Maximise the benefits of your own business with this expert advice. Linda Whitney reports
Running a business with your family can be a joy - and at times a trial. When things go wrong, it can mean disaster for your relationships and business too.
So how do you ensure you reap the benefits of a business and minimise the problems? Here are 10 tips from people who are involved in family franchises.
THINK ABOUT HOW WELL YOU WORK TOGETHER
At the X-Press Legal Services franchise - itself a family business - director Dave Lister says: “If you have never worked together before, be prepared to see a different, corporate side of your spouse or relative. Couples who start a business having never worked together may each discover a person they had never seen.”
James Ferguson, who with wife Liz operates the X-Press Legal Services Cornwall and Devon franchise, says: “I used to be the logistics manager and Liz the export manager for the same organisation and sometimes we worked together, so we knew our work styles were compatible.”
DEFINE ROLES CLEARLY
“We all have very defined roles in the business, which works well for us,” Tara Worthington, franchise director at Countrywide Grounds Maintenance, says. “My brother is the managing director, my sister is in charge of business development and franchisee health and safety, while my nephew Tom joined last year as a trainee manager.
“My father, Martin Stott, who founded the business, is still very involved and a key figure with staff and franchisees. My husband is also a Countrywide franchisee.
“It pays to get the right role for each person clearly defined from the start and it’s important to work side by side, sharing the workload equally.”
ENSURE EVERYONE FEELS EQUALLY VALUED
“At the beginning, some family members sometimes felt they were putting in more work than the rest and it caused resentment,” Zulfiqar Haidar, who operates four Papa John’s pizza outlets in Scotland with his brother, mother and sister, says.
“But then we considered that we were all working together to make the business a success, not just for us, but for the next generation.”
RESIST THE TEMPTATION TO INTERFERE WITH SOMEONE ELSE’S TASKS
This is often harder with family members than with business colleagues. “Spouses, in particular, may be prone to this,” Dave Lister says. “We have seen stresses in franchisee couples that often follow this pattern.”
If you have not worked together, consider how you interact on family tasks, such as planning holidays or buying furniture. If one enjoys the research while the other likes assembling the flat pack, your complementary skills could work well in a business.
Allocate the roles to suit each person’s skills, experience and interest. If each family member has a separate role, it avoids arguments about who does what and how it should be done.
In a family business, people may just assume information has been passed on.
“We have formal management meetings each month, but lines of communication are always open, with regular informal meetings too,” Tara Worthington says.
HAVE A POLICY ABOUT TALKING SHOP AFTER HOURS
Some families never talk business out of hours, fearing it could dominate their personal time. Others are more relaxed.
James Ferguson says: “Liz and I don’t have rules about this. We talk about business when out for a walk and even in bed. If an idea pops into our heads, we are usually happy to talk about it because we are both passionate about the business.”
LET NEW FAMILY MEMBERS START FROM THE GROUND UP
“Ensure they come in and work their way up,” Tara Worthington says. “Spending time in every department means they gain a better understanding of the business and from there it can be decided on the role that suits them best.” This also helps gain the respect of other staff members.
BE PREPARED FOR DISAGREEMENTS
“It’s amazing the variety of different views among members of the same family on any issue,” Dave Lister says. “You just have to discuss things and work through it.”
Meanwhile, Zulfiqar Haidar says: “I think family businesses experience less conflict than others. It’s in all members’ interests to ensure everything goes smoothly.”
If tempers flare, try to move on without holding grudges or long-term resentments. “In my experience, when the fireworks start and the rocket goes up it’s best to ignore it because it soon comes down,” Dave Lister says.
MAKE EVERYONE IN THE COMPANY FEEL PART OF THE WIDER FAMILY
Zulfiqar Haidar says: “We have a policy of buying houses on behalf of the business and offering them at a reasonable rent to those of our 200 staff who have been with us for five years or more. “It builds loyalty and commitment in staff and translates the ethics of a family business to a bigger business.”
IF YOU RUN INTO TROUBLE BECAUSE OF FAMILY ISSUES, ASK FOR HELP
Dave Lister says: “As a family business ourselves, we know family crises like illness and accidents happen, so we want our franchisees to feel free to be open with us about it. We take care of the business for the affected franchisee and neighbouring franchisees in our network usually help.”
FAMILIES: THE BACKBONE OF UK BUSINESS
- Two thirds of UK businesses are family owned - three million in total - of which over 15,000 are medium and large businesses. Some are hundreds of years old.
- Family businesses generate over a quarter of UK GDP.