Many families take pride in running a generations-long business of their own. As you grew up, you observed the struggles, sacrifices and arduous work it took to maintain that business, and now you're up for a more prominent role within the company.
While your family instilled an entrepreneurial spirit in you from an early age, you’re probably curious about other career paths in life. You may have a passion or calling in a whole different field but feel guilty about leaving your family behind.
Joining the family business also comes with its considerations. Can the family separate personal from professional, or does mixing the two double the drama?
You should consider several aspects before deciding if joining the family business is the right career move for you.
Can You Handle the Ups and Downs of Family Business?
The chances are good that your family has a role they think you’d be the perfect fit for — whether that’s in sales or as the future CEO. Specific roles come with particular sets of stakes, and you must prepare yourself.
The difficulties of joining the family business depend on how you look at the situation and your unique factors. Ideally, the family should feel united by the mission of the company and express solidarity in sharing long-term visions and goals.
If the business and family are falling apart at the seams, it's understandable for you to want to take a different path in life.
Generally, family businesses have experiences with weathering the typical ups and downs unique to their market, and they’ve evolved over the years while remaining to their values. That means taking part in the family business gives you job security.
One study found that family businesses practice frugal spending habits and maintain a more diverse board than other companies. Family businesses balance their frugality with taking calculated risks to sustain growth.
Your family will do their best to make sure you keep your job, but of course, you must actually do it. Can you say the same about a corporate career path? Power struggles come with any business and career path, and you must stand your ground and know when to give in. Can you handle the ups and downs?
Have you had any outside work experience?
One day you may not work for the family business and may need a different job that requires entirely different skills. Working in the outside world offers more vantage points and abilities, whether you decide to go into the family business or forge your own career.
Do your research and get to know what joining the family business means for your future. It's essential to make informed decisions, and it's your future.
Will you play a small role, or does your family aim for you to take over the business one day?
If your family hasn’t started their succession planning yet, your inquiries about joining the family business may prompt the planning process.
No matter how old the CEO is, succession planning secures the future of the family business and gives you more comfort because you know what you’re getting yourself into if you join.
Families must plan for succession at least 10 years in advance since longevity is strongly linked with succession planning. Bringing in outside advisers and an experienced attorney will help the family plan for retirement, shareholder agreements, regulatory compliance, selling business interest, business tax planning and more.
You should also understand the core company functions of the business and what part you may take in it. Do your skills and passions fit in anywhere with the family business?
Ask to shadow family members in their professional roles to learn more about the ins and outs of various departments and demands.
Maybe the family business isn’t for you. Your family should support and respect your decision, but they may strongly protest if you’re the only who can shoulder the future of the family business. But remember, only you can decide your future.
You may still be exploring the possibilities of what career you want, and that’s okay. Look to the skills you’ve built and the interests and passions you’ve developed. Test the waters by taking a few classes in a relevant subject, shadowing a professional or applying for an internship.
With the family business, training is mostly built-in, and you’ve technically received training all your life as a part of the family.
When you choose a different career, you must go out into the world and expose yourself to the training and experiences you need to pursue that path. You may feel lonely and isolated, or you may feel free and entrepreneurial.
Many entrepreneurs got their start because of inspiration from watching their family run their own business. In fact, 48 percent of entrepreneurs grew up in this environment, witnessing their family deal with the freedom and hard work of running a business.
On the other hand, have you considered starting your own business? Who knows — you may end up working with the family business in a consulting role rather than “against” them by moving away from tradition.
Unfortunately, some families will initially see it that way. They may view you going off to forge your own career path as a betrayal of sorts, but they’ll get over it eventually. Plus, working outside of the family business doesn’t mean you can’t help out or express interest later.
When you talk to your family, express that you want to learn more about the pros and cons of both decisions.
If you've made your choice, stick to your guns, show your passion for your calling and reinforce the fact that watching your family work so hard over the years inspired you to forge your own path — or decide to join the business itself.
Be patient with yourself and your family, and be upfront about what you decide — even if that decision is to explore the possibilities. It's your future, and you're the only who can choose how to live it.