There is an old saying that goes, “business and family do not mix well”. While this seems like a pretty benign statement, it is not until you are in the middle of the effects of mixing business and family that this statement truly gains it’s meaning. I have recently exited a business transaction with a family member, and have learned (once again) a valuable lesson in the process. I have constantly ignored the warnings of mixing business and family, hoping that somehow the new transaction would follow a different pattern. However, without fail the same challenges and issues ultimately occur which draw the transaction to a pre-mature conclusion. In this article, I have listed the Top 5 reasons why business and family do not mix, and should not be attempted.
1) The Invisible Ingredient
Before discussing this topic any further, I should mention that there was not a single failed family/business transaction that I have taken part in that resulted due to the personality of the participants. At the time, I may have been banging my head against the wall questioning why the other party did not “get it”, but in retrospect there was something bigger at play than anything that could have resulted from differences in personality and/or experience. There is an invisible ingredient that arises when business and family mix. From the second that you shake hands to begin the transaction, this ingredient begins to fester and ultimately grows to intolerable levels. You find that people who were otherwise easy to get along with, are suddenly very difficult. You begin to question decisions that the other party is making, and at the same time resent their level of participation. Your opinion and perception do not necessarily reflect the reality of the situation. This is not a “one sided” feeling either… you can be sure that they are feeling the same way about you. I can not put my finger on exactly what this spontaneous ingredient is, but I can assume that it is a result of the combination of challenges I offer below.
When you enter a business transaction with a family member, particularly a service oriented transaction, expectations can quickly become unmanageable. There is a tension that mounts because one party feels that the other should be doing more. I think that this is partially do to the fact that, since the parties involved are family members, each feels that the other should be going “above and beyond” for them. What’s worse, when one party feels that the other is not bending over backwards, due to the comfort level they have with each other this sentiment is rarely kept quiet. This creates resentment in the mind of the receiving party, which begins to fester.
3) Getting the “Family Discount”
Often times when one family member carries out a service for another, they give the recipient of the service a “family discount”. This is a disastrous idea, because now not only is the expectation that the service provider will bend over backwards, but now they are getting paid far less than what they would if they offered that same service to a non-family member. One can see how this can quickly become problematic. However, charging the recipient family member “full price” will equally be problematic, because now the provider is viewed as a miser for not giving any discount. This will create resentment in the mind of the service recipient.
4) Money IS the Root of All Evil
One of the most awkward times in a business transaction with a family member is requesting payment. In a best case scenario, the service recipient will pro-actively offer payment, however this is rarely the case. This makes the service provider have to request payment, which in itself is awkward and rarely smooth.
5) The Project that Never Ends
Lastly, it becomes exponentially difficult to create a logical “end” to the transaction. The service recipient will likely request the provider’s assistance post transaction, which may begin consume copious amounts of time. Typically, this would cause the service provider to request more money from the person for which they are providing the service, but in the case of a family transaction, one of two things typically result. If the service provider is being “kind”, they will just help out without requesting more money for their time. This may last for a short time, but this “kindness” can not be sustained. At some point, the service provider will feel as though they are being taken advantage of, which will cause conflict. Alternately, the service provider will request more money upfront for the additional time spent. This is rarely taken well, as it makes the service provider appear miserly and unwilling to “help out” a family member.
The best advice I can offer based on my experience is not to enter into any business transactions with a family member. While it can be tempting, it rarely ends well. If, however you do find that you have the time or kindness to help out, then do it as a favor. If you are not charging the family member anything, then it is difficult for them to make a valid complaint that they are unhappy with your participation or service. The best advice however, in my opinion, is to simply tell them that you would love to help but are too busy. Refer them to a friend or co-worker and see if they will work a good deal for them. This is by far, the path of least resistance.
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