4 practical tips for hiring family members without any fallouts

September 07, 2020

Practical tips for hiring family members

Stacey MacNaught, Founder of MacNaught Digital, weighs the pros and cons of hiring family members in your business and gives four practical tips on how to make it work.

I didn’t set out to run a family marketing consultancy but that’s what I inadvertently built when I found myself needing a little more scale after going freelance in 2018.

My first hire was my Mum. In an industry (SEO) where many people joke about trying to explain their jobs to their Mums, I hired mine. Fast forward almost 2 years and our small team of 6 includes my husband and two cousins as well.

Almost the entire business is made up of family members. It’s not without its pitfalls and risks, for sure. At the start of lockdown in March 2020 we started planning for the worst-case scenario for the business if our clients couldn’t spend on marketing. The worst-case scenario was making my own family redundant – leaving members of my own family without income at a time when the jobs market was collapsing. 

Fortunately, we didn’t come close to the worst-case scenario. But it brought home one of the very real risks of running a business where most of the hires are family.

Four things to know when hiring your relatives

It’s my own experience that the benefits of hiring your relatives outweigh the pitfalls though, but it requires careful planning and real honesty. Here’s what we’ve learnt by accidentally building a family marketing agency.

Honesty from the outset

Imagine having to fire an employee and then sit at Sunday dinner with them a week later. 

Terminating someone’s contract is never a pleasant experience. Parting ways with someone you hired to do a job where it simply isn’t working out is one of the mucky tasks involved with running a business.

But in most cases, you don’t then have to see that person again. It doesn’t have to be personal. But when it’s family, it is personal. If it doesn’t work out from either side there’s the very real risk of hurt feelings and family tensions.

To eradicate this, have an honest conversation with that family member before making any decisions and agree on what happens in certain circumstances. Agree what success looks like and agree on the circumstances under which (for either party) it isn’t working out. That way if it goes south it won’t come as a surprise if either party wants to part ways and this should hopefully help make it more amicable.

Do the paperwork

Get all the paperwork right even if it is family members. Don’t be tempted to skip the formalities when hiring family members. It’s for the benefit of both your business and your family member that contracts are in place.

Do it all properly from day one regardless of whether it’s a complete stranger you’re hiring or your Mum.

Hire family on merit

Running any sort of business, but particularly a services one, means that so much of your success depends on how good your people are.

Of course, we all want to do the best by our loved ones. But you have to hire on merit. I can confidently say that all 4 of my family members in my team bring a trait I needed and would have actively pursued.

My Mum’s attention to detail and persistence make her excellent at her role. The cousin I first hired was fresh out of University with a really keen interest in SEO, experience of running a couple of websites and an ability to pick up new skills very quickly. The second cousin I hired was again a recent graduate with a superb ability to pick up new skills, a remarkably keen interest and also graphic design skills I was sorely lacking.

My husband is much more organised than I am. Had he not wanted to be involved day to day, I would have had to hire someone to deal with HR, admin and bookkeeping. He does this and he does it well.

They’re all people I would have needed in the business so nobody is there just because they’re related. 

That’s important because anyone in the team not related for you shouldn’t feel their colleagues are on payroll with no value add. But equally, resentment will build if you start to feel you’re paying for someone who cannot deliver what you need.

Everyone has to be equal

Everyone in our business has the same annual leave, the same flexibility on hours and working locations and the same benefits. Everyone has performance and pay reviews at the same frequency.

In fact, it’s the member of the team not related to us who’s recently been promoted.

It has to be fair. Unless you only intend to hire family, you need to be able to separate your family ties when it comes to managing people and this is an expectation you should set with them at the outset.

You have to have the same expectations of everyone to avoid breeding resentment.

Make space

Not just for social distancing! But particularly when you live with someone you work with, it’s important you have space too. 

For me and my husband, we alternate office days so we’re not in the office all day together too often. 

We also have very clearly defined roles within the business and mine sometimes require me out at meetings. So we do separate tasks within the business that give us the space we need to spend time apart too.

The perks of hiring family members

It’s not always easy. Particularly at the outset of lockdown I became acutely aware of the burden of responsibility when your business pays the bills for so many people you care about.

But the perks of hiring family members are amazing too. You get to help the people you care most about into roles where you know they’ll be looked after, have job stability and a career path. And it also means you’ll be working with people who really have your back, people who want you to be successful.

Who is going to be more vested in your success than your own Mother?

Hiring family members has allowed me to build a business where everyone is pulling in the same direction and everyone wants the whole business to do well. 

Yes, there’s an added burden of responsibility there and I’d be lying if I said work talk doesn’t follow us all to family gatherings at times.

But for me, I wouldn’t change it.

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