Many of you have a family business that you either inherited, that you bought, that you got pushed into, shoved into, or that you chose to be a part of. It’s important to talk about the route of entrepreneurship when you’re working with or for family. Ramon Ray interviewed Nancy Larick of Larick Associates about stepping into a family business and the interesting dynamics that come along with it.
“Make people like you” is Nancy’s grandfather’s motto. Nancy says that’s what their goal is—to make people like your business through the use of corporate and promotional gifts. “We enhance people’s businesses by getting them more attention, by showing their appreciation for the business that they get, or improving their business. It’s always about showing appreciation and how we say ‘thank you.’”
From Girl Scout Cookies to CEO
Nancy never thought she’d be where she is today, running the business her grandfather started in 1920. She says she was always a good salesperson from when she was selling Girl Scout cookies as a kid. Then she went into soft sales in publicity selling authors to media outlets. She started in real sales in the US Open Tennis Tournament and Madison Square Garden. She says of getting into sales that “it wasn’t just filling airspace or page space, it was people committing saying, ‘yes, I want this and there’s value in this.’”
She found that kind of sales to be exciting, but it was hard trying to start her own business. Her father kept trying to lure both her and her brother into his business, but Nancy never wanted to take over the family business. But, Nancy went to a convention and saw how her father was respected in his industry. She also saw the specialty advertising industry, that it was still in its adolescence and not fully formed, and saw a space where she could make an impact and add value. With great reluctance, Nancy committed and flourished. Her publicity background helped her understand how everyone was competing for advertising dollars.
Nancy joined the family business in 1980 and her brother came on board shortly after. However, in 1993, their father passed away and Nancy bought out her brother’s share of the business. She admitted that she tried to sell the business because running her father’s business was never something she thought she would want to do. But a friend advised her that running a business really isn’t that hard and Nancy said, “well, why not?” and decided to give it a shot. “I was terrified. I was taking on a big legacy.”
Working with family can be challenging advises Nancy. You have to talk, and you might even need a mediator. Tell each other what your goals are and how you want to work and what things bother you and see if you can surpass that. “You have to have a clear vision and be committed.” Nancy says that once she bought her brother out, it was worth it. She says
“when business is good, it’s very good and it’s easy. If you have the right people helping you, it’s a pleasure. You need good people helping you.”
At the End of The Day, You’re Still Family
In a family business, if you have employees who are family members, it’s important for the overall success of your business, and the morale of your non-family member employees, to treat everyone the same. But Nancy warns that you do have to tread carefully because after hours, you still have to be a family with those who share your name. She says that “a family relationship is more important to me than a business relationship.” Although she and her brother didn’t speak for six months after a difficult buyout, they were able to mend their relationship because it was a priority for them.
Tried and True Tips from the Top
Nancy has been in the family business for nearly 40 years. She knows how to run a business shared her top tips for entrepreneurs:
- Go for the cold call.
- Believe you have good ideas and try to give them away.
- Constantly educate yourself.
- Listen well and find out how they want to improve their business and try to find a solution. “I automatically feel that I’m on their team and I automatically want them to look good.”
- Pricing is hard. “You never know if you left money on the table, or if you should have gone lower.”
- Fire fast and trust your gut. “I should’ve let someone go way before I did, but I liked the person.”
- Ask for references. “It’s my worst trait in business…I don’t do it enough.”
- Email campaigns. “So we stay at the forefront of our customers’ minds.”