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Starting A Family Business? Take Advice From These Entrepreneurs

How to avoid family drama.

06/07/2016 8:11 AM AEST | Updated July 15, 2016 12:56
Little Darlings Childcare
Sisters Marika Gouveros and Poppy Stamateris, own and run two Little Darlings Childcare Centres.

You might not be able to choose your family, but you can choose whether to go into business with them.

And with the wealth of the Australian family owned and operated businesses sector estimated to be $4.3 trillion, family business is big business.

But that doesn't mean going into business with your family is a free ride to success -- there are just as many pitfalls and roadblocks, personality clashes and conflicts as other businesses, and sometimes it just doesn't work out.

So how do you run a family business and not go crazy -- or end up with family in-fighting to rival Gina Rinehart's brood?

Family Business Australia chief Philippa Taylor said it's important that all family members have defined roles within the business.

"We encourage them to get their governance in order because we believe if their business is professionalised and they've got proper written job descriptions for family members and proper processes, it cuts out the chances for misunderstanding to occur," she said.

Getty Images/iStockphoto
Conflict can occur in family businesses if roles aren't clearly defined.

A case of sibling non-rivalry

Poppy Stamateris, who owns and runs two Little Darlings Childcare Centres in Sydney with her sister Marika Gouveros and her mum Mary Mitropoulos, agrees with Taylor.

"Marika has qualifications in childcare so she takes care of that side of the business; the policies and the curriculum," Stamateris told The Huffington Post Australia.

"I do all the admin, council, legal and finances, they're all my domain. And mum came on board to run the kitchen and do all the cooking. We all have our roles and we all believe in what we are doing. We respect each other's limitations and strengths and we listen to each other."

Mitropoulos said she and her daughters all respect each other's boundaries.

"They're the business owners and I fit in the middle," she said.

"Whatever they tell me to do for the business, I do. But if they come in my kitchen and tell me what to do, I tell them to mind their own business! In 14 years, we've never had any major problems because we do have that respect."

Little Darlings Childcare Centre
Poppy Stamateris and her sister Marika Gouveros support the launch of their mum Mary Mitropoulos' cookbook, Yia Yia's Kitchen Secrets.

Family trials and errors

Amanda Doyle, who runs Vision Fitness in Randwick with her husband Wes and sister Stephanie O'Brien, said they had a few issues with allocating tasks and roles when they started out seven years ago.

"Steph and I started working in the business first, while Wes kept working," Doyle told HuffPost Australia.

"When he came on board full-time, we were all doing everything and it got really messy and we learnt that we had to have more structure.

"We had to work out what our strengths were and how we could best serve the business. Now we all do personal training but Wes also does sales, marketing and finance, Steph manages the team and operations, and I do team coaching and social media."

We can work it out

When conflict arises in a family business, it can quickly escalate, so Taylor advises families to have an impartial advisor on hand to help mediate.

Doyle said it was important to resolve conflict as soon as it arose.

It requires a lot more self control to not have a heated argument at work with your husband or your sister than it does with another workmate."

"Resolving business conflict when family is involved can be a bit tricky -- you might have business issues overlapping with family issues and personal issues.

"That's something we continue to work on, and we still have professional coaching to help us. "It requires a lot more self control to not have a heated argument at work with your husband or your sister than it does with another workmate."

Stamateris said conflict resolution in their business was all about respect -- and listening to each other.

"There's 17 years between my sister and I so you've got to learn how to work with and respect each other," she said.

"If we ever came to loggerheads about something we talked about it. The three of us all embrace what each of us brings to the table, and we make a compromise that works for the good of the children and the business."

Vision Fitness
Amanda Doyle runs Vision Fitness in Randwick with her husband Wes, and her sister Stephanie O'Brien.

Embrace creativity

Stamateris said working with people who knew each other well could make it easier when attempting to float new ideas.

"We're always talking about new ways we can build the business and other ventures have come from it," she said.

"Mum has done the Yia Yia's Kitchen Secrets cookbook to encourage children to eat healthier, and from that, now we're talking about producing the food for the parents so they can take it home.

"We're taking the business to the next level together."

What you need to know before taking the plunge

Stamateris said one of the most important things to remember when deciding to work with family was to make sure you were all on the same page.

"You also have to have a good relationship," she said.

"You need to respect each other's knowledge. Understand your limitations, realise you're all in it together, and be open to discussion."

Blend Images - Jose Luis Pelaez Inc
Working with family can be beneficial, and profitable, if issues are resolved quickly and fairly.

Doyle said making a long term commitment to the business was essential.

"Most small businesses don't make it to five years, so you really need to see it as a long-term commitment and not one you can just pull out of if you're having a rough patch.

"You have to build resilience and realise you're all in it together, for each other."

Insights, an online educational centre for families in business, runs courses to help resolve conflict and improve communication. They also have free online resources and tips on how to survive being in business with family.

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