Going into business with friends and family: tips from CaravanCloud's founder
When Connor Ennis relaunched his CaravanCloud website at the end of last year he did so with friends and family as a key part of his team. Relaunching a business in the middle of a global pandemic brought plenty of complications but involving friends and family who were also stuck at home proved to be a positive move.
In part, his decision to employ those close to him was driven by the restrictions of the pandemic and the fact that he had a limited number of potential employees to choose from in his hometown of Tenby in West Wales.
“Living in a small seaside town like Tenby limits the people you have to choose from to work with,” he says. “Using my family for advice and help came naturally and choosing friends to work with seems to be an obvious choice. As I had previously started a small phone screen repair business with one of my close friends Adam, I had an idea of what he was like to work with and knew he would be a good addition to the CaravanCloud project.”
Adam Muskett duly joined the team, and he was followed by Talia Ennis, Connor’s sister, who was available for work because the pandemic had postponed her plans to train as a ski instructor. Instead, she agreed to help Connor with tasks such as social media management, creative ideas for promotion and contacting potential customers.
“She’d been planning to do a ski season, but I suggested she work for me and save up a bit of money,” says Connor. “It helps that she’s at home with time on her hands so can respond quickly to anything that needs to be done.”
Over the past few months, visits to the CaravanCloud website have increased tenfold, and Connor has been able to share the satisfaction of that success with those closest to him. Designed as a one-stop-shop for all things camping and caravan related, CaravanCloud is aimed at the growing market of young campers and has seen heightened interest as the pandemic makes people more likely to choose UK breaks rather than holidays abroad.
“Having one of my close friends and my sister around me helping me build CaravanCloud into a big brand is exciting and they are a lot more invested in making this happen than someone who does not have any personal connections to me,” he says. “One of the most clear and main upsides of working with friends and family is that they are very flexible and should be very trustworthy, and that is important when building a business with so much on the line. Another advantage of working with friends and family that may be overlooked is that success can taste that little bit sweeter when you achieve it together.”
However, he does caution that there are potential downsides that anyone looking to employ friends and family should be aware of.
“The advantages can become disadvantages at times, as friends and family can take advantage of you as the employer,” he says. “It takes the right balance for them to realise that although they are your friend or family member out of work, you are their boss and manager in work. I had made attempts to get my father involved but I feel he did not understand the concept of CaravanCloud well enough, and he wanted to change too much rather than build on what I had already created, so there were clashes. I had also given friends chances and invested time in them but unfortunately not everyone is cut out for this type of work.
“It is also important to remember that if the situation arises that you have to let them go it can damage the relationship between friends and family if not done the right way.”
Connor adds that when considering employing family and friends you should look past your relationship with them and assess as objectively as possible whether they are a good fit for your business or if they have potential to become a good fit.
“The good thing is that you will have a rough idea of whether they are or not without an interview and a CV,” he says. “I made the mistake of giving one of my friends a job because I thought it would be a good laugh and a good chance when really it wasn’t the right move for him, and it was a poor choice made for the wrong reasons by me. However, I know my sister has potential to be a very valuable member of staff for CaravanCloud in the future.”
Connor’s top tips for successfully going into business with friends and family:
- First of all, do not try and push a friend or family member into a job that they may not want or think they cannot do. It is important to meet in the middle and identify who and why someone may look to work with you.
- Making sure you are able to work and progress in the company of friends and family. It is easy to get distracted when working with friends!
- Be prepared to make difficult decisions – there will be times when you have to encourage, motivate, or lay down the law. There are always ups and downs in the workplace.