I remember watching the owner of a business walk into the office and give his employees an instruction. One hour later, his mom who was helping out, walked into the business and issued an instruction totally opposite to the initial instruction given by her son. This left the employees in a predicament because whose instruction were they supposed to follow? In many cultures, people are conditioned to default to age. His employees did what his mom told them and never mentioned to him that they were receiving conflicting instructions.

For many it makes perfect sense to set up business with family and friends. They are the people you know the most and for the most part they buy into your dreams and want to see you succeed. It is an informal set up and these people “help out” and aren’t paid. It’s a win-win situation, or is it?

Before you bring in your friends and family, here are eight points to consider.


Mom will do the marketing. Dad will do the deliveries. Cousin will answer the phone and your best mate is a whiz at numbers and is in charge of the books. There are a certain number of positions that need filling and you co-opt the loved ones into filling those positions. We don’t seem to stop and ask whether those loved ones are capable or qualified for those positions. In many cases, the best mate isn’t even an accountant. Being willing to do a task is really not the same as being qualified and experienced in doing the task.

If the person was a stranger, would you employ them in this role?


Think about your family and friends and the hierarchal status. You are junior at home and the “boss” at work, but loved ones are often not able to differentiate between you being little brother socially versus the person who runs the company. The danger of them treating you like my little sister/ my youngest/my mate /my lover is that they do not recognise your positional power in the workplace.

Will you be seen as the boss/leader/owner/founder at work?


How are you going to disagree about work issues and who has the final say? If you are not able to disagree with your parents or big sister at home, how will you get that right at work? I always ask my clients if they have rules for arguing, disagreeing, holding each other accountable and who has the final say?

We will never disagree – yes you will. Discuss the “how” before you get there.


Communication can range from too much and too familiar all the way to absent communication. Be sure to have clearly communicated values and make your expectations clear of when the company comes first. It is also important to clearly communicate job responsibilities and to plan to address problems before they result in conflict. I am sure that you have left an office being angry or frustrated with work colleagues and being glad that you have 15 hours before you have to see them again. What happens when there is no gap and those irritating work colleagues are sitting at home?

Check often whether you are communicating differently because they are loved ones.

No separation between work and home

It can be stifling when people work together and live together or get to see each other often at the family or friends get together. There is then no down time and no away time and it is then possible that you are sitting at the dinner table discussing the latest spreadsheet. It is equally possible to be sitting in a business meeting talking about a child needing provisions for a school project.

Our work is integrated as part of our life, but do you have appropriate boundaries to switch off work at home and home at work, even if only for a while?

No contractual agreements and no rules

Working with family and friends is very often informal and there are no contracts or salaries. Unfortunately, there are often no job descriptions, no performance appraisals and no rules. How do you tell your mom that she is late for work when it is your child she took to school? Too often there is a set of rules for the employees who are non-family and non-friends and another set of rules for the rest. Also, when people are not paid they feel entitled to go home early or not pitch at all because they have gone away on holiday or something else came up that needed doing. Resentment of those who are seen to be above the rules soon sets in with other employees.

Another thing is to remember that this is your dream and if you are paying your people make sure that you do it on time every month. It is your responsibilty, not your employees’ to understand cash flow and excuses for poor performance.

Put formal contracts in place as you would have if you were employing strangers.

Parting company with a clear exit plan

Think about it, we have all left previous jobs and probably never seen those people again. What happens when you leave a job because things didn’t work out, but your former boss is still your mother-in-law or your sister? How do you leave a work colleague when that colleague is also your best mate?

The best decision

There are thousands and thousands of situations where working with family and friends works out perfectly. People work in their actual strengths, there is communication, the same rules apply to everyone, people are held accountable, there are work and home boundaries and everyone recognises that your position in the family doesn’t apply at work.

This could work if you are willing to put in the required infrastructure.

When you put your hand up to work with loved ones you need to ask yourself if you are willing to lose the non-work relationship?

submitted by Colleen Qvist (Master Coach)
[email protected]

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author.