Episode 157 – Family Ties and Business Lines: The Pros and Cons of Family Members Working Together in a Boutique Professional Service Firm – Member Case by Carajane Moore and Tom Searcy

According to the US Bureau of Census, 90% of small businesses in America are family-owned and operated. Many Collective 54 members work alongside family members daily. Are you? Should you? There is a different set of management best practices used to grow, scale, and exit a service firm owned and operated by a family. Attend this session to learn how mixing family and business can be an effective way to fulfill your dreams- personal and professional.


Greg Alexander [00:00:10] Hey, everybody, this is Greg Alexander, the host of the Pro Server podcast, brought to you by Collective 54, the first mastermind community dedicated to the unique needs of founders and leaders of boutique professional services firms. On today’s episode, we’re going to talk about the pros and cons, the goods, and the bads of having family members. Inside of a small services firm working in the business and working with each other. Many of our members in our community, our family-run businesses. And, if you listen to the media, you know, that there’s, kind of a generational transfer that’s upon us with the baby boomers handing down their businesses to the next generation. So it’s a topic that I really want to spend some time on. And we have, two of our members who are very well respected, long-tenured members with us, Cara Jane Moore and Tom Searcy, who are our family members. And they run a firm called Hunt Big Sales, and they’re going to come and share their experience with us. So, Carajane and Tom, would you introduce yourselves to the audience, please? 

Carajane Moore [00:01:22] Sure, absolutely. I’m Carajane Moore, I’m president of Hunt Big Sales. And, I’ve been here about almost for since inception, 17 years. So. Yeah. 

Tom Searcy [00:01:33] And I’m Tom Searcy, CMA, CEO, founder of Hunt Big Sales. And we’re from it’s almost 20 years old in the professional services world of helping companies land big sales. The name is not confusing. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:48] Okay, great. So let’s start with a little bit about, about the journey. I mean, how did the idea of working together as family members come about? 

Tom Searcy [00:01:57] It came from, desperation. I, I was I’d started this company. We were starting to work and grow and etc., and I needed somebody that there was that I absolutely knew could do what we needed to have done. Carajane called up and she said, hey, what do you think about me coming on board? And I truly didn’t say a word for about 30s. And she said, or not. And I said, I said, I said I had no way to dream that big. That would be fantastic if you came on board. Because our cultural alignment, our personal value sets the the things we thought about as far as excellence, all that stuff totally lined up and, and we really, really liked each other. Well, I liked her. So. 

Carajane Moore [00:02:47] Now we’re. 

Tom Searcy [00:02:47] In Sydney. 

Greg Alexander [00:02:49] And since you don’t have the last name just for the benefit of the audience, define the family relationship. 

Tom Searcy [00:02:54] But we’re, brother and sister. Carajane is 11 months younger than I am. And, we have, my identical twin brother, passed. So we were Irish triplets, and so now it’s brother and sister running the business. 

Greg Alexander [00:03:10] Got it. Okay. And Carajane in the beginning. Were there any reservations or concerns that you had about going to work with your brother? 

Carajane Moore [00:03:20] No, actually, not like Tom said. You know, we kind of think very similarly. We grew up because we’re so close in age, very close. And so, some of our even teenage years, we were in the same firms working together. So, no reservations. And in fact, that’s why I called. I said, hey, you know, I understand the business is growing. I’m in a position that I, can come. I actually, it’s funny because I’m like, I’m in a position, I can come on board and you don’t have to pay me anything. I’ll just make commission on what I sell and which is also part of that. That’s fantastic. 

Tom Searcy [00:03:53] Yeah. And how do you turn up what you’re thinking here? Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:03:58] All right. And then, you know, from your perspective, what do you think some of the key advantages are when you have family members in the firm, maybe in comparison to those who don’t have family members working in the firm? 

