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Episode 149 | Should You Hire Friends and Family with Niki Ramirez



  • Episode 149 | Should You Hire Friends and Family with Niki Ramirez 00:00


Hey Group Practice listeners! New podcast episode out today! In this episode, I’m talking with Niki Ramirez all about working with friends and family.

In this episode we cover:

  • why small business owners are drawn to hiring friends & family
  • questions to consider before hiring friends and family
  • tips for working with friends and family

This episode is sponsored by TherapyNotes. TherapyNotes is an EHR software that helps behavioral health professionals manage their practice with confidence and efficiency. I use TherapyNotes in my own group practice and love its amazing support team, billing features, and scheduling capabilities. It serves us well as a large group practice owner.

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Maureen Werrbach

Maureen Werrbach

Hey everyone welcome back to another episode! I have got Niki on again. So for those of you who didn’t listen, I think it was probably like a month ago or so the episode came out where I spoke with Niki Ramirez. She’s my HR consultant for my group practice and she’s also a q&a facilitator in The Exchange; but she is a Q–oh my god Q&A consultant I was about to say! An HRhr consultant. All these acronyms! And so I’m really excited because today we’re going to talk about–and this is something we were we brought up at the last podcast episode. And we’re like oh my gosh we have to do another podcast episode on hiring friends and if it’s a good idea or not! I’m excited to have you on so hey!

Niki Ramirez

Hey! Thanks Maureen. Yeah, and your questions and answers is you know part of my company name so of course that’s what we are, we’re answers right? So it’s totally fine. Questions, answers, q&a podcast, exchange, whatever training, all this and that. I’m super excited to be here though! Yeah hiring friends is one of the most common topics that come up for small business owners who are trying to grow their business absolutely.

Maureen Werrbach

I’m really actually intrigued because I didn’t ask you what your opinion is on before this. So I have no idea where you’re gonna go. But I’m really intrigued to hear what you have to say because in my work with you I’ve learned how like, precise and meticulous you are. And like that’s one of the things that I love as a business owner. All the people that I have that are supporting me and my group practice–like my attorney is. Because I’m such a rule follower I love for things to be accurate and that I’m following policies and procedures correctly and laws accurately and so I have my attorney. You know and obviously you can find an attorney who will give you any answer you want and that’s why I love that I have an attorney who’s like super by the books. And I feel like after bringing you on, I’m like you’re just the equivalent of that for HR I feel super like confident HR wise in my business since hiring you so I’m really excited to hear what you have to say about this answer!

Niki Ramirez

Yeah yeah yeah! Thank you for saying that though. Yeah I love that you use the word confident because that’s literally the reason that I left corporate America to do work with small business owners. Because I like the idea that you could feel confident just moving your business forward with your people that’s like everything for me. 

So yeah when it comes to growing your business though, the most logical thing that a lot of people do is look to their network of friends and family to make those first hiring decisions. And so it’s very very common that folks will build a business based on hiring friends and so in my work working with small business owners I have developed the philosophy that it’s absolutely okay to hire friends! Especially in the beginning. But to your point, you have to have a strategy and you better do it with a procedure in mind right? So I think you know–and I didn’t think to like make a checklist for us, although as an HR person I typically make a checklist for everything. But I don’t have one for this. So it’s a mental checklist. 

But in order to preserve that friendship that puts you in a place where you felt like you wanted to bring this other human being into your business you have to have a strategy for it. And a way to preserve the friendship first and foremost. So I think if you go into it with that idea, you will have an employment experience, whether it’s positive or negative, but you will always have a friend. And I think that for most of us, that’s the most important thing.

Maureen Werrbach

And I think people forget about that, because they think about the fact that there’s a reason that they ask their friend to work for them. But they don’t keep that into consideration when actually asking them like, how are we going to make sure that if this does or doesn’t work, that what we had first, which is our friendship, continued on?

Niki Ramirez

Yeah, and same thing happens in family business. So in my household, my mama, she was an entrepreneur. So that’s where I got this bug to start my own business eventually. And she in the 80s, 1980s, she left the governor’s office in Minnesota, she was the assistant to the governor, or one of them. And she started her own secretarial services business. So she was like an outsourced secretary. 

