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Family-owned businesses play a vital role in South Africa’s economy, with some of our most iconic brands like Pick ‘n Pay and De Beers starting out as family businesses. This is often how ordinary people start to create wealth, while meeting the needs of their communities – where successful ones become legacies passed down through generations.
While running a business with your partner, children or even grandchildren has its benefits, it also comes with a unique set of challenges.
Here are the top eight secrets to growing a family business while keeping a happy home.
- Make sure you complement each other
Husband and wife team Aisha Pandor and Alen Ribic, co-founders of the award-winning South African startup ‘SweepSouth’ attribute their success to a complementary skillset, and a good personality match.
“Make sure you don’t go into business ‘just because’. Do you have a complementary skillset and personality for the type of business you want to go into? We started SweepSouth together because we were jointly passionate about tackling the issue it solves – inefficiency in getting home services, lack of technology used to improve the industry, high unemployment rates. More importantly, we had a great complementary set of skills between us, with Alen being able to build and scale our tech, and my understanding of operational and people management.”
Aisha Pandor & Alen Ribic, Co-Founders and husband and wife team behind SweepSouth
- Agree on what “success” looks like
Sit down and ask yourselves what you want to achieve with the business. If one of you has a dream to be a multi-billionaire global business mogul, and the other is quite happy to grow a sustainable lifestyle business, you may have a mismatched approach to how hard you want to work.
“It’s very important to know how the other person will judge progress. It’s frustrating to feel like things are going well, only to find out that your business partner and significant other doesn’t agree. Defining clear expectations and goals not only helps your business grow, but also helps keep your relationship healthy and happy.”
Jennifer Whittington-Bookhout, Owner & Creative Director, CreativeWhitt.com
- Allocate specific job roles, and stick to them
Married entrepreneurs, Monique and Derek Alvarez have built their own web design and marketing consultancy together – their secret to success, leave micromanagement at the door.
“My husband and I had a joke that I was the boss of myself and he was the boss of himself. In other words, we figured out what we were each in charge of and we stayed out of the rest. We trust each other and are fully committed to not micromanaging each other.”
Monique Alvarez, Business Consultant
- Love is a powerful thing – Keep it present in your business!
Especially in a family business, you don’t need to be concerned with appearing ‘professional’, or keeping a ‘professional distance’ – though of course the level of emotional support in the workforce will vary from industry to industry. You are family!
“I think both me and Mum knew from the beginning that we were expecting to spend a lot of money and time building the Toucan brand. And there will come times when you want to give up and say it is too hard. And this is when my Mother comes in and says “Don’t lose your passion! you can do it! I trust in you!” This helps a lot.”
Ioana Mirea, Co-Founder, Toucan.ro
- Find the right workspace – even if it means working in different places
In a family business, it can be all too easy to fall in a rut of working from the family home. Though this may work for some, others need to separate themselves from family distractions and take themselves away. Co-founders of travel video platform Shootip, Nathalie Matellini and her husband have both found their productivity in different places.
“My husband is happy working from home as it allows him to work at his pace, taking sometimes just 5 mins, other times a 3-hour break and then coming right back the issue he was tackling. As a mother to a baby, I have to completely separate my roles as ‘wife’, ‘mother’ (which I am still learning) and CEO, and for this I physically need to separate them.”
Nathalie Matellini, Co-Founder, Shootip
- Agree on how much risk you’re willing to take
In a family business, risks include the level of personal investment you’re both willing to take away from your family income, or even savings. With a family-owned business, financial risk isn’t spread, so this can be an intense decision process. Have these discussions at the beginning, and know your limits.
“It came down to a lot of talking and strategizing, plus compromise. We both had to have a sit down and take a hard look at money, where it was going, what was needed and then adjust both of our priorities and plan accordingly.”
Amanda Ponzio-Mouttaki and Youssef Mouttaki, Co-Owners, Marrakech Food Tours & Maroc Mama
- Remember to stop working
Every business needs time and attention to grow, but the same is true for relationships. Depending on the demands of your business, set clear boundaries for when business is officially ‘off the table’, whether this is an hour per day, or a whole day each week if you can. And don’t forget what you need as an individual to stay motivated.
“We’re still finding a way not to get home and immediately open up the laptop! We’re aware of the issue and try to get out of the house for a few hours when we can. This means we’re physically not able to open the laptop and work. We also try to spend concrete time to refocus on other activities, like photography (for Alen) and yoga (for me) that we enjoy, and that give us something else to think about.”
Aisha Pandor, Co-Founder & CEO, SweepSouth.com
- Have a sound contract in place
Not all businesses (or marriages) work-out. Approach your business relationship with loved ones wearing your professional hat, taking steps to protect your rights as individuals. Consult a lawyer, and make sure that you have all your paperwork in order. You’ll be grateful for it if the worst happens.
Husband and wife team, Isabel and Ricardo Dominguez operate a successful dive business together in Indonesia, their warning:
“Be sure your relationship is strong enough to weather one of the biggest storms of your life. Honestly, we’ve been through screaming disputes, but there is also a lot of love and joint determination to make it work.”
In business and in life, with big risk and a lot of hard work comes big rewards. If you’re considering launching a family business, or are already in a business partnership with a loved one, we hope this advice helps you receive those big rewards. Draw inspiration from these success stories, and know that you too can find your balance.
“Failures are lessons. The people you keep are the seeds to the success you grow. They just grow different plants.”
Maliza Booysen, Founder & Facebook Community Manager, Female Entrepreneurs South Africa
“Family-built businesses are all around us, from the friendly neighbourhood coffee shop or electrician, to multinational giants,” says Anton van Heerden, Managing Director and Executive Vice-President, Africa & Middle East at Sage. “Coming from a family business, I believe that they are built with real passion, pride and purpose by entrepreneurs who are striving for long-term success. A successful family business is based on a foundation of trust, shared goals and transparency.”