Michelle Coyle is president of BGSD Strategies, where she provides strategic advice for political business owners. Have a question about your business? Email her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and she’ll answer them here.
Q: My adult daughter has been working in our business for some time now, but I want to give her a formal title with the firm. How do you recommend making her role “formal,” and what seniority should she have over other non-partner staff?
A: Do whatever you would do if she weren’t your daughter. I hope that you’ve taken the time to create an organizational chart and define each role in your firm. That means that each job should have a written out a job description including qualification requirements, defined key performance indicators, and a salary range.
If your daughter already fits into one of those roles and is performing her job functions well, great. Make sure she has the commiserate job title and salary and let everyone else on the team know that you’re formalizing her role. If you need to acknowledge that you should have done this a long time ago, please do.
If your daughter isn’t functioning one of the organization’s defined roles, why is she there? Is there a defined role that is a match for her abilities that you can move her into it? If not, let her go so that she can find a position that’s a better fit for her skills and experience. She might be upset with you in the short term, but she’ll thank you in the long run. Don’t rob her of the opportunity to prove herself.
Treating this situation any differently will breed resentment among the rest of your staff. Let them see that you value each team member’s contributions equally and aim to center equity in your professional culture. Clearly defining job duties and the consequences that will result from not performing will make it much easier to do that.
Q: A client reached out to ask us if we could do something very specialized that we don’t specialize in. I was tempted to take on the project, even though it’s beyond our scope, but decided to refer it to an expert I know but haven’t worked with directly. Should I have any concern about this? I don’t know if there’s a protocol to follow.
A: It depends. Were you clear with the prospective client that didn’t have direct experience working with the expert you referred to? There’s nothing wrong with saying “I’ve heard great things about X, I’ve never worked with them directly, but you might want to give them a call and see what you think.”
Now, if there was a meaningful way for you to contribute to the client getting their best outcome, you could have certainly reached out to the expert, asked if they wanted to partner with you on the project, and run the billing through your organization as a way to gain some experience working with them.
After all, if this situation came up once, it’ll likely come up again. Keep in mind that when you do this, you’re assuming ultimate responsibility for the project working out that way it should. That means that if it turns out that the “expert” isn’t actually up to the job, you’ll need to hustle to find someone who is. Don’t feel bad about marking up someone else’s services if you’re the one handling the administration of the project – that’s work, too.
It’s always fine to tell a prospect that you’re not the right fit to take on their project and refer them to someone who might be better, like you did. Just be upfront about how much or little know about the expert you’re referring to. If you can’t help them, your prospect will appreciate any lead in the direction of someone who can. You’re in business for the long haul – and acting this way shows that you’re centered in integrity and actually have the best interests of your prospective client at heart. The referral karma will make its way back around to you.