Sister Act in Business

As seen on Shoe String Startups.

During a tumultuous time in business I needed real support and I decided to restructure my business, bringing my sister Joanne in to replace my husband. She had always been reluctant, and it was a risky move as people say never work with animals or family, and some people categorise family as both! Everything came together when the office manager resigned and she came to fill in as a favour to me.

It was the best decision I’ve ever made. We are like chalk and cheese, and that is why we work so well together. On the first day I didn’t know what had hit me – she did the old office manager’s daily work in 2.5 hours and had so many ideas. Together we were able to get through the work of three people in a day. Joanne has been the best mirror I have ever had – there is no bullshit. She doesn’t need to spare my feelings, so I get the blunt truth. Together, we turned the business upside down, restructured it, nurtured each others’ strengths, and skilled up to address any weaknesses we both had.

Things haven’t always been easy and we had to find a balance between our working and personal relationships. I also had to adjust to seeing her as a partner, rather than my little sister. We had never spent so much time together as adults, and had a crash course on understanding our personality traits, boundaries and triggers. We created some loose rules of engagement, such as not talking business at home. If we need to talk about something personal, we go off-site.

It was important for me to treat Joanne as a normal employee. We drew up contracts to clarify expectations. In a serious conversation I actually told her, “You need to realise that if this doesn’t work out, I may have to fire you!” I even put her on a six month probation period. Things worked out so well she is now a partner.

Joanne brought much-needed structure and management balance to my creativity (read: disorganisation). She took to management like a duck to water with transferrable skills from previous employment, and brought in some great initiatives. She started the training programs and employee appraisals, through which we have hired great new ‘team players’.

There’s only one thing I would change – I kick myself thinking about what we could have done if she had started with Stella Design sooner. We have defied the odds: our relationship is better than before and Stella Design is doing better than ever, trading out of debt and strengthening our market positioning.

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