Maureen Werrbach

That’s awesome.

Niki Ramirez

Yeah! And you know, and thinking about, like, I’m recording today on International Women’s Day. And the like, the term secretary is one that like we never use anymore, right? It’s kind of like gone out with the bathwater, but it’s so she would have outsourced secretarial services. And eventually, she brought my dad into the business. So then I saw a really interesting and, you know, I was I don’t know, I’m not a therapist, but for my heart, like a pretty healthy way to run a family business. And to really preserve that loving relationship that my parents had, in order to run a business that allowed them to do the things that they wanted to do in their lives. And, you know, financial freedom wasn’t one of the things they have received in their small business. They worked really hard, didn’t make a ton of money, but they got freedom, space, you know, and they got to work together. 

So as folks build their group practice, they are going to look to their network of friends and family. And as you step into that new relationship, having an idea and verbalizing it, I think that’s what you and I talk about a lot too, in our HR work together and with the team. A lot of what we do that sets us up for success and hiring and leading our teams has to do with being super intentional, and verbalizing the things that we desire and the things that we see. Just like any relationship, the employment relationship is successful, and it’s built on a foundation of strong communication. 

So you already said it, why am I bringing you here? Friends? What do you bring to the table, right that I don’t have or that I need to duplicate or supplement? And that’s why I would love to have you in my business. You know, you have these skills, you can facilitate this type of group therapy or individual therapy or have this admin skill that I need. So verbalizing that why I’m bringing you here, and then really just setting up to have some clear expectations about what the job looks like. 

And even though it might be your first employee, how are you going to measure success? Like how can you build a little bit of a performance evaluation system that doesn’t feel too heavy, it doesn’t feel burdensome, doesn’t feel clunky. But it allows you the opportunity to again, just openly communicate like what’s going well? What should be a little bit different? Can I help you with something? What should I stop doing so you can be more successful? Right? And how can we best partner to keep growing the business?

Maureen Werrbach

So what is your opinion or feedback or tip when it comes to that first question that you kind of posed? Which is, how can we preserve the friendship? Or how can we set up a system where we can still preserve the friendship? Whether the business takes off with us both together. Or whether or not that part doesn’t work. Like what kind of things would we be putting into that, that like helps that friendships stay preserved?

Niki Ramirez

Yep. So yeah, so first and foremost, you know, setting out clear expectations for job duties. And so again, it might feel like, am a big enough business to do this? But I think a job description is probably an order and it doesn’t have to be a full blown, you know, job description with all different sections and things like that, just essential responsibilities. So what is that person going to be doing for me? And, now we have some clarity around what the job is, how will you know, if you’re meeting my expectations? What does that look like? Because normally, we’re just talking about where to go for wine and you know or something like that, right? That’s easy. 

But in the business, you have to share with that friend what it will sound like to get feedback from you about work, and let them know that it’s going to be different than any kind of communication you’ve ever had. But that’s okay. That’s, you know, that’s okay. Like I’m expecting this to feel different. Are you okay with it feeling different? And getting that I think, getting that agreement, you know, building agreement that we are going to have a different kind of relationship is another step that you can take in order to preserve the relationship. 

It’s just like any other relationship, you don’t move forward until you get agreement. Right? Right. Yes, you can touch me like that. No, you cannot, right? Yes, I’ll go out to dinner with you. I will have a drink with you. No, I will not. Right. Like any relationship.

Maureen Werrbach

As you’re saying this, it seems so obvious. But I bet you nine times out of 10 people who are bringing on their friend as a therapist or whatnot, are not having that conversation because it feels weird. And that should be like the first indicator that if things go wrong, it’s not going to go well. Because if, while things are good, while the exciting part of hiring your friend or family member to work for you, that should be the point where it’s easiest to talk about weird or difficult, like situations. And if it’s not happening, then I can’t imagine that it gets easier later, right problems start to arise, right? 

