This article on family-owned businesses is part of the Meeting the Needs Series that is designed to help chamber professionals meet the individual needs of certain market segments. See the footer of this article for a list of posts in this series.
How many family-owned and/or operated businesses do you have as members of the chamber? It’s likely you don’t categorize a family business any differently in your chamber of commerce than you do all of your small businesses. But they have distinct needs that you must address and help with in order to successfully reach them.
When it comes to a family business, they (also) likely don’t even see themselves as unique from other small businesses other than that they lead their marketing with the fact that they are carrying on a family dream. They’ll often use the word family in the sales process and many of them will cite that as a differentiating factor. However, they often fail to see how being a family business not only sets them apart in marketing but also means they have slightly different needs.
What Is a Family-Owned Business?
When we’re referring to a family-owned business, we mean any business where two or more owning partners are related. They could be siblings, parents and children, cousins or any other familial relationship. Family members may run the family business or they may employ non-family members to handle the day-to-day operations. For instance, two sisters may open a business or buy a franchise and then staff it with unrelated employees.
There are also family-owned businesses that have become large-scale operations like Walmart, that is now publicly traded. These businesses have their own set of needs that the chamber can address.
This article is designed for meeting the needs of the small family-owned and -operated businesses in your town. Franchises, investment-only business owners, and publicly-owned companies have additional needs that will not be covered in this article.
What Does the Small Family-Owned Business Need Most?
The tricky thing about family-businesses is that they are often in danger of falling into ruts. In a family business, there are several dynamics that could be at play. Researching what type of family-business you’re trying to recruit can help you become more effective at the sales process as there are many dynamics that affect decision-making. For instance, you may be approaching a family business that:
- Is led by a patriarch or a matriarch. These family-businesses may be multi-generational, but they are predominantly led by a strong central figure. Everyone takes their cues from this person.
- Has recently undergone change. A new generation may have taken command and believes the business is going in the wrong direction and wants to change everything or introduce new ways of doing it.
- Was led by a central figure who is no longer there. In these cases, they may be stuck on doing it the way they always have, even if no one is certain why. They may see themselves as honoring their family member’s memory by remaining stuck in the past.
- Is on its last generation. Sometimes the family has no interest in carrying on the business into the next generation. In these cases, they may be looking to sell the operation or retire soon.
Troubles That Family-Owned Businesses May Be Struggling With
Knowing the struggles of family-owned business will help you market directly to their concerns. If you know what keeps them up at night, you can speak more definitively about how the chamber can help solve them. These issues may include:
- Replacing a key person. What do they do when a person key to their business retires or passes on? They’re dealing with the gap left in the family and the business. Will the kids take over? Will they sell? Succession planning is a key concern.
- Myopia or innovation rush. Family businesses may feel the need to continue performing in a very traditional way or they may suffer from the exact opposite problem where they fall for every shiny new idea. Fear of either may keep them from doing anything or may cause them to seek innovation purely for innovation’s sake.
- Performance issues. When someone is given a job because of birthright, there may be issues with fit, addressing HR problems and underperformance, or time off. Communication can be tricky with family dynamics. Because family also knows an employee’s personal life, excuses may be made for someone underperforming while going through a difficult time.
- Bringing in an outsider. The business may grow faster than the family does or family may no longer be interested in working in the family business. When this happens the business may be forced to bring in employees who are not related. This changes the workplace dynamic.
- Communication and say. How do employees communicate and how are decisions made? Does everyone have an equal vote or is there an executive making decisions on behalf of the business and the direction it goes in?
- Dealing with conflict. Dealing with workplace conflict is tricky when employees’ professional and personal lives blend.
- Separating the business from the family. While the family created the business, the business has a “life” and interest outside of the family. A successful business has ties to the community and offers valuable products or services. Can the business live past family involvement?
- Informal culture and structure. Often family businesses grow up with the family. They may not put protocols in place because the family knows them. A successful business needs a guiding force that is understood by all, whether referring to a marketing strategy, social media escalation procedure, or a mission by which to make business decisions.
How Can the Chamber Address the Needs of the Family-Owned Business?
So what offerings are valuable to the family business owner? Like most businesses, the family-owned business operator may not know what they don’t know. It’s possible they have either joined the chamber because they were told that’s what you do when you go into business or they’ve successfully bootstrapped their business and don’t see a need for the chamber.
Either way, when new generations enter the business, it can be an exciting opportunity or a scary one for the chamber. That’s why it’s essential to offer programming that appeals to the needs of this demographic. They may need:
- Information or learning sessions on how to create business protocols like a social media policy. Selling this idea involves explaining why this is critical to a business. Look for examples of how social media flubs have caused PR nightmares and how a strategy may have helped them answer concerns in a timelier manner.
- Training. Family businesses may not think about employee growth and additional training in needed areas. If they do think about it, they likely don’t have the money and time to put their employees through it. The chamber likely offers some learning solutions they could benefit from. A file library of these sessions can also help those who are unable to get away from work during the day.
- Answers to high turnover among non-family. It can be hard working for a family business if you’re not in the family. The chamber can offer training in some areas as well as help with recruiting or information on people looking for work.
Recruiting Family-Owned Businesses
Since the family-owned business has very specific needs, recruiting them involves getting right to what’s in the chamber membership for them. If you’re approaching a family-owned business keep the following things in mind:
- Talk to the decision maker.
- Don’t write off a family business because they have turned you down in the past. They may have new leadership, a new view of things, or are struggling and are willing to listen to how the chamber can help.
- Look to connect with the importance of family. This is likely a great source of pride in what they’re doing.
- Ask about their story and their “why.” A family business always has one.
- Provide answers to questions that may be weighing heavily on their minds.
- Address how your chamber training can help them. If they are able to access the information without attending during the day, make this offer as well.
- Plug the chamber connections you can offer that may help answer some of their business growth questions.
- Talk about member-to-member discounts for cost savings.
- Ask questions about how they are embracing digital media. Without pressuring them, ensure they have the modern business tools they need to be successful. If not, talk about the training you have or how you can introduce them to someone to take it off of their plate.
- Address their business life cycle. Find out where the business is going. Are parents looking to retire and sell or are employees considering additional offerings or business opportunities? Know where they see themselves going and then explain how the chamber helps in those areas.
Family-businesses are a large part of the American dream. Courting them to become chamber members or convincing future generations to stay can take a little finesse. Like most marketing these days, in order to be successful with this demographic, you must speak specifically to their concerns and needs.
Wondering about how to meet the needs of other specific demographics? Read the previous articles in our Meeting the Needs Series.