Having a sibling is one of the best things in life. You have a built-in best friend and someone who often understands you better than you understand yourself. However, maintaining a consistently great relationship with a sibling isn't always easy. There's the occasional bickering, irritation when someone borrows something without asking, and annoyance about things you won't remember the next day. Now imagine going into business with your sister or brother. Starting a business with a sibling presents its own different set of challenges.
When my sister, Catherine, and I started our online publication for youth, Carpe Juvenis: Seize Your Youth, we jumped into it head first. We knew that challenges would present themselves as we continued down the path of starting a company, but we figured that we'd just deal with issues as they came up. When you start a business with your sister, who also happens to be your best friend, you balance a fine line between being too comfortable and too polite. It's important that you both find that middle ground and play up the advantages that come with being family. When you establish a partnership that works for you both, there's the potential to make great things happen. As Deepak Chopra wisely observed, "If you want to do really important things in life and big things in life, you can't do anything by yourself. And your best teams are your friends and your siblings."
Here are six important things to do when starting a business with your sibling:
1. Determine sibling time and work time.
One of the biggest struggles siblings can face as business partners is figuring out when to have sibling time and when to have work time. Talking about business, especially when you're trying to get things off the ground, can be a 24/7 conversation. This leaves little time to actually have work-free sibling time, which is crucial to not only keeping your personal relationship solid, but for also maintaining a healthy business relationship. Make an effort to agree that when you talk about your business, you will focus on what needs to be done with the company. Setting specific meeting times is a great way to establish when you'll be talking about business-related matters. When you are with family or spending time together as siblings, avoid talking about business and instead do a fun activity together or catch up on what's happening in his or her personal life. Defining sibling time and work time might sound a little ridiculous, but it really does make a world of difference for both your work and personal relationships.
2. Communication is crucial.
Just as it is important to divide up sibling time and work time, it is also useful to leave passive-aggressive behaviors at the door and just explain what you're thinking or feeling. Whether it's the way your sibling thinks you are doing something that he or she thinks could be done better or just about a decision that needs to be made, take time to openly communicate these thoughts. The other side of communication is listening. Hear what your sister or brother has to say, and create a safe space to express ideas and disagreements. When you decide to listen and be honest with your words, you are both less likely to take things personally and get defensive, and you can continue to efficiently build your business.
3. Use each other's strengths and weaknesses to your advantage.
You grew up together, you have spent a lot of time with one another, and you know each other like the back of your hands. You know what makes your sibling aggravated, but you also know what makes them tick. Play up each other's skills, encourage one another, and identify roles that are best suited for your personalities.
4. Be your sibling's emotional rock.
There's a good chance that when your sibling is feeling stressed and pessimistic, you will be feeling more optimistic and encouraging. Or vice versa. Use this to your advantage. When your sibling senses that you are struggling, let him or her help you. Remember that you have each other's best intentions at heart.
5. Make important decisions together.
You make a lot of decisions - both in your personal life and business -- every day. Most of them don't need to be carefully considered or consulted with your sibling, but when the time comes to make a bigger decision, do it together. Talk through the pros and cons, think about how it will affect the business in the future, and move forward from there. Don't make decisions and expect that your sibling will agree with it after the fact. You are both equals, so treat each other as such.
6. Be prepared for your relationship to change (for better or worse).
The relationship you had with your sibling before starting a business together won't be the same as it is after working together day in and day out. Sometimes no matter how hard you try, being in business with your sibling just isn't going to work. However, if you can work together to make it a functioning business relationship, your relationship as siblings could actually become stronger. You learn to appreciate each other's different skills, the energy he or she brings to the table, and how he or she can make you better as a person. Don't be surprised or alarmed when your relationship changes, just work on steering it in a positive direction.
Having the opportunity to start a business with a sibling is pretty special. Make a concerted effort to be great business partners and siblings, and enjoy the process. Starting a business with my sister has introduced new challenges into our friendship, but at the end of the day, we are stronger and better for it.