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Fresh Cuts

  • Writer's pictureDrew Donaldson

How to Answer Your Relatives’ Awkward Questions About Your Business

You slowly slit open the envelope with shaking hands. This is the make-or-break moment. Whether you attend the gathering today relies solely on the piece of folded paper now in your hands.

Opening... Scanning….Ripping paper into a thousand infinitesimal pieces.

#$%@^$@$%$@^$%^%$^@!!!!! Stupid

I guess I am related to these people. Every single one of them.

You march upstairs to pick out a professional-looking outfit, that will deter them. You just know your family will pelt questions at you about your new business, which, in turn, will slowly stripe away your pride and leave you questioning every decision you’ve made over the past year.

While gazing out your bedroom window, and contemplating the repercussions of faking your death or worse a positive Covid test, you notice a Hawaiian shirt-clad intruder, hanging off your downspout.

You rush to throw open the window and shout, “Who the hell are you? How’d you get up here? I’m calling the police.”

In the blink of an eye, the vacation-wear-clad gentleman leaps through your bedroom window, grabbing your phone and straightening your tie.

“No need to be alarmed. I’m from GroHaus. I was inspecting the joints of your gutters and overheard you cursing out Let me guess, family reunion? Do you really want to go to your Aunt Pearl’s house, eat bad barbeque, drink cocktail jokes, and be interviewed as if you’ve never had a job? Not to worry, I’m going to help you navigate today’s BBQ and give the perfect answers to all your lovely relatives’ questions about your new business. Now before we leave, how sure are we about the suit and tie? It is summer and you would look great in a Hawaiian shirt.

Soon enough you and the strange man are heading to the car to drive to Aunt Pearls. Before starting the ignition, Mr…. uh… What is your name again? “Coach Growth!” Mr. Coach Growth hands you an earpiece and a spy camera and jumps in the back seat.

“We’re going to Ratatui this party together, I’ll be in your ear the whole time giving you all the answers to your relatives' questions. Now get out there champ, and don’t forget to bring me a plate when you're done.

As you approach the door the earpiece Growths (haha see what we did there) to life.

“First, up will be your Uncle Ted. Once you arrive, he will ask you the age-old job question, “What is it that you do again?”

Uncle Ted: “What is That You Do Again?”

Before you even get to the door your Uncle Ted corners you on the veranda, time for the classic elevator pitch. Dumb it down a bit since Uncle Ted, is, well, you know, about as intelligent as a 5th-grader, and actually not even that. He went on that show “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?” and failed miserably. The family doesn’t talk about it.

Anyway, set a timer on your Apple watch for 60 seconds and “GO!.” Review your professional background, mention your overarching entrepreneurial goal, and hand over your embossed, high-gloss business card. Then wave to someone over by the pool (hint: no one is actually over there beckoning you) and tell him you’ll see him a bit. Then speed-walk the hell out of there.

Example Response:

“Hi, Uncle Ted. Remember that I worked at that contracting company for the last couple of years? Well, I decided to open my own handyman business last year. I want to help make home projects easier for the people in our town. And it’s working. Business is great. Here’s my card. If you know of anyone who has an upcoming renovation project, or repair project, let me know. (Waves at pool phantom and commences speed walk away). See you later, Uncle Ted!”

Aunt Pearl: “So, You Actually Make Money Doing That?”

When Aunt Pearl sees you by the pool, she’ll ask you about your revenue and will hand you a slice of her dry-as-sand banana bread, of which you should take an obligatory bite. After swallowing the sawdust with difficulty, you will hear her say that she’s been talking to Uncle Ted and wants to know more about your handyman business. She will smile sweetly as she asks about the money you make, but, if you look closely at her eyes, they will glow red with critique. How do you respond?

Look straight into those demon pupils and give her an example of a project you’ve done recently. You may be tempted to tell her how much your start-up investment was, how much money you made last year, and how much you are projected to make this year. The investors on Shark Tank are only interested in those numbers; your Aunt Pearl spends her time trying to improve her banana bread recipe. Don’t bore her. Instead of droning on about stats, talk to her about the valuable service you provide.

Example Response:

“Hi, Aunt Pearl. This banana bread is delicious! Yes, I’ve started my own handyman business. And I get paid all the time. Just last week, I was hired by your friend Gloria, you know, the lovely lady who gave you this banana bread recipe? Anyway, she needed her whole second floor painted and I nailed it out in half a day’s work and walked away with a check to cash. Speaking of nails, I need to go talk to Grandpa Joe over there about where he buys his nails. I love his nails. See you in a bit, Aunt Pearl!” (Leave practically uneaten banana bread on a poolside table, in plain view of Aunt Pearl. Oh, that feels goooood.”)

Grandpa Joe: “When Are You Going to Get a Real Job?”

After dishing about nails, Grandpa Joe will give you a stern look. It’s time to duck and cover. He’s going to take out his missile launcher and fire a “real-job” query missile straight at your head! Instead of letting your head explode all over the garden (Aunt Pearl hates blood spatter on her roses), answer him with detailed information about what you do during the day. The reality of being an entrepreneur is that your days are full and you don’t have the luxury of looking for mythical “real jobs.”

