Got little kids? Trying to manage work and family? I’m not claiming to be an expert. (Beware of anyone who is.) I have my own experiences, raising our son Max while Hotrod and I worked a family plumbing and hydronics business.
I’ve written before on family business dynamics. (See my PHC News columns for December 2017 and January 2018.) I have also visited hundreds of family businesses. So, it is with no judgment and only love that I offer the following dos and don’ts for balancing little-to-middle-kids and your growing empire:
• DO create a safe space where kids can play. If your kids are really little, they will get bored and restless at work. Don’t set them up to fail. Cordon off an area for toddlers. Load up a play area with toys and craft supplies. Establish a nice homework zone for school-aged kids.
• DO be careful around dogs. Don’t believe customers or salespeople who tell you their dogs are friendly. Maybe they are, but they are still dogs. A frightened or injured animal may snap or bite and there are a lot of uncontrollable variables in a working shop.
• DO mind your manners. Don’t use bad language unless you are OK with them using it. You and your crew may want to raise your standards around the littles. Also, be careful not to gossip or criticize. My mom says, “Little pitchers have big ears.” I am pretty sure it means that the kids are always listening!
• DO put them to work. Find meaningful, age-appropriate work for your children. Trade shows and charitable events. Stamping direct mail pieces. Shop and property clean up. Scanning and filing. Maybe some supervised social media posting. Be careful about putting young children’s images on social media. Don’t make them work every Saturday and encourage other after-school activities and hobbies.
• DO model good problem-solving. Ask your kids their opinions and let them participate in projects. I wish I had learned basic project management as a middle-schooler. Have kids write to-dos and assignments in a notebook or keep track of projects in a simple app, such as Basecamp (www.basecamp.com) or Trello (www.trello.com).
• DO teach sound steps of delegation. When assigning a project, ask and answer the basic journalistic questions: What? Why? By whom? By when? How much? How?
• DO invite them to team meetings. Ask your kids to share something they have learned or inspiring words for the team.
• DO delegate icebreakers and team activities to your kids to lead at the team meeting. I have a friend whose 8-year-old leads the service techs and office crew in exercise and dance routines for physical fitness and fun.
• DO incubate their business ideas. Girl Scout cookie sales. Lemonade stands. Recycling and metal scrap collections and redemption. Have them submit a one-page business plan and keep track of money on a spreadsheet, columnar pad or a dry erase board.
• DO admit mistakes and defeat. Business at best is a “two steps forward, one step back” adventure. You don’t have to be perfect. Demonstrate your resilience and sense of humor.
• DON’T say, “This will all be yours someday.” Leave that alone until they are old enough to bring it up.
• DO personality and motivational mapping. You can map out your own motivations and gain insights into how your kids are unique and wonderful by using tests such as DiSC (www.discpersonalitytesting.com) or Flag Page (www.flagpage.com). Middle-school-aged and older kids might be interested in doing their own assessments. These are valid tools for embracing diversity and identifying strengths.
• DON’T ask team members to babysit. It is a huge responsibility to keep someone else’s kid safe and sound. And shouldn’t the team member be working? Yes, there are exceptions to this rule. Tread carefully.
• DO play hooky now and then. Take the kids to the movies, bike riding or a ball game. Let your kids see the freedom that being your own boss can bring.
• If you DO work from home, DON’T works all the time. And don’t work all over the house; set up specific office space and punch out now and then. Don’t let kids use your computer. You will be bummed if your proposals are accidentally deleted or someone spills their soda on your keyboard.
• DO take them on jobs. Kids love trucks and equipment and dirt and pipe. Let them experience the sound and power and joy of heavy equipment. That’s the good stuff and you love it, too. Of course, bundle them up with appropriate, well-fitted safety gear. Reference your written safety manuals as you work.
• DO take the truck to Show-and-Tell Day at school. I dare you to bring a gigantic sewer root ball. Send classmates home with copper fitting and wire bracelets.
• DO take family vacations. Time together, away from the business, is so important. Make it a point to plan a family trip at least once a year. You’ll bond and have fun while your kids are little. As adults, the kids can get busy with their own lives — and kids! — so family vacations become more valuable than ever.
• DO charge enough. Ensure that you can provide for your kids, send them to college and still have a nest egg for your retirement.
• DO read to your kids. Include biographies of successful business people, as well as well-written fiction. Listen to inspiring audiobooks and podcasts. Don’t have angry talk radio playing in the shop.
• DON’T neglect to pay them. You can divvy up the pay into savings, charity and spending (https://bit.ly/2Cfr7ks). And there are tax advantages for you and them!
• DON’T feel guilty about working late or on the weekend if you must. Hey, we are in the service business and that’s what happens. Also, growing a business doesn’t mean your family is less important than making money. Don’t forget to make time for your spouse. It takes a team — at work and home. Remember to carve out time for you. You get to live a well-rounded life.
• DON’T feel guilty about any of it. I know it’s easier said than done, so I am repeating it. You won’t be a perfect parent, spouse or business owner. As motivational speaker Mark Victor Hansen once told me: “Do your best today. Then stand on its shoulders tomorrow and make it better.”
When they’re older
Christina and Mark went on a ride-along recently. Christina is the daughter of Jim Criniti. Jim and his brother Jason own Zoom Drain Philadelphia and are my partners in Zoom Franchising Co.
She watched and learned, and Jim did just about everything he could to keep her out of the family business. Christina crafted a super-successful career in retail. Yet she always had a dream of working in the family business. Finally, she won Jim over and started at Zoom Drain last year.
Christina is smart, fizzy and bound for great business success. Our job is to set the stage for her to reach her career goals as she helps us build an empire. That goes for all our team members.
Remember, kids like the trucks. You are never too old to ride shotgun and it’s a good way to transition little kids to young adults with big careers at your company.