Faith and Hannah Russell have totally nailed the 'spending 24/7 with your family' and still actually liking each other. As co-founders of Mags Creative, a leading podcast production studio, Faith reveals five reasons for their success
Do you know there are 4.8 million family businesses in the UK? I’ve always been fascinated by the driving factors enabling a family business partnership to thrive. Especially when we’re talking about how to work with your sibling. Because hey, that’s me and my sister, Hannah.
There are a number of successful sibling business duos throughout history – think Roy and Walt Disney who co-founded The Walt Disney Company in 1923. Or what about Elon Musk and his brother Kimbal Musk who launched their first startup together in 1995. And, in 2009, Serena and Venus Williams became part-owners of the Miami Dolphins.
So what’s the secret to a successful partnership? You may love your sister or brother but how to work with your sibling is a big question. These are mine and Hannah’s tried-and-tested tips on building a business and how to work with your sibling (while still liking each other at the same time).
How to work with your sibling
1. Enforce work/home boundaries
Hannah and I started our business when we were living together in London. We didn’t have any office space in the early days, so there wasn’t a healthy separation between work time and personal downtime. There were many times, usually late in the evening, when one of us was desperate to share our latest business ideas – at the exact time the other only wanted to switch off.
We’ve learnt to set really clear boundaries in our evenings. It’s also important to open a conversation with ‘are you happy to have a conversation about work?’ if we’re chatting outside of work hours.
2. Embrace your differences
Take the Walt Disney example – Walt was the dreamer and visionary, whilst Roy was more commercially minded. Roy put the strategy in place to make Walt’s ideas a reality. There was real strength in their differences. When we first started out, Hannah rushed around going from meeting to meeting and I struggled as I found too many meetings an energy drain.
Then I realised a business partnership needs different drivers and perspectives to be most effective. Hannah brings much-needed pace and thrives on being outward-facing. I feel my most creative during moments of stillness and find meaningful connections from pausing, listening and reflecting.
3. Think ahead from the start
It’s really important you both really align on the ‘big vision’? Before you take the leap, you should have an idea on a few key questions. Ask yourselves where your business partner wants the business to be in five years time. Or how keen are they to grow a team and whether they’d want to raise investment or fund the business themselves.
These are crucial to discuss from the outset. It’s not only ensuring you are both clear on your ‘deal breakers’, it’s also protecting your relationship from any unwelcome surprises and conflict in the long term
It’s also important to consistently communicate as the business evolves and your team is growing. We’re allowed to change our mind about the business direction as our lives change.
At the end of each quarter, we check in with one another and share what made us most passionate and excited over the past 3 months. We also talk about the biggest challenges and what we can do to support one another’s professional development and goals. In absence of having a boss, we keep one another accountable to our career aspirations. It’s also a moment to reflect on what we’ve achieved together.
5. Leave the sibling arguments at home
There is a distinct difference between a sibling fight (even at the ages of 28 and 31, we still have the classic ‘you borrowed my top and didn’t ask’ exchanges) compared with a healthy, professional debate. I often imagine I’m speaking with a colleague (rather than a sister who has to love me however I act!) In the same breath, we’ve also learnt there are times when the work discussion needs to be parked, and we are simply sisters.
At the end of last year, Hannah told me she was pregnant, I knew the maternity leave conversation would have to be addressed, but for the first few weeks it was important to just be sisters. Celebrating Hannah becoming a mum (and listening to her fears) and me becoming an auntie was the most important thing. When we entered into business together, we always knew we had to protect our bond as sisters, nothing is worth compromising that. Thankfully it paid off.