Example Response:

“Grandpa Joe, as soon as I find the time away from my current job, I will look for a real one. (Ba-dum-ching is lost on GJ; crickets start continue). Most of my days start with digital or print marketing efforts, and then I pivot to completing scheduled handyman projects. From painting to carpentry, drywall installation to gutter repair, bathroom remodeling to deck renovation, my days are as full as my pockets. Good talkin’ to you Uncle Joe, but, Cousin Bill (who is actually bailing you out with a two-thumbs-up) looks like he wants a word. See you later!” (You feel Grandpa Joe’s missile launcher still tracking you, but you cross over to the gazebo and out of the line of fire. Whew. Head exploding postponed.).

Cousin Bill: “Do You Offer a Family or Friend Discount?”

Grateful for the thumbs-up, you will actually greet Cousin Bill with genuine amiability. This will quickly turn to animosity when you realize the intent of his raised hairy thumbs. Cousin Bill will congratulate you on starting your handyman business (he heard from Aunt Pearl about it). Slicking down his comb-over, he will ask about getting a family discount for a shelf installation project he’s been wanting to do for ages. You must embolden yourself to the necessary response: “Hell no.”

Don’t let your family or friends persuade you to join the Discount Club. It’s actually a cult that worships, out of a sense of familial entitlement, all that is cheap or free. You will become imprisoned there and your new business start-up will fall to the wayside, just like your Aunt Pearl’s fly-infested piece of banana bread.

Example Response:

“Hi, Bill. Looking good these days, especially those thumbs. Listen, all of my clients are like family to me, so I can’t offer any discounts on my services, even to my real family. Oh, and I got confirmation from; you really are surprisingly related to me! Anyway, real family is too grounded in emotional attachments and, if I’m going to be smart about my business, I have to cut that tether. Otherwise, I won’t make any money. And that would, well, suck. I know you and your clearly visible bald spot understand (include or omit this last part depending on Cousin Bill’s facial expressions). I’m going to take a breather on the deck for a few minutes. It’s hot out here. See you around!” (hand him a comb and walk away).

Cousin Sue: “Do You Just Work In Your Pajamas All Day?”

Sitting in a deck chair by yourself, you will take a quiet moment of reflection. You are almost halfway done with this reunion and all layers of skin are still intact. You will pat yourself on the back, but as you lower your hand, your peaceful reverie will be interrupted by Cousin Sue, who managed to sit down in the chair beside you like a ninja.”

“She will then say that she heard from Grandpa Joe that you spend your mornings on Facebook and Instagram trying to advertise your handyman business. And then she will point to your suit and say, “That’s not your normal attire, is it? Do you just work in your pajamas all day?” Don’t let her dismissive joke ruin your mood. Give her the deets about your dress.

Example of Response:

“I actually prefer to work in my birthday suit. (Cousin Sue blinks, clearly not getting the joke. Why is your family so dense?). Yes, Sue, my time in the morning is comprised of marketing efforts, and my garment of choice, if you must know, is loungewear. No, that’s not the same as pajamas. You can stop karate-chopping the air. But, like all regular human beings, I will put on clothing later in the day that is appropriate for my business.

Because I complete home improvement projects, my clothes are lightweight, heat-resistant, functional, and, dare I say it, handyman-chic. Let me know if you want some clothing advice. That tracksuit is, well, interesting. Oh look at the time (look at your wrist even if you forgot to wear your Apple watch), I haven’t eaten anything yet and all the barbeque smells amazing (it really doesn’t-- did they cook rancid meat?).

Grandma Beth: “Can I Ttttalk to Youuuu About An Iddddea?”

While inspecting what looks to be a hamburger with a mixture of doubt and fear, you notice a shadow creep over your lunch plate. And then you hear it, the stutter of Grandma Beth, “Hiiiyyaa, Grandsssoonn.” Maybe if you don’t look up from your plate, the shadow will dissipate. But, no, it stays resolutely in place. You begrudgingly raise your head to see Grandma Beth standing in front of you.

As soon as you make eye contact, she pelts the “idea” question at you. Grandparents are notorious for being know-it-alls, with the best ideas ever. Their life experience trumps your life experience. They will use this fact to combine what you do with what they do to form an unrecognizable hybrid of your once singular business vision. Don’t let it happen. Avoid hours of discussion by putting up a barrier and exit the conversation graciously (hey man, she is still your grandma).

Example of Response:

“Hi, Grammie Beth. I actually heard about your idea from Grandpa Joe (not really, but they are married, so it’s a safe bet), and while combining my handyman business with your landscaping business (she does it for her neighbors for free) sounds great, I just started this business last year and I want to see where it goes from here.”

“And I actually just hired a marketing company called GroHaus and they don’t recommend mixing business with pleasure. And you are such a pleasure to be around, I am afraid I wouldn’t get any work done! I am going to go get another drink (even if they are awful, you need another one). I’ll talk to you later Grams (barrier complete; give her a peck on the cheek and walk away before she continues her stutterific proposition).

