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All in the family: Tips to ensure your family business survives for generations to come

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In Canada, family-owned enterprises (FOEs) account for more than 60 percent of the nation’s private sector and generate nearly half of the sector’s gross domestic product. Almost 7 million Canadians are employed with FOEs which comprise just under two-thirds of the entire private sector. These numbers provide a snapshot of just how integral family-owned businesses are to the economy. But there’s another metric—perhaps the most important—that’s not reflected here. Family-owned businesses are, well, family. The deep connections between owners and workers can create stable and caring workplaces that customers experience as approachable and trustworthy. 

For these reasons and more, many consider family businesses to be essential to the fabric of our country. Younger generations, in particular, are invested in sustaining their family businesses. Keep reading for tips on how to ensure your family business survives for future generations.

Communication is key

Workplaces are full of relationships and these can run deep, particularly in a family business. Ask any therapist worth their salt the number one skill to a healthy relationship and they’ll tell you it’s communication. 

In a family business, assumptions are easy to make and boundaries can be muddied. If you want to succeed, you’ll have to communicate clearly about project goals, expectations, and disputes. The best practice is to set up regular in-person meetings. You’ll find that a little bit of formality can help foster trust and appropriate boundaries.

Recruit from outside

Family businesses run the risk of becoming too insular. Consider hiring outside the family for managerial roles. Including an “outsider” can bring much-needed perspective, a more objective eye, and fresh ideas.

Outsource your marketing

Marketing requires creative thinking and fresh ideas which is why it can be difficult to market yourself. You’re just too close to the business. When you bring in an outsourced marketing team, you open yourself up to new strategies and campaigns that will ensure your messaging never gets stale.

Practice a successful marketing to sales handoff

In general, marketing handles tasks at the top of the sales funnel while the sales team is responsible for qualifying the leads and closing sales. Take a “marketing first” approach to make sure your leads are warmed up and aware of your company before they’re contacted by sales. The point when marketing hands off a lead to sales can go really well… or not. Brief your teams on this critical point and ensure everyone knows their role.

Instill family values

It’s worth your time to consider the real values of your family and work to uphold them throughout your business. For example, does your family value trust? Empathy? Long-term relationships? Whatever the values you hold dearest, make them the foundation of your business. 

Plan for the future

Legacy is something we think about in terms of families as well as family businesses. One of the rewards of running a family business is that your work can create something lasting, something that will be passed down long after you’re gone. Sustainability and social responsibility are top priorities for Canadian businesses and an excellent legacy for business owners. Consider your sustainability efforts as an opportunity to build a legacy.

Succession planning

Make a succession plan for who will take over the business next. Just as failing to write a will can throw a family into chaos, failing to have a succession plan can dismantle a business. Make plans for who will move into leadership, how the management change-over will happen, and what will and will not change. 

Family-owned businesses are a strong and vital part of Canadian culture and the economy. These strategies will help your business thrive for you and future generations.

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