How to follow in the footsteps of successful family businesses

Family businesses contribute billions to the economy every year, and more and more of us are joining forces with our nearest and dearest to put our business ideas into action.

So it seems home is where the start-up is. Not only that, there are plenty of unique advantages that go hand-in-hand with working with your family too.

But there are also unique challenges that must be overcome if you want to make it big.

Here’s how to follow in the footsteps of successful family businesses…

1. Set goals

Every business needs a long-term plan in order to succeed, but that’s particularly the case with family firms. Otherwise, it can be all too easy to fall into the trap of coasting along instead of driving the business forward.

Martin Thatcher is Managing Director of Thatchers Cider, based in Somerset. Started in 1904 by Martin’s great-grandfather, the business has passed down through the generations and gone from strength to strength. Thatchers is now a multi-million pound business that sells its cider in 22 countries across the world. 

Martin says: “As a family business we know it’s important to plan ahead and really think hard about where we want the company to be in ten or even twenty years time. My number one objective is to ensure the business is in a healthy position to pass onto the next generation – that’s my two children – when the time is right.

“I know from experience that sticking to a long-term plan, and combining it with a lot of hard work, gives you the stability that you need to be successful.”

2. Establish job roles

In the family dynamic, it’s clear who’s mum and who’s dad, and the role each of you play in making it work. When working with family members, it’s not as clear cut – and this can lead to friction.

Danny Rouse is Director of Tug-E-Nuff Dog Gear, a family business based in Exmouth that has gone from small local firm to an internationally recognised brand.

He says: “When you work with your family, everybody tends to muck in and do a bit of everything, but that’s not always the best approach. It took time to realise that we needed to make it very clear what our individual responsibilities were. We used to bicker over whose turn it was to order supplies or pay the bills – but now that we all have properly defined roles, things run a lot smoother.”

It’s an approach Martin Thatcher agrees is essential for success.

He says: “Once my Dad handed me the reins as MD, we established carefully defined roles – he has concentrated on developing our orchards, working with our growers, and ensuring that the quality of the fruit is of the top quality our cider makers demand while I look after the commercial side of things, to drive the company forward. For us, this has worked exceptionally well.

“That’s not to say we don’t have our differences but those we do have are in the detail or implementation, not the direction.”

Read: Why Indiegogo is not a family business

3. Have clear boundaries

Achieving that all important work-life balance is tricky at the best of times, but when you work with your family it can be even more difficult.

Danny says: “It’s hard to go from working with each other all day in ‘colleague mode’ to then going out for a family meal and leaving work stuff behind.

“We all share a passion about driving the business forward, but we do make an effort to draw a line under work-related things once we leave the office and we try to enjoy each other’s company as a normal family. Otherwise, you can spend almost every waking second thinking and talking about work – and that’s not healthy.”

Read: All you need to know about starting a business with your partner

4. Work hard to resolve conflict

We tend to be most relaxed around our family as they are the ones that know us best – but sometimes that also means we let our tempers flare more easily than they would in a normal working environment.

Jennifer Pendergast is a Senior Consultant at The Family Business Consulting Group. She’s helped businesses big and small with everything from strategic planning to family office structure. 

She says: “A number of issues frequently crop up within family businesses. These can include disagreements over who is most qualified to be in charge, a lack of shared vision about the direction the business needs to go in or clashing views on the right approach to take if the industry changes and the business needs to adjust. 

“The best way to resolve these is by having open, honest discussions among the family and following strategic planning processes. Sometimes help from an outside facilitator can make all the difference, too.”

By taking these tips into account, you can be sure you’re doing all the right things to help you follow in the footsteps of successful family businesses. And as Danny says, “Success is all the sweeter when you get to celebrate it with the ones you love.”

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

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