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5 Tips for Succeeding in a Family-Owned Small Business

Susan Wilson Solovic is an award-winning entrepreneur and journalist, author of three best-selling books, multi-media personality and contributor to ABC News and other outlets, public speaker and attorney. 
AT&T has sponsored the following blog post.

Mom-and-pop shops are a big part of American culture.  It’s the picture many of us conjured up when we visualized a small business in the past — very Normal Rockwell.  But today technology has dramatically changed the small business landscape to the point where you might think the family-owned business — the corner grocery store so to speak — has disappeared.  Well, think again.

Every year, thousands of entrepreneurs either start up a business with a family member or bring a family member into their business.  That’s particularly true in today’s economy. And most entrepreneurs are ill-equipped to deal with the delicate dynamics that arise when the lines between their personal and business lives collide.

While there are some family-owned companies that survive and prosper, it’s more common to find internal strife.  So if you are thinking about going into business with a close relative, here are some pointers to protect the business and your personal relationship.

  1.  Establish expectations. From day one you should define roles and responsibilities for each family member. A lack of clarity fuels conflict and can lead to disaster. Each person should have a job description, just as any employee would, and they should understand what the boundaries are in the work environment.
  2. Put it in writing. Even if you are going into business with your dear beloved mother, get everything in writing.  Remember, this is business. People have short memories, and a disagreement about ownership interests, money allocations, or even vacation time can cause tempers to flare.
  3. Create a conflict resolution plan. Despite your best efforts, there are bound to be conflicts in the business. Because personal emotions will ultimately be involved, determine in advance a way to resolve disagreements. You need a process to work through conflicts to protect the integrity of the work environment as well as your relationship.
  4. Keep personal baggage at home. Don’t bring personal battles into the workplace.  It’s unprofessional and can damage relationships with customers and clients who don’t want to be caught in the middle.
  5. Manage even-handedly.  As you add other employees to your business, make sure you manage equitably.  Family members shouldn’t enjoy perks and privileges other team members don’t receive.  And the same is true when it comes to rewarding performance.  Every team member should be evaluated and treated fairly.
Approximately one-third of the Fortune 500 companies are family-owned businesses.  Think Wal-Mart, Dillard’s and Ford.  Think big and manage wisely — perhaps you could be the next big success.

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Steve Caniano is VP, Hosting, Application & Cloud Services at AT&T Business Solutions. As leader of AT&T's global Hosting, Application and Cloud infrastructure business, he is instrumental in forging key partner alliances and scaling AT&T's cloud services globally. He regularly collaborates with customers and represents AT&T at key industry events like Cloud Expo.