THINK BUSINESS — Creating a Successful Family Affair By Mark Richardson

Managing a successful family-run business can be a challenge, but when it is done right, it can be extremely rewarding and fulfilling.

We know the greenhouse business can initially be a fairly low barrier-to-entry business requiring few credentials and a modest amount of capital relative to other small businesses.

This dynamic lends itself to many of the businesses that have multiple family members or generations involved in the company. In many cases, founders started the business with a passion toward the craft, then brought in a son or daughter to join them.

As the founder aged, the family member carried on the business in the same tradition of the parent or perhaps with a new vision for the future.

While the members may have come in as a brother or a son-in-law rather than a son or daughter, the family dynamic is very common in this industry. I have seen some that are models of success for both the business growth and great personal family relationships, but most have their challenges.

Sometimes the results can end up destroying the personal relationships and the business itself. While you can never guarantee the bloodlines will be successfully carried on, there are a few lessons learned in this family dynamic or if you are considering it for the future.

Take care of the patient —
The business, not you…

As an owner who has created a business that is based on your values and a vision, you must realize the business takes on a life that is not just you. This life has a team, a line of products, and most importantly clients. This business has a culture that is a product of many variables. This business has key team members who all have goals. As you weave in and transition family members, you must base your decisions on the health of the business first.

If the team feels the business is more a product of your personal family interest, then their future with you is not as sustainable. The metaphor of the business

being the “patient” helps you to separate from yourself and other family members and make decisions based on the health and well-being of the business.

Start Talking Early and Often

I know one business owner who says the key to the company’s success in the transition of the family business between the father and three sons is to talk a lot and early on.

These discussions should happen many years before any formal transitions to ensure all generations are aligned on the future. Everyone must be aligned in the vision, the roles, and the risks they are willing to take. Sometimes this conversation can be uncomfortable, but it needs to be examined thoroughly. The discussions not only need to include succession planning and timing but also where each of the product and the processes stand with the team members.

Always write down these discussions to measure how things change over time.

Look Outside for Help

The family dynamic may be the most important—and the most difficult — dynamic you face in business.

Getting outside help can be priceless. This could be in the form of another business that has successfully addressed the family dynamic or one that has failed.

By having an ongoing relationship with an adviser or a coach, you can learn how to communicate with other family members on the difficult issues. By setting aside an hour every week or two to focus on this subject with a coach, you are showing the importance of the subject to everyone, but also increasing the likelihood of success.

Not always a chip off the old block

If you started a successful business, you have a passion that is unique. You are a great salesperson or an expert in the craft. Your work ethic is excellent and you believe failure is not an option. Your team follows you and believes in you because you are successful. These attributes may not be transferable to another family member. You need to look at their strengths and weaknesses to slot them into the right role the business (the patient) requires. This process can take years but if the moves are made correctly, it is much better than forcing a square peg into a round hole.

Leave it at Home

Family members generally communicate differently than do those in most business relationships. Family members may say or do things that are inappropriate in a business environment. Family members know the tolerance of disagreeing with each other is hard to process by a non-family member.

While this may be obvious to you, it is critical that you go overboard in interactive situations to demonstrate a level of professionalism with a family member. Your key team members will not only find your personal bantering confusing but, in many cases, offensive as well.

Needless to say, these tips or insights are not intended to be a solution or a prescription for success. They will give you some food for thought in one of the most difficult subjects in business.

While mistakes in the family business dynamic can be disastrous, looking at it the right way can be very fulfilling and rewarding.

Mark Richardson

Mark Richardson, CR, is an author, columnist and business growth strategist. He authored the best-selling book, How Fit is Your Business, as well as his latest book, Fit to Grow. Both books are available at