I work for a family business as the bookkeeper, and some days it can be hard when you work with people you are related to and even harder when you also live with them.

You have to set up some boundaries pretty well from day one or this business will spiral into a slow death as customers do not need to hear sibling rivalry or grown women turning back into little kids on a job site.

I know this sounds funny, but believe me it can happen to even the most professional of people unless there are guidelines in place to make it work from the start.

If relatives are working in the company then each one should be in a position that they are suited for.  If one is much better dealing with customers than the other, then this person should be in charge of that part.  This is a good place to start, placing them in the right position in the company.

Addressing Co-Workers

Really you are all co-workers but it can get heated fast if you are also related.  Example:  My sister has an electrical contracting business.  My daughter works for her (so that would be her niece) and her own daughter works for her.  Both are qualified electricians, aged 25 and 29.

They were working on a job in a large house.  My sister was also working with them and they were all a floor apart.  They have “mike” phones to keep in touch and all was going well until there was a difference of opinion on how something should be done.  This happens, but today it got out of hand.Family BusinessCredit: morguefile.com

My sister and her daughter started to argue.  My sister made the mistake of reverting back to `mum `and treating her daughter like a little kid and the daughter yelled back “mum” in a whiny voice as if she was a little kid.  So, this does not look good to a customer, they do not need to hear family dynamics and drama.

So, after the job was done a family meeting was called and it was decided that they would all call each other by their first names on the job site.  That meant daughter Sarah was to address mum now as Karen.  It was hard at first, but this is a more professional response.

So, basically after hours they go back to mum and daughter, and during working hours they call each other by their first name.

By doing that they were able to keep `family dynamics` out of the equation.  It is so easy to slip into the role of the parent or the sibling.  But if each person is in the best position for them, it is much easier to do.

Fresh Ideas to Keep Business Healthy

It has taken a couple of years, but Karen (business owner) has learned to listen to the ideas of her employees who just happen to be her niece and daughter.  They have fresh ideas from recently going to school and fresh input can keep a business alive.

They do a lot of lighting design and the younger girls are very talented at that part of the business and how to lay it out in a home.  So Karen finally let them have more freedom to design with the customer and stopped looking at them as the little kids she remembers.

She said she has to bite her tongue and remember that her daughter is a grown and very talented electrician now, not a 5 year old and there will always be a difference of opinion.  It is how you react to it that needs to be worked on.

I don`t get as involved as I am in the office, but I have to watch myself too.  I am not immune to barking out orders to Karen (business owner) because she is actually my baby sister.  Since I do the books I will give her my opinion on money issues, and if she doesn`t agree with me, I have had to learn to simply let it go as it is her business.family businessCredit: morguefile.com

She asked for my opinion on replacing one of the trucks.  I thought it was not the right time, and she went out and got one anyways.  My first response was as a sister, but after that I thought she asked for my opinion not my permission.  So, I have been there for 8 years now and we have it all figured out for the most part.

It is so easy to slide into the role that you play in the family even when you are all grown up.  I was big sister for years, so now I am working for her.    So, as a family owned business that includes siblings, daughters and cousins it can be a bit close.  The rule is to always look professional to the customer.  If there are any grievances, they are to be brought up at the weekly meetings we have now or later out of view and sight of the customer.

As we all now live in our own homes that has made it easier.  But if you are going to start up a company with relatives, you need everything laid out in black and white.  There is much more at risk when you are related.   If you don`t have the same opinions as to where the business is headed then this can be a double whammy since you are also related.

You not only risk arguments that naturally occur when working as co-workers but you risk family split ups too as things can get heated.

Also considered getting professional help if you are looking for family business succession planning so the company will thrive.

Try to Remember Who You Are Outside of Business

You don`t want to be talking or dealing with the business 24 hours a day.  At some point you need to leave work at work and revert to having fun with your siblings or family gatherings without business discussions.  Your family business will work best when you take a break from it after hours.