Family-run businesses make up the majority of the American business landscape. According to Cornell University’s Smith Family Business Initiative, 77% of small businesses are formed with significant family involvement. And with more than half of the nation’s GDP generated from family businesses, ensuring their success is critical.
Unfortunately, some of these businesses don’t make it. Why? How can failure be avoided?
To help entrepreneurial families solve everyday business struggles, we asked business leaders and professionals with first-hand experience for their best advice. From hiring objective leadership to establishing healthy boundaries, several suggestions may help you establish your family business as a thriving enterprise for years to come.
Hire objective leadership
Family businesses tend to fail when certain individuals either don’t pull their weight or aren’t held to the same standards as other employees. It is important to realize that although these people are your family, they are also your company’s employees. If you feel like you can’t properly manage your family members, consider hiring an unbiased (and unrelated) individual to run the HR department. This way, they can neutralize any family drama that may be brought into the office. -- Carey Wilbur, Charter Capital
Keep family ties out of operations
Mixing business with pleasure can be an extremely slippery slope because business is centered around tangibles like revenue, whereas the company of family is about love and support. Combining the structures of both can be a messy transition because sentiments are involved. Avoid this by finding the right time and place for involving the family ties into the business. For branding purposes and legacy building, the familial unit makes sense. But for the logistical side of the business, you must move the way you would with non-relatives in order to not blur the lines and cause internal friction that is debilitating for scaling and growth. -- Benjamin Smith, DISCO
Outsource for expertise
One of the greatest difficulties that family businesses face is that they just cannot keep up with their marketing tactics compared to other larger businesses. Small businesses need to search for cost-efficient ways to maintain proper marketing campaigns. This means finding third parties to help get your products out locally or bolster your social media operations to enhance your visiblity. -- Chris Gadek, AdQuick
Plan business successors
One major reason family businesses fail is due to poor succession planning. Founders often leave the company or die without having left a proper succession plan in place. The lack of a proper succession plan results in family conflict, poor leadership decisions, and loss of direction, which inevitably lead to the collapse of the business. -- Carol Tompkins, AccountsPortal
Formalize leadership roles
Family businesses can lack a leadership structure which can cause them to fail. One way to avoid this is by putting everything on paper. Make the leadership structure formal so that everyone knows exactly whose instructions to follow on a daily basis. Consider bringing in professional management from outside of the family while instituting changes in leadership. -- Jordan Smyth, Gleamin
Talk to each other
Family businesses often fail when there is a conflict among family members or a lack of communication. I am in business with my father. When you can work with your family members and communicate well and respect each other, your business can thrive, and so can your relationship with your family members. -- Ben Cook, Jr., Printed Kicks
Avoid nepotism at all costs
Having a family business myself, I am conscious of the pitfalls many companies can be susceptible to if they don’t establish boundaries and parameters to create a healthy relationship both at work and at home. Family businesses can sometimes also be nepotistic, placing loved ones ahead of better performers. This can be a disservice to the company and can backfire with detrimental results. Running a business takes objectivity. -- Katie Lyon, Allegiance Flag Supply
Clearly define responsibilities
Running a business with family is one of the most difficult ventures that someone can take on because it takes business and makes it personal. It's easy for people's egos, ideas, and personalities to clash. Of course, you'll have that dynamic in any business, but when family relationships are involved, things can get much more volatile. Make sure everyone's roles are clearly defined to decrease any chance of conflict and avoid any toe-crushing. -- Jessica Wise, HelpSquad
Separate business finances
There is an expression, "rob Peter to pay Paul." This is the reason family businesses fail: A family member takes from the family's personal finances and uses the money to pay the business's bills. Then, the family member doesn't replace the money in the personal account. This causes disagreements and both personal and professional financial stress. -- Janice Wald, Mostly Blogging Academy
Dean Swanson is a volunteer Certified SCORE Mentor and former SCORE chapter chairman, district director and regional vice president for the North West Region.