Niki Ramirez

Yeah, totally. And you know, I’m a horseback rider. So I use a lot of horse analogies. So you know that the term like loosen the reins, or pull back on the reins, you know how I feel about that, as well. Though, you know, as you’re building this work relationship with a friend, you want to keep the reins pretty tight, you want to kind of hold a little bit of control in terms of who does what, when, and what it looks like when they do it. So that you can give that constant feedback, put a little bit more pressure on, but it’s not painful. It’s just what we need to do to get to the point where we both understand what this relationship called working together looks like. 

And I think that, you know, you said the word weird. I think so HR is pretty weird, like doing the human resources practice is like all the weird things about, you know, relationships, and it’s a lot of uncomfortable things. But if you’re doing it right, you’re taking some mildly uncomfortable steps, you’re just coming out of your comfort zone. So those baby steps out of your comfort zone will make it so that when something really difficult does happen, that you already know what it feels like to have a little bit of stress, a little bit of weird, you know? And then you can manage it better. So I think, yeah, I think we just, if we give ourselves our best advice, especially in your industry, about relationships, you’re going to get yourself so far ahead of the competition. It’s, it’s unbelievable.

Maureen Werrbach

Do you notice any differences between hiring friends and family members?

Niki Ramirez

You know, honestly, if this is like a dear friendship, not really. If you’re hiring acquaintances, or just people that are in your circle in your network, that you maybe consider them a friend, but they’re not a close friend, that might be different. And so there’s a little bit more space, if it’s not a close friend, to just create that functional transactional part of the employee relationship, which I hope your relationship with employees is much more than transactional anyway. But if it’s just setting up expectations, and making sure you have checkpoints, you know, one on ones, and this is what we talk about to make sure everybody’s on track. That’s easier with people that we’re not super familiar with, right, just based on the closeness of the relationship. So you know, I think it’s just, it puts a funny dynamic in, you know, in a relationship to change the purpose of it. And that’s really what you’re doing, right. 

So you’ve built this friendship with someone or you have a family relationship with someone, and the purpose is very clear, the purpose is to enjoy and support one another. That’s why you keep that person around. And now the purpose is to enjoy and support one another as friends, and also make some money, and do some work in our communities and, you know, have this business outcome. So just, you know, if you infuse a new purpose, then of course, you need clarity on that purpose, you need a strategy for managing that new part of the relationship. 

And then, you know, I really want people to think about being open and clear about the idea that there will come a day that I am not happy with your work. And how, again, leaning into easing into putting your toe in the water, call it what you will, with that topic from the beginning before that person says yes to the job. And I mean, and this is something that I don’t think we’ve talked too much about in my business, but my HR assistant Marina, she was my daughter’s infant babysitter 13 years ago. Yeah. And she was pregnant with her infant daughter at that time, and she was a teacher, a public school teacher that moved to home daycare, and then taught preschool. So she had my daughter Sophia in her home until Sophie was three and a half.

And then long story short, Marina did some more home daycare, did some tutoring and went back to the classroom in Arizona or public school. They’re really very difficult to work in, like in a lot of places. So she said, check you later school teacher career. And I hired her in my business. But my daughter and her daughter are literally like sisters, best friends. And so I hired one of my dear friends and my business and I remember three and a half years ago now, us having a conversation. She was doing independent contractor work for me and she was doing surveys for my clients calling for exit surveys calling for new employee surveys really transactional stuff and I said okay I think there’s more for you to do here if you’re interested in exploring an HR career, right? And then like I’m just drawing people in because she’s super analytical methodical organized she’s a good evaluator of people like so she has this skill set that I knew we could really turn into something in HR. 

We had to talk about though. I had to talk openly about the things that I struggle with as a business leader, to say like I will sometimes not respond to your email in too many days. But it’s not because I don’t care and I don’t love you, it’s just because I’m super distracted by too many things right now. Just hit me up again, don’t ever feel bad about even using the language I’ve been waiting to hear from you on this, right? Like be assertive with me and then yeah and in an exchange you know offering that openness to her feedback I shared with her you know there will come a day where I need to give you redirection because you’ve made a mistake or you’ve done something that isn’t necessarily right for the client or right for the business. As of today, that not having happened yet, do you imagine that your future self will be okay with that, right? That’s like friend Niki. Women who raised our children together for the last 10 years like, are you gonna be okay if I have to call you and tell you or email and tell you like oh man you messed up?

