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Top 7 tips for running a family business

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According to the Institute for Family Business (IFB), there are around 3m family firms in the UK. These businesses face unique challenges above and beyond the usual problems faced by startups and it certainly isn’t a company structure that suits everyone.

The closer the family network, the tougher it is to resolve the issues that come with forming a business together. Small annoyances in everyday life are magnified out of proportion in the heady atmosphere of the boardroom and it’s not a venture to be entered into lightly. However, it can be done – if the groundwork has been executed thoroughly. Here are the seven key areas to keep those annoyances in check and help your family business to succeed.

1. Clear and regular communication

Always communicate clearly, honestly and accurately between yourselves. Differences of opinion are unavoidable, so resolving disputes and clearing the air on a regular basis is fundamental to the atmosphere you create for your employees. If you can’t do this as family members, how on earth do you expect to do so with clients, staff and suppliers?

2. Define clear roles

It might sound obvious but you’d be surprised how often defining clear roles is overlooked in a company business. While some family members may be qualified in overlapping areas, everyone must be clear on exactly what their role and area of responsibility is. If not, confusion and even jealousy reigns.

3. Maintain the family company culture expectations

When starting a business, it’s crucial you decide upon its culture and its internal and public face. Honesty, fair dealing and compassion should be some of the virtues you aspire to. You don’t have to be ruthless or macho to run a successful company and people buy in to a family-run business for exactly those family values you espouse.

4. Formalise systems

Everything works better if it’s organised! It’s pointless, time consuming and unprofitable if individuals are left to organise their own systems. Decide upon a way of filing, marshalling, estimating or whatever…and all stick to it. Better you all learn a new efficient system, than each battle on with some archaic process that confuses the hell out of the others.

You should also consider the legal formalities and HR necessities from the outset so things like dismissals, redundancies, tax issues and payments don’t come as a steep learning curve further down the line.

5. Decide on a vision

If company vision sounds corny, then think of it as a plan. But if you don’t aim high you won’t be focussed on anything and even if you only achieve a part of what you hope for, it’ll be more than ever you planned. Break it down into bite size chunks, monthly, six-monthly, yearly, or five-yearly and see how closely you run to plan. You will be surprised to see how it concentrates the mind.

6. Schedule business-free time

Never forget that you’re a family and carry on doing what families do together – socialise, gather together and support each other. The business can help bind you together, not separate you.

7. Perhaps the most important of all, have fun!

Sure, business ‘per se’ is a serious thing but it can be huge fun. Always aim to work AND play!

Ben Copper is founder of family run business Nutshell Construction.

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