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Open communication can turn family into a valuable business asset

In a sense, almost all owner-managed businesses are family businesses. The fortunes of even those run by a single entrepreneur without the direct involvement of other family members are heavily influenced by what goes on at home.

Such lone-operating business owners can turn their families into one of their greatest assets – a refuge of emotional support and healing when things are tough at the business, a source of inspiration during tedious times, a sounding board to help with difficult decisions. But like all relationships upon which an enterprise depends, this relationship requires concerted effort and focus.

The ideal is to get your family to incorporate your goals for your business into their own goals. They must know what your goals for the business are and they must want you to reach them. If they do, they will always be ready to support you when you need them.

This does not mean that you are unnecessarily burdening your family with the worries of the business world. Aligning your goals with theirs allows them to be part of your ups as well as your downs. It lets them share in the adventure of your business journey and allows them to be engaged in your life, which, after all, is what most family members need from one another.

Here are a number of principles and pointers for engaging with your family about your business:

  • The basis of making your family part of your business is open and transparent communication. Keep them abreast about good and bad developments in your business. “They have to understand why they can’t go to the restaurant this month (when your business is going through a hard time),” says Lang.
  • Don’t try to shield your family from the bad news in your business because it may make them anxious. They are much more likely to become anxious by noticing that you are under pressure without knowing the context. Rather try to allay anxiety by describing to them the whole picture.
  • The first step in communicating to your family about your business is to clarify your goals. You have to explain to them what your definition of success is. For some entrepreneurs, success is reaching a certain net-worth target, for others it means financial independence, retirement at a certain age or freedom from eight-hour work days.
  • Invite your spouse and children to spend some time in your business. Make a point of celebrating the achievements of your business with your family. If you land a big contract, for example, arrange a family treat.
  • Allow your family to take care of you when you’re down. Keep communication channels open and honest so that your family can offer emotional support when you need it.  Being vulnerable takes courage and always leads to a stronger family bond. Use technology to communicate with your family when you are at work, and vice versa. Accept that the work life of a business owner is more difficult to separate from home life. Fortunately, modern technology makes it possible for you to sort out a crisis at work or at home without always having to physically go in.
  • When you have to spend long hours at work, try to make it up to your family by spending quality time with them on another day.
  • It is always a good idea to have a mentor, someone who can help you with the business side of things, but also with family issues. An ideal mentor would preferably be someone who has successfully managed the same kind of lifestyle.
  • If you miss the goals which you have set for yourself and communicated to your family, renegotiate. Don’t just ignore them and hope that no one will notice. The more seriously you take your own goals, the more seriously your family will take them too, even when they change from time to time.

Daily communication around the dining room table is crucial to keep the family informed, but nothing stops entrepreneurs from having a more formal discussion, perhaps once a year, about the state of their business to their family, just as they would to a shareholder or a potential joint venture partner. It helps to focus the exercise and give it weight. The family is, after all, one of an owner-managed business’s most important stakeholders.

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