One challenge of running a small independent business – which can be a bit of a taboo – is working with your family on a day-today basis.
In lots of ways, it can be a real privilege to work with your family members because they don’t tend to clock watch and they know you better than anyone else – but it isn’t always easy.
I’ve had two experiences of working with my family. The first was with my brother. When we were younger, we were very close. He’s a bit older, but, when I went off to university, we used to have three-hour conversations on the phone while he was serving people at the gift shop he owned.
After I bought him out of it and he left the business, it was difficult because he would still come in to do shifts or help out, and as far as the customers were aware, nothing had changed and he was still the owner, so they would go to him to ask questions.
I found this quite uncomfortable and eventually I lost some trust because I didn’t always know whether his loyalty was to me or whether he was going to use his connection to the business to his advantage. Because of this, we’ve drifted apart.
I now work with Martin, my husband, and this has been easier, but it still has its challenges. Sometimes our staff will say ‘you never talk to each other’ because we won’t always know what the other person has said at work. That is because, when we get home, we try to make sure we don’t just talk about the shop.
Martin and I first started working together when we got married, as he had just been made redundant. It also means he can pick the kids up from school and I can have a lot of flexibility. But we’ve had to evolve how we work to make sure our marriage doesn’t just become a working relationship.
I’ve spoken to a lot of retailers who have similar challenges and individual families might find it difficult in different ways, but the issues are a lot more common than people think. I have learned the best thing to do is to have open communication between you and your family members, and, if we had focused on this earlier, it would have been easier for me to work alongside my brother. It’s a lesson that is definitely helping me work better as part of a husband-and-wife team.
If you’re working with your family and are finding it difficult, it would be a good idea to talk to them and try and find a different way of working that suits you both.
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