Carajane Moore [00:04:11] Yeah. So I’m going to tell you, I think that there’s some really key issues for having family members that shared history, and background or values or consistency of what is excellence look like. We had it that all of that was shared. He didn’t have to say much because I already knew what he was thinking because we shared how that went. I think there’s also, at least in our case, I can’t say for other people, but I would suspect there’s also a shorthand in the language, right. Which saves me an enormous amount of time. He doesn’t have to explain when we first started. Can I have to explain what you just said? Hey, I think we need to go do this. And I already knew what accent looked like. I already knew what it needed to do. And so I could go take it and run with it and bring it back to him. 

Tom Searcy [00:04:53] Right. So if you’ve got that, if you have that institutional, appreciation, I think it we work a lot with multi-generational companies. As far as families that are moving that along, and there are some families which that is baked into their DNA, they understand that this is how we do it as a company and as a family. And there’s others where, there’s a huge divergence. You know, mom and dad took it the wrong direction. I’ve got it now, and I’m going to take it a different direction. And, when you have that, then there’s going to be friction good friction or bad. 

Carajane Moore [00:05:31] Yeah. Well there’s also other some of our other clients and people we’ve seen too, where you’ve got, second generation, our next generation, some of the cousins of where there’s more than just rap in which there’s some entitlement feelings and that type of thing. So some are working really hard and others aren’t working, but have titles and want to be paid. So they’re, you know, we have don’t have those challenges inside of our business at this point. 

Tom Searcy [00:05:53] I throw in one other thing about this, and that is money. Although we can talk about money a little bit later on, sometimes people look at the money as far as I should earn, as far as my compensation, what my level of equity is or what my last name is or whatever, and getting the idea that your role or your job pays you one way, right? And then you, receive dividends or benefits or however the company pays that out separately. And those two things should not be mixed. The money, it always shows up in the conversations. Always. 

Greg Alexander [00:06:28] Yeah. You know the old saying never mix money and friends never mix money and family. You know the money. The money problem can be a real a real a real issue for sure. So so speaking of problems and challenges, you know, what are the problems and challenges both in your own experience as family members running up front and then also with the clients that you serve that are family run businesses? What what are the things that people should look out for? 

Carajane Moore [00:06:53] I. You know, Cass, jump. I was going to say one of the things that I think that Tom and I share as, family members and challenges is we do think a lot alike. And so there isn’t that buffer that says that’s not a good idea. 

Tom Searcy [00:07:06] Right? 

Carajane Moore [00:07:06] I have a great idea. I think that’s a great idea which could do that, where he has a great idea and I go, oh, I think that’s a great idea. We should go do that. And pretty soon, you know, because we are aligned, are going down rabbit holes. We shouldn’t be going because we don’t have somebody going, I’m doing. 

Tom Searcy [00:07:21] Right. Yeah, exactly. So so that’s the heart. That’s the groupthink that comes with a family is without someone to push back that doesn’t have the last name. So many companies have got employees that just complain about their inability to be heard in a constructive way. Next thing is, is, you know, whose lane is what lane? Families oftentimes think that they share lanes. And but Jane and I have very clear lanes. This is her side of the house, my side of the house. We meet regularly, and then we meet once a quarter, as owners for a full day to work through all the business issues that we’ve got right now. And to make certain that I stay in my that we stay in our lanes. Yeah. Sometimes I’ve been accused of overstepping. Yeah. So unfair. So. And when it. 

Greg Alexander [00:08:15] When it comes to decision making, are the decisions joint or is there a boss? 

Carajane Moore [00:08:22] I mean. Well, Tom says I’m the boss. Technically, I’m probably the boss, but I honestly, our culture is more so that we, I’m bigger decisions. We together come to those. But the day to day decisions I make. 

