"How do you make it work?"
That's the question I'm most frequently asked—and they're not referring to my business, winelibrary.com. They want to know how I've managed to grow successful businesses and work so closely with family.
A little background first: I grew up in my dad’s liquor store, launched winelibrary.com in the early '90s, and leveraged that platform. I was the apprentice at one point in my career and learned a lot from my dad by watching him and studying his work ethic. My dad was a silent leader, and I think many people would be surprised to find out how different we are: He is an introvert, whereas I am an extrovert. That in itself could be problematic, but we made it work.
More recently, I've taken on a mentor role as I build another business, VaynerMedia, with my younger brother. This time around, I’m the mentor and older “establishment” in the relationship.
So what's the secret recipe for working so closely with family, especially family members you're close to but who have different personalities and experiences? How do you make your business succeed and keep your family intact?
The Secret To Success
There is only one way to make a family business successful—only one trick, one signature move—and that is communication.
The reason I'm on my second successful family business is because I place extraordinary value on talk and in having multiple conversations. Now, trust me, there have been blowouts, but even in those moments, the knowledge that we love each other more than we love the business has always been the understanding that has allowed us to move on. I implore people in the small-business community to understand that if you are able to do just two things, do these:
1. Recognize that the relationship with your family member is more important than your profit margin.
2. Recognize that bottling things up and then letting them explode is the wrong way to go about communicating. Talking as often as possible and understanding the value of communication is vital to success.
And Then There's ...
The two points I just made are the most important, and I can't emphasize that enough. However, there are three more things you need to watch out for when working together as a family.
Watch your ego. Ego is a tough thing and I would tell you that I have had bigger egos clashes with my dad than with my brother. I give my brother enormous credit for keeping his ego in check and allowing mine to run wild.
Be flexible, even when it's really hard to do. Huge problems can unfold as fathers and mothers insist on sticking to “how they did it” when the next generation wants to change things. My dad was amazing to let me launch a dotcom in 1997 when no one was doing it, and he allowed me to spend money on it. His ability to be nimble and give me that at-bat mattered. I have done the same with my younger brother, letting him make a lot of decisions even when I might have wanted to do something differently.
Make time for each other outside of work. One thing I didn’t do as well as I would have liked with my dad (and something I have really improved on in the past two years with my brother) is continuing our relationship outside of our business. It's easy to get sucked in to always talking about business—and 99 percent of the time you talk about the negatives and the problems. You start getting trapped in a relationship where you don't want to talk to each other as much because the context of the relationship is a downer.
Try to find an activity where you don't care about business for those few hours. For my brother and me, it has been going to Jets games, and for my father and me, it has been fishing. Drawing lines in the sand that allow you to have a relationship outside of the business is hugely important.
Do you run a family business? Tell us how you make it work in the comments below.
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