Maureen Werrbach

Right and I wanted to ask, kind of related to that, is the idea of like boundaries. So I have my mom who works for me since very early on and we’ve gone, you know she’s one of my favorite people in the business. Because I can trust everything–you know, I mean if you have a good relationship with a parent then you know what I’m talking about in terms of like with our finances because she does our finances like there’s no one better than a family member who you can trust making sure that the finances are all in order. 

But we’ve had a ton of like I wouldn’t call them ups and downs but on a personal level, more where I’ve gotten more annoyed and short with her because our conversations on non-work time ends up being about work. Where before she was employed by me our relationship was about you know going out and having a glass of wine, going shopping and not talking about work. And I remember you know remember times where I’d see her the phone ringing and I’d be like I’m not gonna answer because I know it’s probably about work even though it might not have been and I wonder like how do people manage how just the relationship does just change in some subtle ways where you know conversations might end up being geared more towards work stuff because that becomes that like common thing between the two people?

Niki Ramirez

I think that’s a really valid concern because again what we’ve done is take this great relationship and we’ve infused a whole new purpose in it and so how do you now take that away with the flip of a switch right? So really you know my best advice and what I’ve seen work for people in their businesses and what works for me, for example with Marina, they’re one of our socially distanced close family quarantine families. And so our daughters had a movie night the other night and so they sat outside and watched a movie with their you know we wear masks, so they wear theirs. Then Marina and I took a walk around the neighborhood and we agree that if we’re on personal time, so we know what personal time is most of us like, I don’t need to probably tell people how to define that. If you’re getting together socially and personally then you have to ask permission to talk about it. So we have a rule that you ask permission and that’s what I suggest as well. Again every relationship that you value, every person that you love, your business, and love I don’t mean romantic love, I mean you know your employees you can love them that’s a good thing. 

Maureen Werrbach

I love how HR-y you are about that. That you just define that for any listeners like ooh romantic love?

Niki Ramirez

Ha! We can talk about that in a different episode though! My husband’s a contractor in my business so we can about having independent contractors as your romantic partners. But no but I think you know the reason I say that is because actually the it’s the best example I can think of. Like you really, it’s not okay to just do things to people, it doesn’t matter what your relationship is, unless you ask permission! And so in our relationship and again what I suggest and that’s why I do it is because I’m trying to walk the talk and and practice what I preach right? Is that we ask each other, is it okay is it okay to talk about this? And it’s totally okay to say no like let’s wait till monday. And I’ve said even to you know other people that support me and my business, you know, it’s just not the right time for this. Like, well, I don’t have the mental capacity for this. 

So just get your vocab ready, get your phrases ready. That feels comfortable and natural to use, so that you can say, you know what, friend? I get it that’s important and it’s on your mind and this is not to say it’s not important, but I am so tapped out today. Like it’s Saturday we’re at the park or whatever, I just, I can’t even think about it right now. Right? Like, just get yourself ready with that vocabulary so that it feels, you know that you don’t feel like you’re so nervous about saying no, I don’t want to talk about this right now. Right. And then of course, make it so that that person can do that too, in case you drop something on them on non-work time that they don’t want to talk about.

Maureen Werrbach

And I think that goes to maybe my last point. And this is when thinking about bringing on family members or friends. Similar to what I hope people are doing when they’re bringing on just anyone into their business is like looking at what communication will look like with that person. Because I can imagine that, you know, we have people who we might be friends with, or who are family members who might just not be great with conflict or with boundaries or with being told no in some of these situations, right? And thinking, like, seriously, like, just let me say this thing. And so you know, how can we make sure when we’re thinking about bringing that friend or family member on, that we’re not just glossing over communication? Because we think we know that person so well. But I don’t know, just like, make sure we’re asking the same questions we would to a stranger that we’re wanting to employ in our practice, so that we can make sure that if there’s if problems arise that our family member can actually or friend can actually have that conversation with us without going south.

