Small Business: Partners by blood. 5 Tips On How To Handle Being Related To Your Business Partner
It all started with a phone call in 2013. I was half-watching “Pretty Little Liars” trying to understand my cousin’s synopsis of the previous 3 seasons I missed (prior to this moment I had no idea this show existed). I was in Orlando, Florida and my sister was in Chicago. Chyrel called, presented a bizarre, yet intriguing proposition to start a business, I agreed - ET VOILA! Lil Epic Event Design (our old name) was born (This is the drastically simplified version of how it really got started). I wasn’t really sure what I was getting myself into at first. I had to go back to Chicago to finish college anyways (despite not wanting to go back… That’s a whole other story) so it seemed like a cool way to stay busy. If I’m going to be hella honest- I thought this was a phase.
See, Chyrel and I have gone through entrepreneurial phases since we understood the concept of exchanging goods for money. We did attempt our own solo ventures as kids- Chyrel did a slew of arts and crafts for sale, but her decoupage hustle was most notable. I attempted greeting cards, but my most thriving solo business between the ages of 8-12 was my housekeeping/laundry service with my one and only client being my bachelor uncle who was living in my parent’s basement at the time. I dunno, $40 a week at age 8 using cleaning supplies bought by my mom seemed like a sweet deal - no overhead, 100% profit. As kids, we actually did start a business together which was pretty impressive in terms of middle school success. We made custom beaded jewelry. We were able to make simple designs in about 48 hours, more intricate chandelier-type necklaces in about 72 and our biggest seller was our ability to put your name on your custom colored bracelet or choker necklace which required waiting lists. We had a beading loom. I repeat, a loom. I LOOMED Y’ALL! Business was good and we had a great stream of customers ranging from 3rd - 8th grade (we’re 5 years apart). This was during the time where public school lunch table “friendship club” association ruled and matching club bracelets went wild. Business was good… Until she graduated.
We got older and looked for jobs to make money, but the hustle didn’t lay dormant. In my freshman year of High School and her freshman year of College we started MadPanda. My sister bought an old school screen printing machine (I want to say from craigslist or Ebay) that our parents let us keep in the attic. It was all manual and we probably exposed ourselves to too many questionable chemicals and dyes at too early of an age. We bought wholesale canvas tote bags, screen printed our MadPanda graphic on it, and customized it at a higher cost. Our customization of choice- sequin. We printed and bedazzled our goods onto indie graphic tee websites like Karmaloop and Etsy (early stages of these sites). Again, like the jewelry, our lives changed and we eventually printed our last panda tote. Lil Epic Prints happened a few years later, and that was mostly Chyrel on Etsy but integral to how Lil Epic Design got it’s start. That’s another story for another time- let’s get down to business. I’m giving you a couple of tips I learned over the past couple of years on how to deal with being related to your business partner. It’s all business… But also, very personal.
#1: Apologize, get over it, and don’t hold a grudge.
This is the first tip because it’s most important- family business partners can have a lot to fight about. It’s not just business, it’s personal! Sister fights can get ugly. It’s almost common human behavior for sister fights to bring up some deep-rooted memories from the past that punch below the belt and escalate things quickly (Sorry I’m still wearing your favorite shirt that I swore I put in your laundry the last time I was over, but what does this have to do with our Q4 Books?!). I know for a fact that when it comes to fighting time, I am point-blank defensive, and unwavering in my principal and so is Chyrel. See, gene-pool variety is beneficial in this case (as with most things TBH) because having two individuals with 2 very similar fighting styles, similar levels of stubborness, and matching levels of pride (with no holds back because we’re blood) can be VERY bad for business. We don’t fight with the same decibel levels, and one is more emotional than the other, but the core characteristics that can land us in a draw are the same. It’s even more complicated when your parents have to be the referee. In the 5 years we’ve been in business together officially (on paper), things have been rocky and we’ve had our fair share of battles. It’s important to note that no matter how bad things got, there was always an apology. It can take a couple days or even 2 weeks (honestly, the longest we’ve had “beef” was for 2 weeks in our whole lives), but in the end we always get over it and just drop it. Grudges are just a waste of energy and, more importantly, time. Learn the lesson, drop the bullshit, and move on. As long as you both agree that the business is worth fighting for (in a good way), then fight for the cause and not with each other.
#2: Know your role and make it official.
