Updated: Mar 2
Some people call their boss “Dad.” Or mom, brother, uncle, grandpa, or any other variant of those names.
I’m one of those people.
After graduation, I went to work for my family’s company doing marketing and social media management. Ironically, it isn’t something I had considered before. Going into the company was something I didn’t particularly want to do, but as I neared the end of my degree I realised I could work for my father and contribute to the family business while doing something I actually enjoyed by putting my communications degree to work. It also meant not having to job hunt, which saved me from interviews and struggling to prove my French worthy of hire. It further meant I could work from home and have a pretty fabulous boss.
All told, it seemed like a brilliant idea.
It made me wonder about some of my Unbound friends though. I knew a lot of others worked in family businesses too and so I was curious what the experience was like for them. Why did they go into their family’s business? What pros and cons did they notice? And what would they advise others debating a similar move?
So I asked. Nine to be precise. Their work responsibilities varied, ranging from farm work to lawn care to vet assisting to pool designing to web management to construction and more, and their experiences varied as well, making each interview fun, enlightening, and unique.
Introducing The Interviewees
Lexi and Keegan Kozler: Lexi is an alumna with an English degree and Keegan is nearly finished with his computer science degree. They work part-time for their parents’ printer and printer supplies company, Kingdom Cartridge.
Daniel Kunkel: He’s a marketing major and works full time from spring to fall running the family’s lawn care business, along with his father and brother.
Dillon Whitaker: He’s an entrepreneurship major and works part-time in his family’s three businesses. He works in customer service, web maintenance, and marketing for their jewellery business, Robison Jewellery , and their online women’s clothing company, Hannah Lise as well as doing maintenance at their rental property.
Ezra Friedel: He’s going for an Associates in Communications and works part-time in his father’s construction business, Barrier Free Designs.
Molly Brandt: She’s an alumna with an elementary education degree and worked part-time in her parents’ promotional printing company, Boost, and still helps out occasionally.
Rachel Palmer: She’s a communications major and grew up working at her parents’ vet clinic with her siblings doing everything from cleaning kennels to helping with surgery.
Nathan Schwebach: He’s studying for a data networking and security degree and worked on his family’s farm for over a decade.
Jordyn McGuire: She’s an alumna with a degree in liberal arts and works for her father’s pool design and construction company, California Pools. She does everything from office management to the actual designing.
How They Got Started
Just as their lines of business vary, so too did their entries into them. In the Kunkel family, the lawn care business passes from son to son. It was started by Daniel’s older brother and he’ll pass it on to the next brother whom he currently employs. Jordyn, similarly to me, wasn’t planning on entering her father’s business but changed her mind after graduating. In the Schwebach family, working the farm was just a natural part of family life. For Rachel, she and her siblings had to help out because the clinic couldn’t yet afford to pay employees. In the Whitaker family, the children are trained in the businesses from a young age and as the oldest, Dillon has been particularly involved. With Molly, her parents needed help and she saw it as an opportunity to give back. Ezra worked only very part-time with his father for years until he became an employee. The Kozlers were given the option to join the business and see if it was something they’d be interested in pursuing further. Like Molly and others, they saw it as a way to contribute to the family.
Pros of Keeping it in the Family
Some benefits of working for family seem obvious, like not having to job hunt, working with people you know (and hopefully love), and the flexibility of having an understanding boss. I expected everyone I spoke with to list them and some did, but they also had much deeper benefits to point out too. Here are some of them.
“It’s very easy to see the benefits of what you’re doing. You can see the whole business and how you directly impact it, which makes your work more meaningful.”
“You’re helping your parents and they’ve done so much for you, so even if it isn’t a full-time thing, it’s nice to help out.”
“Working with family means you know each other and work well together. You can be in sync. It’s easier to work with someone you know.”
“When it’s a family business that means you can set the vision and standards for the company and employees, which you can’t necessarily do in a more corporate setting. Your family sets the culture of how to treat customers. You get a sense of community with a family business - we’ve had some of the same customers for decades - and the reputation that your parents or grandparents established gets passed down, so your family’s name has a reputation that precedes it.”
“The flexibility is great. I can work whenever I’m able to, depending on school and health. Working for my father just makes things easier.”
“It’s nice to work with family and help out as well as have something to do in the evenings, especially contributing to earning some extra income which goes a small way towards giving back.”
“Flexibility is great. With family there’s more forgiveness and understanding when it comes to schedules, though it could depend on the family.”
“You get to spend time with your family, eat your meals with them, be there to support them, and just in general be there with them. All in all, if you are close to your family, it’s a very nice arrangement.”
“Working for my father has definitely strengthened and deepened my relationship with him. We’ve gotten much closer and I feel very blessed. Of course, having my father as my boss means I have a lot of flexibility to travel and do certain things when needed, which is huge. Also, there are always opportunities to learn from him, both at work and at home about the different sides of the business and more.”
Cons of Mixing Work and Family
As with everything, there are downsides and working for family is no different. Here’s what the interviewees think you should you know about the cons of working in a family business:
“A potential con is feeling a sense of obligation or feeling obliged to work in the family business, though our parents never made us feel that way. Also, if there aren’t clearly defined parameters, work ends up encroaching on family life. You just can’t turn it off.”
