I’ve read that around 75% of all businesses in the UK are family-run or family-owned, and that family businesses may be bringing in almost a quarter of GDP, providing over 9.2 million jobs.
If you’re a start-up business, then seeking the support of your closest family is a likely first step. It was for me anyway. I started my firm, Pimlico Plumbers, way back in 1979 after completing my plumbing apprenticeship and going self-employed.
It has always been a family business and that’s the way it will stay!
My wife Lynda manages our busy call centre while my son Scott is the company's operations director running the day-to-day operations, and my younger son Samm is a plumber. My daughters Alice, Lucie and two son-in-laws also work for the company and even the grand kids get involved at weekends and in the holidays, helping out with cleaning the vans and things.
I’m also proud to say that Ashley, Scott’s son, and my eldest grandchild, has just started on his own plumbing apprenticeship with the company, which is fantastic to see.
So, it’s fair to say I know what I’m talking about when it comes to running a family business!
And while it’s not all been a bed of roses, we have been very lucky – lucky that the whole family has taken an interest in the firm and has pulled together to make it work, lucky that we can share in its success and that I’ll be leaving a legacy for the family line, which hopefully lasts long after I’m gone.
But there are a few issues I wish I’d been told or thought about when I was first starting out. So to help out any other budding family firms, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learnt and seen along the way.
Ups and downs of a family business
Keep talking – if you stop talking your business will fail, it’s as simple as that. Never assume someone knows you so they should know what you want, think or are feeling. When it’s family you’re working with, you will need to put even more effort in to it. And when you are talking, don’t let yourself be side tracked into discussing non work-related issues. When at work act in a work-like fashion; to my family I am ‘Charlie’, not dad (or whatever else they may call me out of hours).
Work smarter – unlike when you’re applying for a job and the criteria and skills set are clearly laid out, in a family business the job roles are not always decided on in this way. So think how you are going to split responsibilities – where do your individual strengths lie? Where do you need more development or training? There is also a major issue here that many business owners forget - trying to take on too much. Make sure you are not falling into this trap.
Plan for the future – succession planning is an obvious one you need to give some thought to here. Not all firms will be as lucky as we’ve been at Pimlico. I’ve built up a solid business and carved out a place in the market and when I’m finally ready to take a step back, I have a fantastic operations director in Scott, who is able and willing to take on more responsibility. That said I doubt I’ll ever be able to step away completely like many family businesses – it’s my life’s work!
Don’t be afraid to hire outside the family - It may seem a great idea to build your whole business around family members alone, but unless you’re very lucky you’re unlikely to find the perfect mix of experience and skills that you’ll need. It may even hold you back, so you’ve got to think of the business first. Recognise where you would benefit from outside support.
Fess up and move on - if someone makes a mistake, which we all do from time to time, then you need to hold them accountable like you would do any other employee. If you don’t then this will only create bigger problems further down the line, including potential resentment among other employees. Just because they’re family doesn’t mean you should wash over any work issues - but that doesn’t mean going over the top about it either! Remember, business is business, home is home. Deal with it professionally, as a manager and handle it as you would were it any other employee, then invest in training and development if it’s needed.
Take time out to enjoy yourself occasionally! It shouldn’t all be about work. You may be working hard all hours of the day, evenings and weekends to get the business off the ground, to build it up, and then to keep expanding things, but you’ll soon burn out and you’re more likely to start to struggle if you get no downtime. Try and sort out some time together away from the office and your desk, and ban all work talk for that time.
Remember, you are your company’s greatest asset, and you need to take care of that asset.
And who knows, if you put the hard work in then you may soon have a solid and profitable business on your hands, to pass on to your grandkids.