Niki Ramirez

Yeah, well, I think that when we hire friends and family in our business, we should do it the same way as when we hire, you know, someone off the street that we think might be a good fit. So we of course, are going to evaluate whether or not they bring the right experience and education to the table. And if we could check that off, then we really want to talk to him about what a typical day might look like in the work and if that seems like a good fit for their life and their skills. Then because communication is typically going to be the biggest sticking point in these friends and family relationships that turned into employment relationships, really working through what would be like some behavioral interview questions about conflict and communication in the you know, in setting up for the employment experience. Because just generally speaking, when we’re recruiting to hire in our business, it is our first demonstration of leadership and our first demonstration of holding people accountable. And so whether it’s friends, family, or someone else, how you communicate with this person before you make that job offer will dictate how accountable they feel in the relationship. 

So don’t gloss over the process, don’t see past it, because you know, you like them already. Because employment decisions, you know, realistically should not be based on whether or not you like someone. You want to like them. And I mean, again, different podcasts episode different day, I think having friendships at work is totally important, whether they’re friends that join you in the business or friendships you make through the business. Having friends at work is key to being happy at work. So don’t just don’t skip the process, though. So have your process in place set up so that that person expects that you’re going to talk about work and expectations, you’re going to talk about problems. And you know, I think my last thought for you is I want there to already have been a conversation about what ending employment could look like. Not that you are setting yourself up for some sort of like, what do you call it? Like–

Maureen Werrbach


Niki Ramirez

Thank you. Yeah. But you know, I like to use the term like you might win the lottery. Maureen, so you’re gonna work with me, we’re gonna work together, you know, for as long as it makes sense for both of us, but you might win the lottery. And at that time, I want to make sure that the transition in and out of the business is great for both of us. So can we agree that if you feel like it would be time for you to leave the business for any reason, if you wanted to pursue a new job, put it out there that’s okay. Like one day, if you want to go back to school, do you want to tend to your family or a garde, whatever it is? Can we agree that we’ll at least talk about it before you make a final decision? And then you can again, seek agreement from that person. Then that person says yes, of course, hopefully. And they say great, I promise you that if I ever see a need to make changes, I’ll come to you and talk about it before I make a decision.

Maureen Werrbach

I love that.

Niki Ramirez

So it’s like this open book, right? Like I value you. I love you enough to tell If I see anything changing or if I feel like I need to go in another direction,

Maureen Werrbach

Yeah, yeah. All right. So if people want to work with you, sure. Let’s say you have more questions for you, where can they find you?

Niki Ramirez

Sure. So, social media wise, you can typically find me in work social media on LinkedIn as Nikki Ramirez. And then we have an HR Answers website. So hr answers dot org is where you can find some information about the firm, and the type of HR support that we provide to small business leaders.

Maureen Werrbach

Awesome. And if you’re a member of The Exchange, make sure to go to our next q&a. app you all the fun questions, anything that you want. Alright, it was so good seeing you again. 

Niki Ramirez

Nice to see you, Maureen. Thank you for having me. Yeah.

Maureen Werrbach

Thanks for listening to the group practice exchange podcast. Like what you heard? Give us five stars on whatever platform you’re listening from. Need extra support? Join The Exchange, a membership community just for group practice owners with monthly office hours, live webinars, and a library of trainings ready for you to dive into! Visit www dot members dot the group practice exchange dot com forward slash exchange. See you next week.

Thanks For Listening

Thanks for listening to the group practice exchange podcast. Like what you heard? Give us five stars on whatever platform you’re listening from. Need extra suppor? Join The Exchange, a membership community just for group practice owners with monthly office hours, live webinars, and a library of trainings ready for you to dive into visit www dot members dot the group practice exchange dot com forward slash exchange. See you next week.


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Meet your host


Maureen Werrbach is a psychotherapist, group practice owner and group practice coach. Learn more about her coaching services here:


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