Uncle Jack: “Is it Nice To Be Able To Work Whenever You Want?”

At the drink station, you will be ambushed by none other than Uncle Jack. Husband of Aunt Pearl, who recently questioned your money-making abilities, Uncle Jack is a far worse critic. Prepare yourself for the schedule question because that, and awful barbeque, is what he will be dishing out. Beneath the seemingly innocent question of “Is it nice to be able to work whenever you want?” lies a more critical meaning. What he really means is, “Must be nice not to work that many hours in a day. I work 9-5 every day to support my family. Lazy bum.” Let his belittling tone roll off your shoulders, though. Set him straight by reviewing your true work schedule and subsequent growing business.

Example Response:

“Hi, Uncle Jack. I see you’ve been talking to Aunt Pearl about my handyman business. Sure, there are benefits to crafting my own schedule. But, my 10-15 hour workdays are long, so “whenever I want to work” is pretty much all the time. My business is growing and fast. Thanks for the pow-wow, but I need to use the restroom. Excuse me.” (what? when you gotta go, you gotta go).

Cousin Tyler: “So, You Get Paid for Playing on the Computer All Day?”

You will hear the “play on the computer” question from Cousin Tyler as you both wait for the bathroom to become available. Be ready with the proper response. And, don’t worry, the bathroom is almost empty. Salvation lies ahead. Simply relate your experience to one that you know your cousin respects and viola, an instant get-out-of-skinning free card!

Example Response:

“Man, Grandpa Joe is really hung up on how I spend my mornings. He’s telling everyone about it, huh? Listen, Tyler, you know how you love to read those blogs that pop up on your phone? Well, blogs are simply modern-day magazine articles. Back in the day, magazine articles took forever to publish because it was all done by hand and drafts had to go back and forth between journalists and editors. It was tedious and time-consuming. But, now, blogs are written on computers (not by hand) and are shared between colleagues using Word or Google. It’s a more efficient process. That’s what I am doing when I spend time “playing” (make sure to use air quotes here for impact) on the computer in the mornings. I am productively and expediently marketing my small business and it’s paying off, quite literally! (bathroom door opens and you dive in-- safe at last!)

Aunt Susan: “Can I Borrow Money?”

The wife of Uncle Ted, Aunt Susan will be the next interviewer in this family-reunion interrogation. Uncle Ted told Aunt Susan all about just exactly what you do, including that “business is great.” She will grab your elbow as you step back outside after using the restroom and pull you off to the side of the yard for a discreet conversation. But, everyone knows Aunt Susan and Uncle Ted are in dire straights financially and this is what she plans to talk to you about. She wants your hard-earned moola and you need to give her a hard-as-granite “nope.”

Example Response:

“Aunt Susan, I can empathize with your current financial situation and understand how difficult it makes life. But, my life is wrapped up in making sure my handyman business succeeds, and right now all the money I’m making is going right back into it. I don’t have any money to spare and actually can’t spare another moment either. It’s time for me to head out; I have a painting job in about an hour. Good seeing you and good luck. (before she resorts to begging, turn around and head towards the exit-- can you see the light!?)

Cousin Laurel: “Don’t You Need More Experience or Education to Do That Job?

Oh no, a surprise attack! Cousin Laurel will see you as you are walking to your car and will pelt one last invasive question at you. Can you handle one more? Of course, you can! You are a sturdy and studly handyman. She will inquire about your experience or education concerning your ability to do your job. Don’t let Cousin Laurel, currently unemployed by the way, make you doubt your business venture. Education and experience are good foundations, but personal drive and hard work are what will build your business-- that and satisfied customers. You need to say as much to your familial interrogator.

Example Response:

“Oh hi, Laurel. Based on the fact that I have steady work each day, that I am making a return on my investment, and that my clients are satisfied, I’d say my experience and education are definitely enough. In fact, I just completed a deck repair on your friend’s house. You know Tammy, right? Maybe give her a ring and hear what she has to say about your thriving cousin, the handyman. See you later!”

Back to the Bedroom:

“And now, thriving handyman, I must be going, too. GroHaus is a bustling enterprise and I have more small business owners to help today. But, now that you know who will talk to you and when and about what, I hope you feel more confident in your ability to answer your relatives’ questions about your business.”

“I really do! Thanks, GroHaus guy!”

“Just stay away from the banana bread and barbeque. I also foresaw food poisoning and I have no idea how to help you with that. Oh, and keep the ladder. We give those out for free.”

GroHaus: Want a Free Ladder?

Okay, so we are currently out of ladders to give away, but we have expert advice that we would love to send your way. At GroHaus, we value the underdogs and no one makes you feel more like an underdog than your own family (well, at least on the occasion of a family reunion).

You are just one step, or one click, away from unlocking your business’s full potential. Seize the moment. Hear the Growth.

Image by Canva and Pexel



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