You have to face the music. You and your partner have individual talents. We are a design company, yet I’m not a designer. My sister is the designer and a real art school alum, I just picked things up along the way by default of being around. I’m better at operations and marketing. Every job I had in the past was in operations and customer service (I count being a waitress at a diner as customer service because people can get pretty nasty about their pancakes sometimes). Understanding and communicating where your strengths are and what works for both of you as individuals building this company is really important. You can’t do everything and constantly bickering about who’s doing what gets old. In order to make this super clear, write out your roles and responsibilities. You may not have all the responsibilities figured out yet, but clearly defining what each person does will help solidify things for your business. It also holds each person accountable for mistakes within their realm of responsibilities which is important so that you can rule out any assumptions that that the other person is going to pick up the other’s slack by virtue of being related or birth order.
#3: Understand that you’re basically married.
This was hard for me in particular. I like doing my own thing. When we first started and I was much younger, I hated the idea of being completely transparent with my schedule and having to map out all my activities for the whole day with Chyrel. It seemed invasive to me and I wanted to be able to chill and be on my own. It didn’t hit me until later (when the college high wore off and adulting started) that time is money and we need to be on the same page at all times, but every now and then I still have a hard time . When you get into a business partnership with someone you both basically become legally bound together in the interest of the business and are both responsible for the money, operations, it’s success…. Or in other words, married. It was even more so like a marriage because we were still so young when we started that we were still living at home with our parents together- it was intense. There are a lot of hard conversations that happen in business about money, legalities, and the future. You have to be on the same page with all things, share the same calendar, be honest with expectations from each other, be able to compromise, and also be willing to work on resolving issues together as a team. I’m not married and have never been married, but I imagine that a few of those things make up what it takes for a marriage (or business) to last.
#4: Set a day off or schedule in some time for yourself and put it on the calendar
Being related to your business partner can take a toll on your personal space. It gets even more consuming when you live with your business partner and share the same nuclear family! Honestly, even if you are both on two different sides of town there is constant communication via email, phone, text messages, group chats, meetings, etc., that it’s only healthy to put away some time where you don’t communicate. Business never sleeps, and we lived by that ideal for far too long. First of all, set up personal boundaries for yourself with your partner. This can be an entire other blog post so we won’t go into details on this, but it’s healthy to have set guidelines on the way you want to live while being business partners and relatives. Chyrel and I would chat on gchat, CC’ing each other in emails, and text all day everyday during the week and then we would work 20+ hours on our feet together working weddings/events on the weekends and it just became too much.. Oh, and we lived together as well! Constantly being in communication and with eachother can be too consuming and also confusing because you’re in so many conversations that you’re never truly paying attention to which one is important and that’s how mistakes are made. Set a time at night where you’re “out of office” or put a day in on the weekly schedule that is your “day off”. It may never truly be a full day off, but you’ll feel a lot less overwhelmed by your partner if you have some mental time to yourself.
#5. find the silver lining when shit happens.
Think about it, you’re making money and navigating uncharted territory professionally with the same person you used to fight with for the last pizza bite or for control of the remote (am I showing my age?). You have seen each other through all awkward phases in life and are now going through another one together. My sister and I are super weird together and even though she’s really talented, professional person and so am I (lol) and we have this business together, she’s still my sister and I know how to make her laugh. We can be at our wits end with everything going wrong at an event and super frustrated, but we still try to find some kind of silver lining. Every experience is one for the books and at the end of the day at least one of us tries to always acknowledge how lucky we are that we are able to be in this industry and be in business in the first place. No two events are the same and free will and human nature will always leave room for the unexpected. We use the weird sense of humor that we have with each other to get us through rough days. Sometimes finding one tiny thing that went right (didn’t suck) is enough to make it through to another weekend and having a partner who reminds you of that while y’all are in the trenches together can make it easier and can diffuse frustrations a lot faster especially when you have to go to a family dinner the next day.
The journey is not easy. In fact, you may not enjoy a lot of the business growing pains over all. However, it is incredibly fulfilling and what I love most is that our successes are shared as a family. It makes us feel that it was worth it for our parents to completely uproot themselves from the Philippines and move to the US. Partnerships are hard in general and I warn everyone who enters one that they should always be aware that this will be one of the hardest things you do, but if you are patient with the process, are quick to forgive, and prioritize the bigger picture of business success over your feelings in the moment then you should be able to last. You may question your sanity along the way, but that’s okay! You’re a little crazy for starting a business in the first place! This has taught me so much about myself and has completely shaped the person I am. My sister and I are building the first layer of our family’s history in the US and that alone is worth nagging each other and a fight or two. Things will never be perfect and you can’t make everyone happy, but when things take a turn or when business gets hard, it’s nice to know that you always have each other (and that you always know where to find them lol).