Family Roots: Working with a Relative

by Alexandra Williams on June 6, 2011

Mother & DaughterWhat’s it like to work with a relative? Can you create a successful business and keep your relationship strong?

Bonnie Steen and Susan Ladua are the mother-daughter team behind Roots Only, a thriving company that developed a comb that applies color directly to hair roots. Since they are managing well with both their business and relationship, I decided to share some of their insights.

  • They both respect the strengths that each one brings to the table, and are keenly aware of those strengths and weaknesses.
  • They defer to each other’s area of expertise. PR and promotion is Bonnie’s area, and business operations is Susan’s.
  • While they may not always agree on a particular course of action, they keep in mind that they both want what’s best for the business at all times.

Bonnie: “I knew Susan’s educational background and  natural leadership skills would be just what Roots Only needed to go to the next level. I had the idea and the passion…she knew how to make it a success. The fringe benefit was an opportunity to spend more time with my daughter…what could be better than that!”

They both focus on their belief about where they can take their business. During the “down” times, their mother/daughter familiarity helps them know just what to say to cheer each other up, at just the right time, which helps keep them moving forward.

Bonnie and Susan: “Building a strong business is no different building a strong family. It’s all about relationships, integrity, loyalty, trust and respect.”

In addition to recognizing the need to complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses, it’s also important to plan for and navigate the differences. Their tips?

  • Have separate work spaces/offices
  • If you are having trouble resolving an issue, consult with an outside source. This could be Facebook fans, business colleagues, business group members, or even a focus group.
  • Maintain a sense of humor and boundaries
  • Create a separation of duties

Susan: “If you’re right under somebody’s nose the whole day, the little habits and idiosyncrasies will become more evident and annoying. So do separate offices.”

Both women offer advice borne of experience for relatives considering going into business:

Bonnie: “Personalities should be compatible. If you butt heads with your child in the early years, chances are (you will do so in business).”

  • Keep the work fun
  • Take the time to have candid conversations up front, and get answers to the questions or concerns lurking in the back of your mind.

Susan: “Go into your venture with your eyes wide open. Create a business plan, decide how you’re going to divide the duties and work space, then discuss how decisions will be made. Who will have the final say?

As a team that expects to reach 1M in revenue this year, Bonnie and Susan obviously see the benefits of working together as a mother/daughter team.

As with any business partners, they believe the #1 benefit is celebrating successes. Celebrating as family is even sweeter.

  • Have special traditions that make things fun, be that a Snoopy dance to celebrate landing a new client, or a fist pump after a spectacular month in sales.
  • Keep the sense of fun, knowing you are working toward the goal with equal passion.

Their final piece of wisdom will only be surprising to those who have forgotten that families are hierarchical systems:

  • Don’t attempt to create equality necessarily.
  • The person who has the area of expertise is the person who makes the call for a given situation.

Bonnie and Susan: “We have not attempted to create equality because we recognize we are not equal. The key is figuring out how to leverage the strengths while mitigating the weaknesses…end of story.”

Use these tips to help you decide whether working with a relative is the way to go to create your successful business venture.

Image: RACINGMIX via Flickr, Creative Commons

More from Women Grow Business:

Alexandra Williams, MA, co-writes Fun and Fit: Q and A with K and A, a humorous fitness blog with her twin sister, Kymberly, in the hope that readers will laugh themselves into a fit state. Together they speak at events, on the radio and in public rest stops. Alexandra is a contributing editor and writer for IDEA Fitness Journal, and teaches in the exercise sports studies department at UC Santa Barbara. Talk to Alexandra on Twitter, where she goes by @Alexandrafunfit.


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