- The Kozlers
“The biggest one is that it makes it harder to separate work and personal life. Personal stuff comes up at work and work stuff comes up in your personal life. Also, nepotism can hurt the business and create inefficiency; people may not actually be qualified for their position.”
“You have a reputation to uphold and what happens in the company can affect your reputation as an individual. If times are tough economically then it's much tougher on your family because it’s everyone’s source of income, plus as a business owner you get hit harder than your employees. You aren’t guaranteed a steady income.”
“Working for family comes with the stress of having to create own work. You can’t just show up and have a job. We don’t advertise and don’t have work every day. There are no benefits or paid time off. It’s all on our own dime because our company is small. If your relationship with your family isn’t good, then you could run into issues, though I don’t have that problem - I’m happy to talk with father and spend all day with him! Small-scale businesses mean no benefits and you’re tied to the work. If I don’t show up today, the work doesn’t happen, and we spend 5-10 hours each week doing unpaid work to get the paid work. You’re never truly off.”
“Any criticisms, corrections, or disapproval comes home with you. You can’t just leave it at work. While you can’t yell at employees, you can at your child so familiarity is nice, but it has its downsides too.”
“You see your family every day for long amounts of time, and if there was something between you in the house, there will be something between you in the field. Some people I know feel like there is a higher work standard set for them, than if they weren’t related. You might also feel tied to your family business forever. Lastly, the lines between home and work are very blurred. When do you stop working? How do you determine that? What do you get paid for and what do you not? How do you determine that? How do you track hours worked? What is contributing to the family versus working for the family for money? Family relationships and business relationships can get tangled."
Advice and Thoughts
What would you tell someone contemplating entering their family’s business? That’s the next question I posed to the interviewees and as before, they had insightful and helpful answers.
“Don’t settle. Don’t work for your family just because it’s easy. Look for something challenging and fulfilling. It isn’t healthy to feel a sense of obligation. If you do want to work for your parents, then don’t let other people’s ideas stop you. Don’t let the fact that it’s your parent’s business sway your decision either way. It’s good to work somewhere else to gain a frame of reference. If you might inherit the family business, then it’s a good idea to invest time in it and get to understand it. If you won’t be valued as an employee in family business though, find a job elsewhere.”
- The Kozlers
“Everyone who has the ability to should work for a family company even if it’s simply to learn how it operates. You’ll get an appreciation for business and how it runs as opposed to just doing one specific job. Plus, you get to work with your family. It’s a unique opportunity not everyone has so if your family has a business, appreciate it. People take it for granted because they grew up around it and don’t realize how unique it is.”
“Look at your family’s business, figure out what you’re interested in, and assess if your relationship with your family members is good or if it would get strained. If it’ll be stressful and a struggle to get along, it’s probably not worth it. You need to assess if it’s a decent place to stay long-term and if you even want to stay long-term. A difficulty in family business is you have to be okay with firing a family member, because it’s still a business and there’s the rest of the team to take into account. While it can be done well, it’s something to think about if you’re starting a business and want to hire family. Also, while I like the concept of startups and trying to figure out how to make things work, some people would probably find that, and the uncertainty involved, really stressful.”
“It’s a good way to work together as a family and it’s an opportunity to learn new skills. And you might build better relationships with your family through the course of it.”
“Definitely go into it knowing that conflicts are going to happen, because with family it’s much more likely to. After all, you’re willing to slug a brother but not your friend. Familiarity can take a negative turn and you need to be prepared for that, so be willing to step back and treat your family as if they weren’t actually your family. That said, have fun with it. You’re a part of the family that owns the business. You have a unique vantage point in that you can see issues and then directly suggest changes without needing to go through multiple levels of management. There’s a lack of stress in that department; communication is wide open.”
“Assess why you want to join. What’s the goal? Are you interested in doing this for the short-term or want it for the long-term? Working for a parent is different from any other workplace dynamic. It’s hard to balance the layers of the relationship and there will be some adjusting. Working with family is really a blessing though; I wouldn’t have traded it for the world.”
“Make sure you already know you can get along with your family member(s) before you go into it because it either can go really well and you’ll have a great relationship or it can tear it apart. I’ve seen it go both ways. You need to have complementary work styles and know that money won’t be a dividing issue. Have clear expectations and clear communication.
At the end of the day, it’s your family and that’s more important than any business, so don’t let business get in the way of a relationship with family.”
If joining your family’s business is something you’re contemplating, I hope this post and all the great thoughts herein prove helpful!
Getting the opportunity to talk with each of the interviewees about their experiences in their family’s businesses gave me a greater appreciation for my own job, as well as the tenacity and dedication needed to make a family company thrive. It isn’t always easy and sometimes it can be downright hard, but at the end of those unbalanced work days, hopefully it’s rewarding.
I’ll let Nathan sum it up:
"We had hard times and good times. From hail storms to drought and from broken necks to years full of abundant harvests, one thing is clear: God made families to work together, to hold each other up, to provide a shoulder to cry on, to support, to pray, and to love. Take advantage of that; pray about it. If you work with your family, you will have memories for a lifetime. Don’t waste the chance."