Working for Family Business

by Greg Skloot
Small Business   |   5 Min Read
working at family business

It’s many entrepreneurs dream: working for the family business. Having the opportunity to build a thriving business with the people you care about most and creating a legacy to pass on to the next generation can be incredible accomplishments. Not surprisingly, it’s also immensely challenging, like lifting a massive weight over your head. If you are considering working for the family business and you may be a leader or owner, consider the following 7 strategies to be successful:

1. Be open to outside help

The best owners recognize that they may not have all of the skills necessary to operate a successful family business if they only hire from their own family. Outside help is critical, and non-family members need to be made comfortable and treated just as well as family members in the business. You may be working for the family business so you have an asset to share with future generations. That is a noble quest, and having outsiders help with management and operations can be part of a strong strategy.

2. Invest in continuous learning

As you consider bringing new family members into the business and grooming them to take on leadership roles, it’s important to invest in helping them learn as much as possible. Whether it is training programs, formal education or executive coaches, your people are your biggest assets, and there are few better uses for your hard earned profit than investing in making your people more effective. Continuing education should start early. For example, if your son recently joined the business and is starting in an entry-level position, he should also be completing online courses in finance or management to get up to speed faster.

3. Create formal management process

Successful family business operators have a strong sense of professionalism. The way your business operates must differentiate from the way your family operates at home. Tactically, this means:

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4. Have clear boundaries between work and personal

When families mix business with personal matters, conflict often arrives. Many people who are working for family business swear by a policy of keeping business at the office, and avoid talking about the business at home or at family functions. Needless to say, achieving this is much easier said than done, especially if you are passionate about your business. No matter how hard you try, if you had an emotional day at work and are facing challenges with the business, you’re likely still going to feel that way when you get home. Being aware of this and trying to build boundaries in a way that works for you is a good start.

5. Plan for the long term

Unlike a high flying startup that raises a lot of venture capital, operates without a profit, blows up quick for a major exit, many successful family businesses seek to build something sustainable. Your primary objective may be to create a cash generating asset that can support future generations of your family, and carry on a legacy. If that is your plan, you may make very different decisions than the CEO of that startup. Family businesses can sometimes afford to move a bit slower and more conservatively and build a sustainable flow of revenue and profit.

6. Avoid hiring family members just because they are family

While it may be tempting to appease other members of your family, you must treat the business professionally and not have guaranteed positions for members of your family that are not qualified. This is another opportunity to invest in continued learning. If you have a family member that is interested in joining the business but is not ready, encourage her to focus on learning specific things (whether online, course work or in another job) and be open with the requirements she would need to meet to be considered for a role in the family business. This may appear harsh, but it’s necessary to build a sustainable, low-conflict family business.

7. Create a succession plan

Finally, it is critical for a someone working for family business, especially in a leadership role, to have a clear, thought-out succession plan. Ambiguity about future roles can create significant conflict for younger generations. If you intend to pass the leadership torch to your daughter, the best approach is to create a document that outlines what milestones she needs to hit in experience and education in order for you to proceed with succession. If you are unclear about your succession plans, your daughter may feel a wide range of emotions, from anxiety to self doubt. Avoid this by continuously communicating in writing your intention for succession and progress towards it.

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