Business planning

8 secrets of successful family businesses

We asked successful family business owners: What’s your secret to keeping a happy home and growing a business? It’s a tricky balancing act! Here’s how they did it…

Today, the United Nations commemorates International Day of Families. It aims to promote the role of family in education and care-giving, and also promotes good practices for a healthy work-family balance.

In the spirit of the day, we’re sharing personal advice from successful family business owners from around the world that have managed to strike the right balance.

Check out the top 8 secrets to growing a successful family business (and keeping a happy home).

1.  Make sure you complement each other

They say that opposites attract; this is also true to business partnerships. We talked to husband and wife team Aisha Pandor and Alen Ribic, co-founders of the award-winning South African start-up, ‘SweepSouth’. They attribute their success to a complementary skillset and a good personality match.

Don’t go into business ‘just because’. Ask if you have complementary skillsets and personality for the type of business you want to start. We started SweepSouth together because we were jointly passionate about tackling the issue it solves (inefficiency in getting home services, lack of technology used to improve the industry, and high unemployment rates). More importantly, we had a great complementary set of skills between us, with Alen being able to build and scale our tech, and my understanding of operational and people management.

Aisha Pandor, co-founder & CEO,

Aisha Pandor & Alen Ribic, co-founders and husband-and-wife team behind SweepSouth.

2.  Agree on what “success” looks like

Sit down and ask yourselves honestly, what do you want to achieve with the business? This is an important question for any entrepreneur, but when you’re starting a business with a family member, this is vital to protecting your personal relationships. If one of you has a dream to be a multi-billionaire global business mogul, and the other is quite happy to grow a sustainable lifestyle business, you may have a mismatched approach to how hard you want to work.

It’s very important to know how the other person will judge progress. It’s frustrating to feel like things are going well, only to find out that your business partner and significant other doesn’t agree. Defining clear expectations and goals not only helps your business grow, but also helps keep your relationship healthy and happy.

Jennifer Whittington-Bookhout, owner & creative director,

3.  Allocate – and stick to – specific job roles

Married entrepreneurs, Monique and Derek Alvarez, have built their own web design and marketing consultancy together. Their secret to success: leave micromanagement at the door.

My husband and I joked that I was the boss of myself and he was the boss of himself. In other words, we figured out what we were each in charge of and we stayed out of the rest. We trust each other and don’t micromanage each other.

Monique Alvarez, business consultant

4.  Love is a powerful thing – Keep it present in your business

In a family business, you don’t need to be concerned with appearing ‘professional’, or keeping a ‘professional distance’. Although the level of emotional support in the workforce will vary from industry to industry, remember that you are family. Mother-daughter-owned e-commerce business,, reminds us that although building a family business is stressful, you also love each other. Lean on that love to create a foundation of support and motivation.

I think both me and mum knew from the beginning that we were expecting to spend a lot of money and time building the Toucan brand. And there will come times when you want to give up and say it’s too hard. This is when my mother comes in and says: “Don’t lose your passion! You can do it! I trust in you!” This helps a lot

Ioana Mirea, Co-Founder,

5.  Find the right work space – even if it means working in different places

In a family business, it can be easy to fall into a rut of working from the family home. Though this may work for some, others need to separate themselves from family distractions. Co-founders of travel video platform, Shootip, Nathalie Matellini and her husband, have both found their productivity in different places.

My husband is happy working from home as it allows him to work at his pace, taking sometimes just 5 mins, other times a three-hour break and then coming right back to the issue he was tackling. As a mother to a baby, I learnt I could not concentrate with my baby in the house. It was too distracting and too conflicting to know which ‘hat’ I should have on. I have to completely separate my roles as wife, mother, and CEO. For this, I physically need to separate them.

Nathalie Matellini, Co-Founder, Shootip

6.  Agree on how much risk you’re willing to take

Risks include the level of personal investment you’re both willing to take away from your family income and savings. With a family-owned business, financial risk isn’t spread, so this can be an intense decision process. Have these discussions at the beginning, and know your limits.

It came down to a lot of talking and strategising, plus compromise. We had to sit down and take a hard look at money, where it was going, what was needed, and then adjust our priorities and plan accordingly.

Amanda Ponzio-Mouttaki and Youssef Mouttaki, co-owners, Marrakech Food Tours & MarocMama

7.  Remember to stop working

Every business needs time and attention to grow, but the same is true for relationships. Depending on the demands of your business, set clear boundaries for when business is officially ‘off the table’, whether this is an hour a day, or a whole day each week, if you can. And don’t forget what you need as an individual to stay motivated.

We’re still finding a way not to get home and immediately open up the laptop. We’re aware of the issue (and that it IS an issue) and try to get out of the house for a few hours when we can. This means we’re physically not able to open the laptop and work. We also try to spend concrete time to refocus on other activities, like photography (for Alen) and yoga (for me) that we enjoy, and that gives us something else to think about.

Aisha Pandor, co-founder & CEO,

8.  Have a sound contract in place

Unfortunately, not all businesses work out. Approach your business relationship with loved ones wearing your professional hat, taking steps to protect your rights as an individual. Consult a lawyer, and make sure that you have all your paperwork in order. You’ll be grateful for it if the worst happens. Husband and wife team, Isabel and Ricardo Dominguez, operate a successful dive business together in Indonesia. They warn:

Be sure your relationship is strong enough to weather one of the biggest storms of your life. Honestly, we’ve been through screaming disputes, but there is also a lot of love and joint determination to make it work. It’s our dream

Isabel Dominguez, general manager, Legend Diving Lembongan

In business and in life, with big risk and a lot of hard work come big rewards. If you’re considering launching a family business, or are already in a business partnership with a loved one, we hope this advice helps you receive those big rewards. Draw inspiration from these success stories, and know that you can also find your balance.

“Failures are lessons. The people you keep are the seeds to the success you grow. They just grow different plants

Maliza Booysen, founder, Female Entrepreneurs South Africa