Thinking of starting a family business? The two crucial conversations you need to have today

Starting A Family Business - Designing It To Work

Many families dream of one day starting a family business. With dreams of success, sugar plums and happy days dancing through their heads.

But, not EVERYTHING in your business will be all roses, rainbows and sunshine everyday. There will be days filled with pressure, stress, and the busy-ness of getting the done.

One key piece of advice that I would like to leave you with is to go into the family business with clarity around roles and strengths.

The Reality - Starting A Family Business (Or Any Other Type Of Business) Requires Many Hats

As an entrepreneur, I’m sure you are well aware of the many hats needed when creating a successful business: roles like the product/service provider, the marketer, the ideas person, the tech person, the numbers person and a host of others that you can find listed in many “how to start a business” articles online.

Starting A Family Business Crucial Conversation - Step 1 - Identify All Of The Roles Needed To Make Your Family Business A Success

Begin by having business strategy conversations that center on the business itself - it’s needs, it’s roles, and it’s purpose. A few of the questions you will want to answer during this session are:

  1. What it is that your business will actually do
  2. What are the top 5-7 specific roles needed to make the customer-facing side of your business run smoothly so that your customer’s get to experience peaceful and stress-free process,
  3. What are the top 5-7 specific roles needed to make your business run something smoothly internally - to make your families’ back-end-of-the-business experience stress free.

Starting A Family Business Crucial Conversation Step #1 - For Each Role, Research And Write Down A Job Description

Begin to write out job descriptions for each of the roles needed. This is where our dear friend Google comes in handy - research a variety of job descriptions online.Be as specific as possible.

Why? Because not everyone in your family is gifted with the same skill sets, strengths, or passions - so...not everyone in your family can actually perform every task in your business equally well. Some of the questions you will need to answer are:

  • What is the specific job title?
  • What are the top 3 - 5 daily, weekly, or quarterly activities needed to make this job role a success?
  • What are the specific S.M.A.R.T goals needed in the first 90 days of this role? The first 6 months of this role? The first year of this role?
  • What is the communication style/methodology needed for this role to be considered a success?
  • Which are the other roles in the business that this role will need to interact with on a weekly basis?
  • What are the top 3-5 tangible outcomes that will indicate to you that the fulfilment of this role is successful?
  • What are the top 2-3 indicators that will alert you that the fulfillment of this role is headed for trouble?
  • What are the top 2-3 conditions that would indicate that there will need to be another family member (or non family member) who would better fit this role?
  • What are 2-3 “safe words” that can be used in later discussions that indicate that this role needs to be re-evaluated? 

When Talking Through Your Family Business Startup Plan - Follow These Additional Tips To Keep Your Job Description Conversation Healthy

  • This is not the time to discuss who in your family will actually occupy the role. It's simply designed as a way to acknowledge that to be a success, your business will need someone to perform a certain, and specific task.
  • When evaluating these roles, specify what, in exact terms, the job to be done by each role (on a daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly basis) to be a success.
  • Doing this upfront will save you ALOT of work and headache. Why? Defining success metrics upfront using specific, measurable, attainable S.M.A.R.T goals will help mitigate a lot of downstream stress.

Starting A Family Business Crucial Conversation Step #2 - Focus On Each Family Members Gifts, Strengths And Passions

After completing the job description step, the next step in the conversation is to focus on the strength’s, passion, and skillset that each family member has.

And yes - each of you in your family has a set of strengths, passion, and skill sets that are uniquely different (and value-adding).

  • One way to assess the strengths, passions, and skillsets of each family member is to discuss what it is that each member of the family thoroughly loves to well as what it is that each family member hates to do.
  • Include as much as you can in this list - even those attributes that don’t relate directly to the business.
  • Why? Because these attributes all add together to make the full person and to help you all see each other’s full-selves and value.
  • It also helps when each of you begin to list out and consider those lists of tasks that will either (a) bring you energy or (b) pull energy from you and cause you frustration.

Starting A Family Business Crucial Conversation - Putting It All Together

Now...take the list that each one of you have designed. And compare those love/hate lists with the tasks/job descriptions that your business needs to succeed.

  • Begin to talk through who, in the family, would actually be the best candidate for the role.
  • And...if you find that you have a role that no-one in the family can do, then that would be the time to begin talking about outsourcing that task with either a consultant, mentor, coach, a virtual assistant, or even a piece of technology.
  • Starting A Family Business - Having These Crucial Conversations Now Could Save You A Lot Of Future Headaches

    Many conflicts that occur in family business happen because some of the crucial conversations that needed to happen were omitted.

    • The steps outlined above are suggested steps to take to help you start your business out on a healthy blame-free conversational path.
    • Why? Because in the excitement of starting your own family business, you may initially lose sight of all of the many things that will need to happen to make your business a success.

    Starting A Family Business - What Happens If You Ignore These Steps?

    If these crucial conversation steps aren’t included at the onset of your business, then you will find yourself painfully dealing with these issues at some point in your future.

    • Why? Because as you begin taking steps to make your dreams of owning a family business a success, you will find that there are business needs, business roles, and business steps will need to evolve.
    • Also, during some of the more stressful times, it will help to have documentation and a conversation of who was responsible to do what (and by when).
    • And it is in those moments of stress where the communication begins to break down and the finger pointing, blame and accusations show up.
    • Why? Because often, in the excitement of it all, there may be one or two business tasks that were over-estimated or under-estimated and those family members who are responsible for those tasks find themselves under huge amounts of pressure and feel stuck while it appears that other family members aren't pitching in and helping to ease the workload.
    • It is during these very painful times when it would be helpful to have a set of discussion notes on roles, rules, and responsibilities to fall back on to help you reset and move forward in a healthy manner.

    Conversations To Have When Starting A Family Business - The Bottomline

    While starting a family owned and led business isn't easy, it can be very rewarding. But it requires that families have healthy, but crucial conversations from the onset - and throughout the full life of the business.

    And while those conversations outlined in this article aren't the ONLY steps you need to take when starting a family business, they are crucial to the success of your small family business.

    Here's to designing a family business that aligns with the strengths, gifts, and passions of each family member so that all are engaged and able to bring their fully energized selves to the business and to the conversation at every business stage along the way!


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