Working Issues With Mom

Family Business

Hello Steve,

I’m always learning new things from your experience. Thank you for all your help.

I need some advice on my family business. I’ve read before that your wife worked with you for many years and one of the many things she’s good at was answering phones, etc. My mom is my other half in this business, we work together, and she does all the marketing, website work, office work, and answering phone calls. I went into this business because my mother has been there for me through all my lifetime, and this is the best way for me to give back to her. Sadly, she got laid off in the telecom industry almost ten years ago and it has been tough for her ever since.

Here is my problem. My mom does not like to answer phone calls when I am in our home office. She always makes me answer the phone, also she doesn’t like to do follow ups w/ clients over the phone. I have slowly come to realize that basically my mother is just not a phone person. I thought it would make our small business perceived as a big company by having someone answering the phone that was not out on the road/field.

Also since it’s just the two of us, I’ve asked mom to come out in the field w/ me, as I believe most prospects would feel more at ease to see a women in their home with me. (We’re not busy right now so it won’t hurt us on the phone.) This would also have the advantage of letting her see what I do in the field (not actual labor on her part) so she could talk and sell better over the phone. But she just argues and doesn’t want to go into customer’s homes with me.

So Steve, do you see this sometimes with family owned businesses? My mom does a lot for me and the company, but the things I’ve mentioned above are not improving and I don’t know what else to say. In fact, I feel as if she is just ignoring my counsel/direction because it is coming from her “son” and her business partner. I’m 30 and she’s 58, we both come from a sales/entrepreneur background, but she’s more from the marketing side but from behind closed doors.

I just wanted to hear from someone such as yourself what you think of this situation. If there is anything that could change her or help her to see things a bit more clear. When it comes from me I just get very frustrated because talking tends to be a bit difficult on both of our parts.

Sorry for the long message and thank you for your time.
Mom’s Partner

Dear Mom’s,

I feel your pain. Any partnership is tough and family can just compound the problem. In fact, while I loved my father dearly when he and I went into business it was the worst partnership I was ever in. Our personalities, goals and manner of approaching business were just too different.  What did I do? I fired him! Kindly, tactfully and with as much love as possible I told Dad that it just wasn’t working for either him or me. While initially his feelings were a bit hurt I honestly feel it was a relief to him. And once we got this break-up behind us we became better friends than ever.

Basically, Mom’s, you need employees (as I’ve already mentioned partners are normally a bummer anyway) who complement the skills you lack. It sounds like your mom doesn’t fill this position. So your choice is to a) continue limping on as you are, b) break up the relationship, c) grow enough that you can hire people to do the work your mom can’t or won’t or d) try and help your mom grow into the position. (This will be a tough one.) Only you can answer which way you want to go. SFS very likely will help both of you make the decision.  It would be easy for me to say “dump her”. But business should be about more than work and money. SFS will give you the tools and knowledge to accomplish option “C” above if you wish. Actually, you may want to bring your mom with you to SFS. The SFS seminar has served as a great “management retreat” for a lot of partnerships and might help the two of you together to openly discuss your business issues.

Now let’s focus in more closely on your situation. I know you “want to be there” for your mom. This is a highly commendable goal. However, nowhere is it written that “being there” means you must be in business together or even worse as equal partners. Have you thought about funding some retraining for her? In fact, there are many state and federal programs developed just for situations like these.
Bear in mind that if you are stressed out over this situation very likely your mom is too. So separating in business may be something she wants too but just doesn’t know how to articulate it. (As in almost all family “situations”, it sounds like the root of your problem lies in lack of communication.)

Re: your mom’s issues with answering the phone remember that “we fear what we don’t understand and we avoid what we fear”! So your mom may just not understand the Emotional Dynamics of dealing with home owners. (We cover this topic in depth in SFS plus have a great section on how to book jobs over the phone.)

If you just can’t bear to “dump” your mom, then you are going to have to grit your teeth and make it work. How? Clearly defined expectations. Write out job duties and get assent from both parties. Give her a copy of what the two of you agree on. (Your SFS Operations Manual has over 500 pages of job descriptions and procedures- all ready for customizing to fit your business.) My guess is attending a Strategies for Success seminar would be a great “management retreat for the both you and your mom and get you both on the same page!


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