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Mother-Daughter Business-Owners Share How to Balance Their Relationship and Company

Mother-Daughter Business-Owners Share How to Balance Their Relationship and Company
Kit Seay and her daughter Amanda Wadsworth Bates run Austin,
Texas-based Tiny Pies together.
Image credit: Tiny Pies

Relationships between mothers and daughters can be complicated. But some women have an extra facet of their relationship -- their mom is their business partner. Jamie Kizer-Brown, founder of the National Association of Mothers & Daughters in Business says the emotional bond mothers and daughters have may be the glue that holds their company together, but if taken for granted, can spell business doom.

Two years ago, Kizer-Brown sold the clothing store she owned with her daughter, Jordan, after heated business arguments threatened to derail their personal relationship. She has since made it her goal to understand what makes mother-daughter businesses succeed. She's examining these relationships for a self-published book Mothers & Daughters in Business (scheduled for August 2013).

One of the companies she's studied is Austin, Texas-based Tiny Pies. Owned by Kit Seay and her daughter Amanda Wadsworth Bates, Tiny Pies uses old family recipes to produce cupcake-size pies.

Related: How to Manage the Challenges of a Family Business

Here are four elements that Kizer-Brown and Tiny Pies' owners say are important to successfully run this unique type of family business.

1. Establish clear boundaries.
Distribute job responsibilities according to each other's strengths and interests. While Seay handles the finances, her daughter's social skills put her in charge of business development and customer service. All large purchase decisions are discussed and agreed upon, but each partner has autonomy to make decisions that fall strictly within their realm of expertise.

2. Shed your mother-daughter roles at work.
"Mom" and "child" roles can be difficult to throw away, but sheading that connotation is necessary according to Kizer-Brown. Saying no to your mom can be difficult, especially if you know it will hurt her feelings. Wadsworth Bates says she sometimes feels a familiar guilt when they are making business decisions together. "Sometimes I feel like I'm still her little kid and I wouldn't feel that way if I was just working with another person." she says. While it can be easy to fall into the same dynamic you had when you lived together, changing the way you view each other from mother-daughter to colleagues or partners is key to the business' success.

3. Use your special bond to your advantage.
Through the course her research, Kizer Brown has found the most successful businesses are those where the mother and daughter that have a strong relationship when they start up. "If there have been some challenging times throughout their relationship, those really do tend to transfer into the business," she says.

Wadsworth Bates says she can't think of a better business partner than her mom. "We know each other very well and we can totally trust one another. There's not that many people in the world that I can completely one hundred percent trust and that’s a huge thing when you’re running a business," she says.

4. Hold your relationship to a higher standard.
Kizer Brown says successful mother-daughter business partnerships respect what is unique about their relationship and hold it to a higher standard than they would any other business relationship. While disagreement is normal in a business partnership, mother-daughter businesses have more at stake when arguments arise making coming up with solutions to handle conflict even more important.

Wadsworth Bates says taking some time to cool off by taking her work home allows her to refocus on the priorities of the business and keeps her relationship with her mom strong. "My relationship with my mom is more important than the business as a whole. We both want this to take off but not at the expense of our relationship," she says.

5. Schedule business-free time together.
You may be co-business owners, but you were mother-daughter first. Kizer-Brown recommends scheduling downtime once a week to live the mother-daughter relationship in its natural form. This is something the owners of Tiny Pies admit they don't do well. "My son has a baseball game tonight and my mom will come to the game and we'll spend most of the time talking about work," says Wadsworth Bates.

Related: 10 Questions to Ask Before Family and Friends Become Business Partners
 

Lisa Evans is a health and lifestyle freelance journalist from Toronto.

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