Fed up with the corporate rat race? Maybe it's time to consider starting a Mom-and-Pop shop.


Ardis Burford, a copywriter for Burford Company Advertising in Richmond, Virginia, has to remind herself to call her creative director and boss by his name, Doug.

"If we talk to clients and I say 'Dad,' they're going to roll their eyes," says Burford, who, along with both of her siblings, works for Mom and Dad at the family ad agency.

The Burfords aren't alone. Running a family business represents one of the most enduring American dreams, and each day, thousands of cubicle- bound corporate workers, closet inventors, young entrepreneurs, and middle-aged ex-managers take a stab at that dream with a spouse, child, sibling, or parent. In just the past five years, Americans have started more than 3 million family businesses, says Dr. Joe Astrachan, Wachovia Chair of Family Business at Kennesaw State University in Georgia.

Harvard Business School notes that 80 percent of the world's businesses are family-owned, and the family company is becoming more prevalent. When family businesses succeed, they can take their place among some of America's most powerful companies. Family-run businesses account for half of the nation's gross domestic product and nearly 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies, Astrachan says. Think Ford, Wal-Mart, Anheuser-Busch.

"The advantages of starting a [family] business aren't always about money," says Astrachan, who edits the Family Business Review, a scholarly journal devoted to family-business trends and research. "You decide when you work and when you don't. You have the ability to be authentic when you want to be."

Family businesses also pose unique challenges and risks. Failure endangers not just your bankbook, but cherished personal relationships and the sanctity of your home. "If you feel like you're drained from a depressing day dealing with your boss, imagine coming home and not having anybody to turn to," Astrachan says. Smart family business owners protect themselves against disaster by planning ahead, separating duties, and establishing a clear line where business ends and family begins.

"One of the things that makes family businesses so strong is the relationships, when they're working," says Jane Hilburt-Davis, director of the Cambridge Center for Creative Enterprise in Massachusetts. "There's that commitment and loyalty to each other."