Most family businesses start small and are run rather informally, usually with one or two people calling the shots. As the business grows, more people are brought in, and things can go along for years without much in the way of any formal procedures or written rules.
When one person can no longer stay on top of everything, their ability to delegate will largely determine how much the business can grow.
As the next generation joins the business, a certain level of informality may be part of the culture as well. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but behaving at the office as you do around the dinner table can have its drawbacks.
Many people recommend “professionalizing” your family business, and with good reason. But what exactly does that mean, and how do you do it?
I’m glad you asked…
An obvious place to begin is with the education level of the next generation of family members entering the business.
If your children have the ability to go to college or university and get a degree, that’s a plus.
If they can get an advanced degree, that’s better.
If they can do that AND go and get a few years of work experience working for an unrelated business, that’s best.
If you are inclined to hire your kids right out of high school, I urge you to rethink that plan, as their future and that of the company will likely be limited by that choice.
If it’s “too late for that” in your family, there are plenty of education opportunities that last anywhere from a few days to a few months that are probably worth looking into.
It is never too late to learn new things and to upgrade one’s skills and abilities.
2. Hiring Non-Family Employees
The quickest way to professionalize any business is to hire people who are professional in the way they operate, hopefully also bringing along some work experience.
Aim to bring in outsiders who are MORE professional than the people you currently employ, treat them professionally, listen to their ideas, and learn from them.
You can only go so far without great non-family people on your team.
3. Outside Professionals
Every business needs and has outside professionals that they deal with, like accountants and lawyers. They often began with friends or whomever they could afford when starting out.
As the business grows, it is sometimes necessary to move up the ranks and switch to professionals who are at the level you require.
It is quite possible that your business has outgrown your professional advisors, and an upgrade will be needed. It isn’t always easy to cut these ties, but can be necessary.
4. The HR Department
During the growth of any business, the need to begin to treat Human Resources as its own department becomes key. The sooner you acknowledge this, the better.
Your business can only grow as quickly and as far as the ability of your people to grow along with it.
A real HR department will think twice (hopefully) before agreeing to blindly hire a family member and put them into a role for which they are ill suited and unqualified.
This issue has tripped up more family businesses than you can imagine, as mistakes like this cost not only the department where the person works, but can get everyone shaking their heads about what is important to the business.
The biggest part of this comes down to attitude. Have you realized how important humans are to your company, as a resource?
Finding, onboarding, and keeping great people is a must for just about every business. And so is having the right people filling all key roles.
5. Board of Advisors
Last but certainly not least is the company’s board. I know that even fathoming a true Board of Directors is a complete non-starter for most small family businesses.
So why not start small and informally, with a board of advisors?
The outside perspective alone is worth it, even if it is only to help you look at your own family members more objectively.
Bringing in independent advisors (preferably NOT your current lawyer and accountant) can be the single biggest step to professionalizing your family business. Just ask anyone who has done it.