Tom Searcy [00:08:36] There is a piece about those decisions too. We talked about money. It’s important to figure out how to fight. All right. How do you disagree? How do you argue? What what what stays off the table, right. Because in family run businesses, it gets murky. Yeah. You know, so my son was in the business for a period of time. He came in and he was working for a period of time. And then we fired him. And we fired him, you know, gently, you know, at lunch, please take your things home with you. But seriously, he had to go. He wasn’t making the contribution. We laid out what he needed to do. He went into a completely different area in the in the marketplace, and he’s done great. Yeah, he wasn’t a good fit for us. But when he came on board, we had said no blood, no foul. We will fire you or separate. Or you can quit. Yeah. And it’s not going to affect. You can quit is just as easily as we can let you go. And we’re still going to be family. And you got to call it up. Call it out up front. 

Greg Alexander [00:09:42] So that’s interesting. Learn how to fight. And the example of fire in your son. That’s quite a story. I don’t know if a lot of people have the courage to fire the father son, and then the relationship stays intact. So that’s that’s great. Which takes me to my next, I guess, line of questioning, which is how do you set boundaries between the professional relationship and the personal relationship? 

Tom Searcy [00:10:03] If you asked our mom. Her answer would be, I hate having holidays with you too, because all you want to do is go talk about the business and the things that you guys got going on and what just happened. And, you know, we we would never hire her. So and so she she never knows. So it’s you you can talk about how we do that because they would say our parents would say we don’t do it very well. 

Carajane Moore [00:10:26] Yeah, I would say our parents say we don’t do it. Well, I would also say that the people that work with us would say, we don’t do it very well either, and that family issues come into the business conversation just as much as business conversations come into the family, sessions. But we try very, very hard, to regulate that and recognize that. And so when we are at family meetings, we make it a very small conversation off to the side, just the two of us. We might sneak a little bit, but that but then we try to keep. 

Tom Searcy [00:10:55] It bright little notes. I mean, here we are. We’re gonna we’re we’re like, you know, over 50 years of age and we’re still cribbing notes and handing them to each other so Mom and dad won’t be mad. But, you know, there is a piece to this as well. And that is, when it’s a family, crisis or celebration. Right? That kind of a defined set of moments. The business has to go. Second, when Tim was passing, and involved in the business, we looked at each other and said, we’re going to take and the business is going to have to be second to Tim. And Tim took a year to pass and not to bring this up in any. But, every family has moments of crisis and, it’s very hard and probably inappropriate to try and pretend like that’s not happening. 

Greg Alexander [00:11:44] Yeah, you can’t pretend when something like that’s going on. Right? So you might as well just deal with it and be upfront and honest about it. 

Tom Searcy [00:11:50] Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:11:51] You know, you talked about your employees. This is an interesting one. You know, in the world that we play in professional services, it’s believed that people have careers, not jobs. You know, they choose to go to work in the professions because of the content of the job. They want to be in the expertise business. And when the when the business is owned and run by family members, employees who are not family members may feel that they don’t have a career path and want to. So how do you deal with that? 

Carajane Moore [00:12:23] I spend a lot of time, because I do more of the day to day management of the business and the team, to really understand what is what is it that they want as the employees? What do they want? Where do they want to go, where their interests, so that we can make sure that we’re keeping them engaged and excited about what they’re doing and developed and growing? And then we’re appropriately saying, okay, that’s great. We’re not going to go that way this year. Are you able to stay here or not? But we do have in our business an enormous number of people who are 1099 as well. And so, it’s a smaller group that’s that we handle the, the what is the career path? And like Tom said before, we have our lanes, we make sure that everybody has their lane so that there is clarity as to where they can go, move or not move. 

Tom Searcy [00:13:17] It is, I would add a little case to any one of our clients. Dear, dear client and friend. They’ve had their company for five generations. Five generations. Wow. So they’ve worked through this generational model very consistently. They have hundreds and hundreds of employees and they work on compensation and bonuses. But there isn’t anybody who thinks at some point, right, that there’s a career inside of their business, but there isn’t a path to ownership. For instance, you know, and the fact is, is that there are family members that are outside who are not interviewed and not brought in. They may receive dividends, but you’ve got to do your job anyway regardless. And that’s, that’s kind of important on the career path side. Some of the members in that family do not have career paths. 

