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Opinion: Do’s and don’ts for growing family businesses

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Got little kids? Trying to manage work and family in the same space?

I’m not claiming to be an expert. (Beware of anyone who is.) I have my own experiences, raising our son, Max, while my husband and I worked a family plumbing and hydronics business. I also have visited dozens (hundreds?) of family businesses. So, it is with no judgment that I offer these do’s and don’ts for bringing little-to-middle-kids to your family’s 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 a play area for toddlers, loaded up with toys and craft supplies. Establish a nice homework zone for school-aged kids.

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 that means the kids are always listening.

Do put them to work. Find meaningful, age-appropriate work: trade shows, charitable events and stamping direct-mail pieces; maybe shop and property cleanup or scanning and filing. For the digitally savvy youth, some supervised social media posting could work well. Do be careful about putting young children’s images on social media. Don’t make them work every Saturday. Do encourage other after-school activities and hobbies.

Do model good problem solving. Do ask their opinions and let them participate in projects. I wish I had learned basic project management as a middle-schooler. Do have them write to-do lists and assignments in a notebook or keep track of projects in a simple app, like Basecamp or Trello.

Do incubate their business ideas, such as Girl Scout cookie sales, lemonade stands or 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 on a dry-erase board.

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 and take the kids to the movies, or bike riding or to a ball game. Do let your kids see the freedom that being your own boss can bring.

If you do work from home, don’t work all the time and all over the house. Do set up specific office space and punch out now and then. Don’t let kids use your computer. You will be really bummed if your proposals are accidentally deleted or someone spills their soda on your keyboard.

Do read to your kids and include biographies of successful businesspeople, 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. And there are tax advantages for you and them.

Don’t feel guilty about any of it. I know that’s easier said than done, so I am repeating it. You won’t be a perfect parent or spouse or business owner. As Mark Victor Hansen once told me, “Do your best today. Then stand on its shoulders tomorrow and make it better.”

Ellen Rohr is an author and business consultant offering profit-building tips, trending business blogs and online workshops at Her books include “Where Did the Money Go?” and “The Bare Bones Weekend Biz Plan.” She can be reached at


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