Johnson Cook

Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Johnson Cook - Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Five Tips for Family Operations (Learned from Business)


crazy-golf-cart-familyMany books have been written and seminars sold out from speakers who teach that life can be happier if you run your personal life and family like a business.  The talks I’ve seen on the topic focus on basics like: have a business plan, set goals, give each other performance reviews.    I have some more to add to the best practices. Thoughts on my mind as we run the Cook Household that I find I’ve learned from running companies.

1. Outsource like crazy.

In business (especially startups), it doesn’t usually make sense to do things like: manage you own e-mail server, run your own web servers, do your own janitorial work, etc…   These things must be outsourced so you can focus on what matters the most for your company.

In your personal life, there are often things to be outsourced that you haven’t considered. The first consideration is always cost, but it’s important to consider the value of your time, your energy, and sanity.

I have a friend who has taken outsourcing his personal life to the extremes. Cooking, cleaning, and yard work are the basics. But think next level: His dry cleaners pick up from his laundry room and return to his bedroom closet.   His banker drops envelopes of cash off on his desk at his home study when he needs money.  He has even been known to outsource the installation and decorating of his Christmas tree.   In his view, these things are less important than spending time with his children. His work schedule is intense, and if he isn’t working, then he doesn’t want to be at the cleaners waiting for his shirts.

2. But, keep core competencies in house.

In tech companies, we say that engineering and sales should be your core competencies: and you don’t outsource them.  What are the equivalents at home?   What are the things that only you can do?

Only you can exercise for yourself.   Only you can be the parent that you need to be by spending quality time with each child. Only you can start and maintain family traditions around the holidays.  Only you can be there to cheer on the games and recitals. If it’s not something that only you can do, it can likely be outsourced.

3. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

As a business grows, it becomes inefficient for the top leaders to focus on smallest issues. Whether it’s what kind of printer we buy, or that we pay $5 more per month for coffee than we could if we switched vendors, or that a $10/month online service could be free if we switched providers.   These are distractions. Leaders are overwhelmed with important, massively “stay-alive” decisions every day and shouldn’t let the small stuff detract from what matters.

The same goes for home. I’ve found our family occasionally getting worked up over silly ridiculous small stuff, that really isn’t helpful.   Just this weekend, I got irked because I discovered that we’re buying $4 Peanut Butter instead of the $2 peanut butter.  In retrospect, who cares. $2/week isn’t going to break us or make us.

4. Smart leverage.

Every entrepreneur knows that capital is the lifeblood of the business.  They also know that long term liabilities are a perfectly healthy way to grow a business.  It’s ok to borrow money. It’s more than ok, it’s expected if you want to grow.  If done in the right, smart way, of course.

I know a few families who take the “debt is evil” approach to the extremes.   I’m not in any way advocating that families live above their means.  I am only saying that my view is that I only have one life to live. And I’m ok having a mortgage instead of paying cash so I can have the comfort of a little cash in the bank and live in a comfortably-sized house.  I also love my Amex points and perks that cost me nothing to earn and use, and I pay off every card every month in full. For a person with some self-control and intelligence, I don’t understand the “credit cards are evil” way of living.

5. Culture at the top.

The culture and alignment of the management team is what will make or break a company. If you haven’t figured that out yet and are running a business, then expect to learn it the hard way if you don’t figure it out soon.

For parents, the same is true. When Margaret and I get frustrated with each other, it is immediately apparent in the morale of the troops. When we’re having grumpy thoughts about each other it’s as though the kids become extra pissy and fight, argue, and whine even more than usual.     Keeping the “management team” on the same page and delighted about the mission as helped us a lot. Weekly date nights and vacations together with no kids and no friends every 6 months has really helped us.

Lately we’ve been thinking about reversing these two and doing vacations together with no kids every WEEK! If only…

Category: Efficiency

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