Acquainting Yourself With the Family Business
If your business has been in the family for even one generation, there is a good chance you spent many summers working with Mom or Dad, doing odd jobs here and there. For me, it started with shredding paper, stickering marketing materials, and putting together binders for conventions. As I got older, the responsibilities and tasks shifted into an administrative focus. Or as I saw it, all of the boring stuff: typing notes, ordering supplies, filing, confirming appointments, booking travel. Nothing I was interested in doing as a career, which made me wonder if I really wanted to work in the business. I began to question all of my plans. Where do I fit? Do I fit at all?
Was this the position my parents envisioned me growing into all these years? We decided to relieve some pressure and first get through college to mature, grow and get clear on our overall vision.
After I earned my BA in Psychology in 2009, we decided to create an internship program for me to determine if this was the right path for both of us. I would be working side-by-side with Mom. Finally I got to move away from behind the desk, hop on the plane and learn what Mom really does! We went everywhere together: Iowa, Texas, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Illinois to name a few. We travelled Monday through Friday, every week of every month, and I met every client. During this time I was fully integrated into all client relationships as an observer. My job was to "be a knowledge sponse and soak it all up" as Mom put it. I took this very seriously, writing down every word she said, the client said and what was going on in the room; every nuance. The notes I had been typing after each trip started to make more sense, and all of the pieces of knowledge I learned along the way were coming together.
The internship process taught me more than how we conduct business, but also how to develop client relationships, exercise patience while respecting critical deadlines, proper business etiquette, and most importantly, how to run really fast through an airport (with luggage) while trying to catch your connecting flight!
It is critical to your successor development to be fully acquainted with every area of your family's business. Proper leadership comes from experience, and that includes knowing how the back office mechanics work. Will you know how to get new business, maintain client relationships, run the billing software, CRM database, task manager or the super-robot-coffee-maker when your Dad or Mom retires? Will you be the one taking over their client relationships? Can you train a new employee on processes and client interactions?
Being a part of the family business is more than collecting checks because you share a last name with an entrepreneurial relative. It's about learning how to maintain and grow into the culture that someone in your family was passionate about creating and knowing how to run the business successfully when it is your time to step into leadership. Acquainting yourself with the business at an early phase in your life and career will help you be more decisive with your choices, define expectations and guide decisions for your family's succession planning.