Family businesses have been the backbone of the UK economy for many years. Small local firms that punch way above their weight, larger companies that go multinational, all backed and supported by a strong work ethic, a willingness to succeed and unrivalled dedication to the family and the company. Managing Director and Founder of Polypouch UK, Stephen Frankel finds out what you can do to run a family business.
Working with your family has so many bonuses, but there’s also things you need to consider and put in place to ensure the office remains the office and home remains a happy place.
Here are our top tips for running a family business:
Communication in any business is imperative, but with a family business it brings new levels of consideration. You have to be sensitive to your families’ feelings while still ensuring your point gets across. From day one, establish great communication, keep things clear and to the point and try to avoid getting emotional. Have a structure in place for reporting problems and make sure everyone is kept informed of what’s happening, and who is working on it. It’s also important to watch your tone and the way you speak to your family members within the business. Remember, you’re going to have to sit across from them at the dinner table later, so any sharpness or irritation could be taken personally. By keeping your tone neutral, you’ll eliminate any frostiness. Problems and situations will always arise; by dealing with these head on in a supportive way, you’ll eliminate confrontation and friction.
Keep it professional
Whether running or working within a family business, it’s important you leave the office, at the office, and home life, at home. Boundaries must be put in place and stuck to, no one wants to be discussing the next family BBQ over the weekly meeting or why Uncle Sam hasn’t booked rugby for the weekend. Remember you’ll likely have non-family members in your team as well and they really don’t need to know the inner depths of your family relationships.
The same can be said for how family speak to you. In the office, call each other by name, not mum or dad, and ensure all staff refer to you that way. Not as the boss’s daughter or your dad said x, y or z. Keep it clear, keep it respectful and keep it professional. This is also imperative with all written communication, especially emails. Treat them as you would a usual business conversation and for anything which could be misconstrued, have an in person or phone conversation rather than risk an email being taken out of context.
One of the greatest benefits of running or working in a family business is knowing that any profit directly supports your own family. There’s no middleman, there’s no big boss, your own family is benefitting from their own hard work, and that’s priceless.
This also brings with it a deeper level of commitment, the whole family wants the business to succeed as when it does, they directly succeed as well.
The level of trust is always over a hundred percent. But there is a word of warning here, just because there’s a business in the family doesn’t mean you have to work for it. By working with family members that love the company as much as you and want to see it succeed, you’ll instantly have trust. Try and force someone into the family business that doesn’t want to be there, and friction will occur. It’s vital that everyone is working towards the same end goal, is supportive of that goal and that they’re happy.
Of course, mistakes will be made, as they will in any business, but that will never be a deflection from the trust of knowing your family are all supporting the end goal of making the business a success.
One of the greatest assets of working in a family business is the ability to work across all areas. One day you might be in production and the next, looking after sales. There’s no one defined job role, which can be a blessing and a curse, but for most it is seen as the ability to learn the trade from the inside out. There’s a far more fluid pathway through the business, without having to stick to a structured form of progression. You’re able to test out new roles, see what fits and what you’re really passionate about. In less favourable terms you’d be a jack of all trades yet also a master of everything. It’s important to regularly check in with your team and see what they’re enjoying, recognise their strengths and assist them in running with them. The lack of defined structure can be a challenge, especially if your family member has worked for another firm before joining you in the family business. So, be mindful of their skills, wants and needs and help to create a career path that supports their aspirations, while still supporting the needs of the business.
Stephen Frankel is the Managing Director and Founder of Polypouch UK, the UK’s leading family run recyclable and compostable pouch manufacturer (www.polypouch.co.uk)