How to Make a Family Business Work – Part 1

Family-owned candy business

If you work in a family business, then you already know. It’s not easy. Whether it’s a local candy store or an online wholesale business, there are politics and emotions involved that no corporate-culture business even comes close to. So how do you manage all of that so your family-owned can thrive?

Communication is key. Family dynamics are complex and always evolving. If you own a family-run business, maybe you hope to one day sell it and retire. Certainly, if someone came along with a big enough check, you’d consider selling it even sooner than that. But have you thought about the fact that your kids might want to take it over one day? Managing their expectations is an important part of maintaining a healthy and honest perspective for everyone.

It’s a complicated situation if you have a child who has grown up being involved in the business. He or she might not have ever known a world where the business didn’t exist. They have likely spent most of their years helping out around the store and created a powerful emotional connection. Talking with them about the future of the business creates an understanding that they will be involved in, and not excluded from, the decisions even if they won’t have the ultimate say in what happens. Don’t let years go by while allowing expectations to continue to diverge. That’s a recipe for a family crisis.

Know your roles. Many family business owners say that they fell into their roles naturally. Don’t count on it. Defining specific roles is helpful in many ways. It establishes boundaries that make it less likely that family members will be stepping on each others figurative toes. It also helps the business work more efficiently. If everyone has their own unique role that fits into the overall system of running the business, then it’s more likely that the balance of labors is spread out to cover all the important areas of the business. If everyone is concerned with inventory, and no one is focused on improving sales, the business will suffer and tensions could run high.

These guidelines are true for every business, whether you’ve got a chocolate and salt water taffy shop on Main Street or an online bulk candy store. In our next edition of How to Make a Family Business Work, we’ll discuss maybe the most important factor in keeping it all together: trust.

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