Running a successful family business: Communicate, consult, collaborate

  • Future

The old proverb ‘blood is thicker than water’ comes from a time when the only kind of businesses that existed were family businesses. Today, the saying has come to mean that family bonds are stronger than friendships.

In the emerging age of responsible business, where values and purpose now drive profit, we explored how family businesses are part of this story at our very first Greater Good event this week in Sefton.

Hosted in the eclectic backdrop of the new pop-up event space in Southport Market, which has just undergone a major refurbishment, it set the scene for an exciting series of countdown events to The Good Business Festival.

Delivered in partnership with InvestSefton, it gave audiences the chance to hear from a panel of Sefton-based business owners, as they delved into the dynamics of working with family, the challenges it brings and how to move forward.

Norman Wallis, owner of Southport Pleasureland set the tone for the evening as he opened the event with the announcement that the much-loved attraction is to become net-zero, making it the first amusement park in the UK to do so.

Our guest panellists went on to reveal the secrets to their success and how they fly the flag for good business.

Communication and honesty is the key, according to Julie Swarbrick, business growth advisor at InvestSefton. Julie previously owned a family business AVS – with her husband and employed her dad and nephew.

She said: “It’s all about communication and consultation. It may seem silly to arrange regular meetings with members of your family, especially if it’s your husband who you see every day!

“But management meetings and communicating any updates are essential to keep things running smoothly.

“It’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that, because you know the person inside out, then you know how they will behave or what decision they will make.

“I’ve been guilty of assuming I know someone so well and failing to actually consult them on the matter at hand – so it’s vital to sometimes take a step back and consider whether you may be missing out on a solution or a bit of innovation because you haven’t asked the question first.”

 

Getting the right balance

But what happens when work and family collide? How do you know where to draw the line and leave business chat at the door?

 

Peter Salt is a company director at his son’s business, Immersive Interactive, a provider of interactive immersive learning spaces in both education and emergency service sectors.

 

He said they have strict rules about keeping work and leisure time separate.

 

Peter told the audience: “We never discuss business outside of work. My son and I live relatively close to one another so we spend a lot of weekends together – for example, we were out on Sunday with the family for dinner, and not once did work come up in conversation.

 

James Maddocks, co-director of Redwraps Ltd – creators of alternatives to radiator covers – added that being family should be just one element of the business and should not be central to a business strategy.

 

James, who set up the company with his dad, said: “At the end of the day, you are running a business, so being related should be just one element of the business.

 

“It’s important to be open to change and ask for external advice when it’s needed – thinking of new ways to do things and how we can innovate is essential for growth.”

 

“Lots of businesses have had to rethink and reshape their plans”

Planning for the future

Being ready to future-proof teams should be at the top of the agenda for family businesses, according to Julie.

She said: “By the very nature of a family business, succession should be a conversation that is ongoing. Post-Covid, lots of businesses have had to rethink and reshape their plans, having to really diversify their offering to adapt to the market needs.

“We’re hearing from businesses who have looked at their resource and considered what else they can do to keep growing.”

And, maintaining a family culture as a company develops is also key to attracting and retaining talent.

Peter added: “When you have a smaller business, there tends to be a greater affinity among staff to the growth and success of the company, compared with a larger corporation. Of course, as the company growth, it’s important to maintain this culture and reward successes.

“In terms of succession and future proofing, one route is to develop such a successful company that someone will come along and buy it – this of course needs to be discussed and an exit plan be put together.”

Next on our schedule of Greater Good events will be Halton early next year, where we’ll be looking into skills gaps and how to bridge them.

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