food.
Helping each other out is critical to the success of a business, Grypp says. “When it comes to business decisions,” he adds, “they need to be made with the health of the business in mind.”
One other nice thing about a mom-child business is that it’s not always strictly about business. “I don’t show clients his baby pictures,” Portadin says of her son, “but we do have a picture of Jay and Jen in nursery school that hangs on one of the office bulletin boards. They attended preschool together. Every once in a while, I’ll point that out to one of the aides.”
And while Meghan and Janice may be business partners, it’s pretty clear that they’re mother and daughter first.
When asked if they work well together perhaps because they’re working in different countries, Janice was quick to respond. “It would actually be easier if we were together,” she says. “I love her to bits and trust her immensely … I adore her.”
Maybe not what you’d expect an entrepreneur to say of her business partner, but it’s sure nice to hear it from Mom.
“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”