Persuading Your Loved Ones to Pitch In

You need to send out a mass mailing by tomorrow. Your son wants to earn some extra money. Your mom is offering her help. Should you hire your relatives?

Life as a homebased entrepreneur often seems like a juggling act, particularly if you're running your business by yourself. Suppose you have a client to visit in the morning, a mass mailing to complete in the afternoon and an emergency press release to create by 4 p.m.? You need help. And if you still hesitate to ask a friend or family member for assistance, it's time to enroll in Business Success 101: The Basics of Bribery and Bouquets.

There are always sensitive areas that need to be addressed when you hire your loved ones, whether as full-time employees or just for a big project. Maybe your mom doesn't like you bossing her around. Maybe you're not quite as understanding as you should be when a family member makes an honest mistake. Maybe your kids feel used because they don't think compensated them adequately. How can you avoid these hot spots, get some help and, in return, help your family and friends understand what your business really means to you? Read on for a quick lesson.

All in the Family

Lynn Proctor Windle's immediate family-including her husband, John, 46, and their teenage kids, Angela, 16, and Robert, 14-often help out in her homebased marketing communications consulting firm. The help has made all the difference in this busy entrepreneur's life. From 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Windle wears her marketing communications consultant hat, designing and developing media news releases and marketing materials for clients. In addition to her marketing business, she also dons a second hat working as an assistant for her husband's real estate team, Team Windle of RE/MAX Properties. "In addition to pushing paperwork for them, I do all the team's marketing and maintain the Web site," says Windle, who works from her home in Heath, Texas.

Although persuasive skills are key for marketing experts, Windle rarely has to use her cajoling talents with her family. "They're almost always eager to pitch in when I get snowed under. My daughter can type faster than I can, so she does a lot of my correspondence. My husband has a phone surgically attached to his ear, so if I have a lot of calling to do, he pitches in there. My son can file, fax and do other small administrative chores," she says proudly. In addition, Windle's mother, who is retired, handles her billing. "I've definitely got a family business going. In fact, they'll often ask if there's anything they can do to help."

Windle doesn't take her children's assistance for granted, though. During the school year, she ends her work day when her kids get home from school, though she's available for client emergencies. If she needs to meet a deadline, she'll work after Angela and Robert are in bed or she'll get up early to get the work finished. She also invites her teens to "do their homework in my office, whether I'm in there or not. That way, they don't feel like the room's off limits." When they do work for her, Windle pays her kids for the tasks they complete.

In addition to minor office duties such as filing, Robert is assigned household responsibilities such as cleaning. His help in that regard means Windle doesn't lose work time during the day because of household chores. Those tasks are tied to special privileges and rewards like sleepovers and trips to the movies, the mall or ball games.

Windle's daughter, Angela, receives a healthy wage for her office duties, primarily completing secretarial tasks for her mom. "I type notes and correspondence, answer the phone, and run errands," says Angela, who works 10 to 12 hours each week. "Basically, I do whatever needs to be done to help meet deadlines." How does her mother persuade her to help? "By paying me $12 an hour," says Angela. "What also works well is when she gives me privileges [like using the car] when I help."

By paying them with both monetary and nonmonetary rewards, Windle feels that she's teaching her teenagers "that by working hard as a team, they earn more freedom and responsibilities-the same as if they walked into a corporate environment." And the benefits work both ways. Because her family is actively involved in her business, Windle says, "what I do for a living is no longer a mystery to them. They know my business intimately. They know who my clients are and have talked to most of them on the phone." The family is thus united, working toward the same goals.

However, Windle admits there are some disadvantages as well. "The initial learning curve is sometimes frustrating, not necessarily for me, but for my family. For example, my mother, who retired several years before I opened my business, let her computer skills lapse. She essentially had to learn new computer billing methods [when she began working for me.]" In addition, Windle confesses that she can occasionally become a "control freak" and get frustrated if a family member doesn't complete a task "my way."

In general, however, the roles her family members play in her business are important and beneficial to all of them, Windle feels. And she offers these tips for showing your appreciation when your family helps you with your business:

  • Reimburse them in some way. "If they won't take money," Windle says, "buy them a small gift or write them a note."
  • Make time for your relationship with them. Take coffee breaks or eat lunch together, and do other activities to bring you closer together, just as you would with a valued assistant or colleague.
  • Treat family members with the same respect you would give your colleagues and other professionals, even if they're just learning. If they do make a mistake, Windle says, "don't yell or blame them if something goes wrong."
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