What’s it like running a family business?

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Starting a family business can be a risky venture. It takes a lot of consideration and open communication before embarking on such a big journey, even with a family member you get along with to the tenth-degree.

Being the Co-Founder of a family-owned and run business, I’ve learnt many anticipated and unexpected lessons over the eleven years spent growing Moi Moi Fine Jewellery with my sister Alana.

When beginning a family run business it’s vital to understand that regardless of the opportunities, the challenges, the successes, or the forfeits, your relationships will be affected. So setting clear boundaries from the outset is crucial.

It’s also important to be aware of each person’s investment in the venture. This may be a do or die endeavour for yourself, but if your Co-Founder isn’t as invested this can cause division. The term ‘business venture’ is equally as important to understand as well.  All businesses still require legal, strategic, financial and creative preparation to progress well.

Here are five key lessons I’ve learned from Co-Founding a family-business:

# 1. Decide early on who’s in charge
Disagreements are inevitable, but it makes a huge difference having pre-established decision makers for big or contentious decisions across various parts of the business. My sister Alana is very methodical, organised and disciplined, whereas my strengths are in visuals and marketing. Each of these strengths contributes as an asset to our brand.

Perhaps your mother has great experience taking care of finances and should oversee billing and company purchases, or perhaps your brother is a strong public speaker and will make for a fantastic spokesperson for the business. Either way, decide early on each person’s role, including who has the final say and whether you’ll need to recruit externally for other matters.

It’s also good to discuss how much time you’ll be investing into these roles, so that each person has an understanding of the other members’ perceived commitment should any issues or disagreements arise.

# 2. Stress will magnify baggage. Learn to manage it well
Not only will times of stress and strain create a host of new issues to deal with, no matter how big or small, but they will also magnify any other baggage that may be present. Is your sister consistently late to family gatherings? Maybe your cousin never answers phone calls or replies to texts. There may even be bigger issues that can cause divergences between partners.

Stress and strains will arise, often outside of anyone’s control. To make the most of a stressful situation it’s important to develop ways in which you can effectively deal with stress before it does surface.

Being aware of and communicating pet peeves, anxieties, or previous quandaries can also help to alleviate or even dissipate pre-existing strains that may be present. Instead of dwelling on past issues, try to leave them in the past and focus on the present and the future.

# 3. Family is your strength, and your selling point.
Customers want to hear your family story. It adds a dimension of authenticity and relatability to whatever good or service you’re providing, and customers often perceive this to mean quality and trustworthiness. This doesn’t mean your business has to be centred on your family traditions, but it it’s a great testament to customers that your venture is unique offers a special kind of connection.

Familial strength goes for internal relations too. It’s likely your family’s values played a key role in your business dreams and goals. Lean on your elders; your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, older siblings and other special ‘elders’. They will always have something to offer whether it’s ideas, support, or even a caution.

# 4. Be willing to compromise, you will learn together
There will be times where your expertise is necessary to make a decision but there will also be times where it’s better for you to sit back and work with your business partner regardless of how much you may not like an idea or a plan. Now obviously this doesn’t mean compromising on your values or morals, but there will always be room for learning and growth for each member in the business.

It’s also important during these decisions to have open communication. It can be easy to overlook even the simplest strategies or policies of your business plan, and fresh eyes or ears pick up discrepancies much easier. If a business plan doesn’t yield results use it as a learning curve or a stepping stone, and if it is successful learn together, regardless of who developed the original idea.

# 5. Be prepared for the long haul
Although conception to implementation of Moi Moi was relatively fast, our venture is not a short term-one. Focusing on growth here and now is equally as important as the ten, twenty or fifty year prospective growth. This includes finances, values, culture, and adaptability.

Getting too tied up in current plans and goals can detract from long term focus, and impair future success. Balancing the two, and looking to future long term goals with your business partner and family member can help put decisions in perspective and direct your current business strategies in the meantime.

Lauren Chang Sommer
Designing sister duo – Lauren Chang Sommer and Alana Chang Weirick – discovered Moissanite in 2004 and are now Moi Moi Fine Jewellery Founders. They took a leap of faith and start their own business, offering consumers an alternative choice for engagement rings.

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