Everybody has come into contact with a family-run business at some point. Whether it be the local hardware store, a painting and decorating company, or your accountant, they exist in every sector.
There is no better way to pass on a legacy than to pass on your life’s work to your children. Though the questions are: is it really that simple to run a family business, and how can it be successful?
I chose to explore this issue as my sister and I are currently in a similar situation. But please note: though I will use the term family business throughout the article, the advice below applies to both businesses run by family and those run by friends, too.
Why would you want to start a family business?
So you’ve got a great idea for a business and you want to get it up and running, but you cannot do it alone. Who do you trust? Although family and friends may not have the right skills required for the job, there is already an ingrained sense of trust between you. This makes it much easier to share your ideas and research with them, and get started on building your dream. Skills can be much more readily learned than trust gained between two parties, especially at such an early stage in the development of an idea.
From a different angle, a family business may be exactly what your relationship needs; a common ground that you can both talk about and share to build and develop a relationship that’s been drifting apart. Commercially, a family business also has a certain appeal about it. When you pop down to the local butcher and see “Michaels & Sons” over the door, you feel an instant warmth and connection towards the store. People in family-run businesses tend to value each other, their product, and their customers.
Another way family businesses can pop up is through a shared passion. You may be out having a drink, chatting away, when you both—mildly inebriated, maybe—consider the prospect of going into business together.
Hey, that’s a great idea! Why don’t we just get a little cash together, buy some stock, and just do it? It’ll be fun, and we can do it, no problem!
Many people have had a conversation similar to this but never get round to doing it, or question their optimism the day after. However, if the passion has not faded by the time you’ve recovered in the morning, then this shared motivation may be the perfect way to get the ball rolling. Having someone constantly inspiring you, and making sure you are doing what is necessary, can be a great benefit when starting out. Plus the added responsibility of another party makes the desire to succeed that little bit more important.
There are also several logistical and financial benefits to family businesses. Family can provide you with low- or no-cost labor, helping maintain the day to day whilst allowing you to concentrate on expansion or development. Also, if ever in need of a short-term or quick loan, family or friends may be able to provide you with a low- or no-interest loan to keep you afloat. However, it is important to be careful with the latter, as these loans can make or break relationships.
What do you need to consider?
Now you have the idea, the hardest part is to put the whole thing into play. This is where the real blood, sweat, and family feuds start to take place. Be prepared for a bumpy ride because starting your own venture alone is a rocky process, and can be exacerbated by the inclusion of close ones. So, here are a few things that you should really consider:
1. Have you worked together before? Whether it be a school project a few years back, or a little charity stall to raise some money for the Scouts, if you have worked successfully and positively with the person before, that can make the whole journey a lot smoother. If you know each other’s traits, the best ways to communicate and delegate tasks, and even have complete faith in one another to deliver, it can be a huge burden of doubt relieved. If you haven’t worked together before, maybe just reflect on the last time you worked alongside someone and the issues you had or the things that worked well, in order to get an understanding of what is best for you all. If you both do something like this and go through the ideas with each other, it can lay the foundation for a healthy working relationship.
2. You clock in, you’re partners. You clock out, you’re family. This is the one that is often the hardest to overcome. In the end, you both have the desire and ambition to succeed with your idea—that’s brilliant. Though sometimes people can start to slack or lose passion. It is crucial to remember that you should be looking out for what is best for the company as well as yourselves. If you have some personal problems that crop up, make sure you highlight these and look for ways to address them: take a back seat and allow someone else to help out, or switch the tasks you do so that you can work more from home.
However, there can come times when very difficult decisions need to be made, even to the point that considering the resignation of one member of the business, maybe even your own, is on the table. If it comes to this, it is important to highlight that it is not a personal decision and try to prevent damaging the relationship that existed prior to going into business together. This is obviously the worst situation one can be in, and hopefully you will never get into such an extreme position.
Fortunately, conflicts can often be resolved, depending on the relationship, and the ability to have such a lenient working environment can be very useful. For example, you could arrange between you flexible times of work that allow you to attend your weekly Pilates class, or pick the kids up from school.
3. Keep your finances in check. Everyone may be raring to get involved, and be adding to the investment fund to get the idea’s blood pumping. Make sure you consider not only the future of the business, but the future of yourselves. Where do your finances look to be six months, two years down the line? If the situation does not look good, then someone should probably consider a stable income external to the venture. By removing the burden of financial security from the venture, it allows for riskier growth strategies, greater flexibility within the company finances, and most importantly, peace of mind.
4. Take a break. You may be the best of friends, but there are going to be times when you need a break from each other. This is vital to retaining a healthy working and personal relationship. Perhaps schedule days where only one of you is in the office, or take a weekend away, refraining from all business calls and emails. Not only will this further develop the trust in your partner to lead and manage the venture, but it will also give you a break from each other and allow you time to reflect on other areas of your life. As much as you may enjoy the risk and reward of a venture, there are other areas of your life that need some attention, too.
Now that you have done your homework, it is time to crack on with writing that business plan, and launching your idea. I wish you the best of luck with your endeavors, and would be pleased to hear any stories of attempts and—hopefully—success!
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