JOHANNESBURG - In the early stages of operation, almost all owner-managed businesses are essentially family businesses, regardless of whether or not the owner’s family members have any direct involvement in the business.
This is likely because entrepreneurs are notorious for working overtime, which means the lines between “work life” and “home life” can often become blurred, with each facet of life heavily influencing the other.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, however, as family can prove to be one of an entrepreneur’s greatest assets – a refuge of emotional support when things are tough at the business, a source of inspiration during tedious times, a sounding board to help with difficult decisions. But like all relationships upon which an enterprise depends, this relationship requires concerted effort and focus.
First and foremost, open and transparent communication is key. Any entrepreneur who wants to rely on their family as a business stakeholder needs to keep them abreast about good and bad developments in the business. They have to understand why money may be tight from time to time, or when the business is going through a particularly stressful period that may require longer working hours and result in added stress.
It is important, in this sense, to avoid trying to shield your family from any bad news relating to the business. The reality is that they are much more likely to become anxious by noticing that you are under pressure without knowing the context, so it is often better for everyone to allay anxiety by being open and transparent about business performance.
On the flip side of this, make a point of celebrating the achievements of your business with your family. If you land a big contract, for example, arrange a family treat such as celebratory family dinners. Keeping communication channels open and honest – through the good and the bad – will also allow your family to offer emotional support when you need it. Being vulnerable takes courage and always leads to a stronger family bond.
That being said, however, open communication does not replace quality time spent together as a family. It is therefore crucial that when having to spend long hours at work, you try to make it up to your family by spending quality time with them on another day. It may also make sense to invite your spouse and children to spend some time with you at work, if you work away from home.
Lastly, while daily communication around the dining room table is crucial to keep the family informed, nothing stops an entrepreneur from putting time aside for a more formal discussion, perhaps once a year, about the state of their business to their family.
Just as you would with a shareholder or a potential joint venture partner, these formal catch-ups help to focus the exercise and give it weight. The family is, after all, one of an owner-managed business’s most important stakeholders.
Ben Bierman is the managing director at Business Partners Limited.