Greg Alexander [00:14:09] Interesting. You know, and the the learning there is, is to separate the ownership piece from the employment piece. 

Tom Searcy [00:14:16] So important. 

Greg Alexander [00:14:17] Yeah. And sometimes I don’t know if we do that as well as we should there to. There are two linked in an, a family business. That needs to be a bright line between those two things for the obvious reasons. You know, particularly when people pass away and there’s a state plans and things are assets on a balance sheet that get transferred from one generation next gen. It can get really complicated, for sure. All right. My last question is this. For those of your peers that are in the community that are thinking about hiring a family member, but they’re hesitating. Would you encourage them or discourage them from doing so and why? 

Carajane Moore [00:15:00] I personally. So I’m going to start with, if you’re hesitating. Right. I think that you need to really do a solid gut check. There there is pressures, maybe personal pressures, family pressures to hire a family member. And if there is a I had cetacean, then I would really check on that. You know, it’s just like if there’s an employee, we come into places and they’re like, well, I’m not sure I’ve got the right people in the bus. Well, if you don’t know, then I can guarantee you you don’t. Right. So my, my, if there’s a hesitation, I would really start to question, is this the right choice? 

Tom Searcy [00:15:35] But I can only echo what Carrie Jane said. You know, what we start to do is, is we know the answer. Then we just figure out ways to lie to ourselves. So, you know, so we say I shouldn’t bring them on. But, you know, I think it’s important to mentor them. And I think it’s important that they generationally learn how to do this. And I think that it and the answer is really okay. So you have their whole lives if it’s children to work with and if they’re, you know, other members of the family, you’ve watched them. Why are we pretending like we don’t know who they are? 

Greg Alexander [00:16:05] Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s great advice. It really is. Sometimes that hesitation is caused for reasons that aren’t job related. Yeah. Like the family dynamics. And in that, I think it’s it’s a shame, you know, if you have a family member who would be a superstar, who wants to join, but you don’t provide the opportunity because of blowback elsewhere that’s doing that. Family member. Tremendous. Yeah. 

Tom Searcy [00:16:29] That’s true. 

Greg Alexander [00:16:30] Yeah. However, I agree with what you’re saying, that if you have a family member who’s not a superstar just looking for a job and you don’t think they can be successful, then trust your instincts there and run away. So your. 

Tom Searcy [00:16:40] Advice. Yeah, I mean, we get sorry, but I don’t interject. That was the Carajane moment right when she called up. Right. I was like, you know, it was a gift. I had no flippin idea that she might even be interested. So that was one of those things where I had a superstar who called. And then I had my son called, and he’s a superstar just now working for us. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:17:04] Yeah, that’s really interesting, but. All right, well, we’re out of time here. But I do want to thank you all for coming on, and, you guys have been great, members of our community. This podcast is another example of you contributing. For those that are listening, I will tell you that my team is in and, enrolled in their executive language program. There’s so many ways that Carajane and Tom can benefit all those that are listening to this. So I encourage you all to attend our member Q&A with them and look them up on the member portal and reach out and learn more about their story. And especially if you’re thinking about, you know, having family members join you looking for a role model, they’re an exceptional one. So, so Carajane and Tom, thanks so much for being here today. 

Carajane Moore [00:17:40] Thanks to you. It’s great to see a great. 

Greg Alexander [00:17:43] Okay, I just a couple of quick, calls to action for the audience. If you are a member, please attend the Q&A session that will have Kara, Jane and Tom. You’ll see a meeting invite on that. If you’re not a member and you think you might want to be, go to collective 54.com and fill out an application. We’ll get in contact with you. And if you just want some more information, I point you to my book, The Boutique How to Start Scale and Sell a professional services Firm, which you can find on Amazon. But until then, I wish you the best of luck next time as you try to grow and scale and exit your front.