Family businesses can be serious entities. Some of the world’s biggest and best companies are owned by families, including Walmart, Volkswagen and Berkshire Hathaway. Company owners looking to build a team they trust don’t need to look very 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. Could you work with your family?
Ali Assadkhan knows how to work successfully with siblings. As the founder and one of the owners of Vitasave, started in 2013 and expected to make $50 million in revenue this year, Assadkhan works with his two brothers to run the company. Not only is their business thriving, but Assadkhan and his team successfully transitioned it from a bricks 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 brothers, here are Assadkhan’s nine essential 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 left guessing about what’s going on in your business,” said Assadkhan. “Running a venture together could bring out new versions of someone’s character that may surprise you, even if you all grew up together.”
Divide responsibilities according to strengths
“There might be a natural leader among siblings,” said Assadkhan, “but everyone needs specific areas of responsibility to own.” Like in any team, everyone will have different strengths and the workload has to be split between partners. When building out the team, the brothers “implemented one simple strategy from the E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. Each of us managed one department: marketing, accounting and operations.” This allowed them to each 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 tricky among siblings, but it is key to having harmonious relationships both within and outside the business. “We set clear boundaries and draw the line to not mix up our work and personal relationships,” said Assadkhan. For example, “whether we’re discussing growth plans, reviewing performance, or addressing an internal issue, we remain professional and stay on topic. Our personal lives are left at the door of any meeting we have in relation to the business.”
Align your goals
“My siblings and I have our individual ideas and unique leadership skills, and without a proper strategy, our ideas could be the very things that break us,” said Assadkhan. To make sure he and his brothers’ plans are all on the same page, they set a clear path together, agree to it, and refer back to it in everything they do. “Building a company or business with family is something many people do not think is possible, but with the goals clearly aligned, 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 there being more of you and don’t make decisions by yourself. “Growing up, you might have experienced the older one deciding for everyone or one sibling taking the reins for everyone, but this is no longer just about who has the television remote.” Assadkhan wants you to tell your siblings everything that’s in your head about your business, so you can arrive at decisions as partners. “There have been times in the boardroom where we debate for hours and challenge each other, always in favor of the business. So far, that strategy has worked. And there are never any hard feelings!”
Be each other’s source of motivation
“We are each other’s biggest fuel and we constantly push each other to learn, grow, and stay hungry for knowledge and connections,” said Assadkhan. That was as true in their childhoods as it is today. “When one of us wants to pursue an idea for growing the company, the others support them and are there for them.” Assadkhan, for example, believes that personal breakthroughs lead to better business and “in 2016 I wanted to attend a Tony Robbins seminar. I shared the seminar with my brothers and we all attended together. The seminar changed our personal lives forever which impacted many aspects of our business.”
Don’t dwell on failure
Knowing your siblings well means you know what they are capable of, both resounding success and colossal mistakes. “Worrying about what mistakes your siblings might commit will only hinder all of your growth,” said Assadkhan. “Instead, focus on your vision.” At Vitasave, when the team is focused on its vision, failures and mistakes become stepping stones and development opportunities rather than setbacks.
Get 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. Assadkhan knows this isn’t 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 for help from others.” Admitting you don’t know the answer within your family unit is a strength, and “getting help from others does not entail weakness but ensures success in the long run.”
Like many family-run businesses, Assadkhan and brothers want their future children to build on the legacy they have started. “Picture your business three, five, to ten decades down the line and think about who might be part of it in the future.” It’s never too soon to start succession planning and Assadkhan recommends you identify critical positions and develop action plans for them. “If younger people in your family want to be involved in the future, you can prepare them early on for this to be a success.”
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 consider it sooner. When done badly, however, it’s a nightmare that affects multiple areas of your life. Keeping communication high, supporting each other, actively seeking experience and help from elsewhere and setting boundaries means it might just work for you.