Why Do Family Businesses Need to Make an Extra Effort to Communicate?



Image by Ron Mader

Clear communication is a vital part of any successful business. If you’re not getting your message across effectively to your customers, your colleagues or your employees, it’ll be difficult for them to fully buy into the vision you’re building. It’s equally important for business partners to communicate well, otherwise they could find themselves pulling in two different directions.

It’s important to make this effort to communicate effectively even when you’re part of a family business. But in my experience, this often gets overlooked. If you’re running a business with your spouse, partner or family member, you might expect communication to be easy. After all, aren’t you working with the person who knows you best?

Family businesses tend not to make communication a priority as they assume they’re already on the same page. Assumption is dangerous in business! If you assume that your business partner feels the same way you do about how your business is going to be run but don’t talk about it, you may find you go about things very differently.

Take these few examples:

  • You’ve been quoting prices to clients that include travel costs, but your business partner hasn’t.
  • Your business partner has been keeping careful track of expenses and finances, but you’ve been putting your receipts in a box to ‘deal with later’.
  • You’ve been letting staff work flexible hours, but your business partner has been expecting them to be there between nine and five.
  • Your business partner has been producing content for social media that’s friendly and humorous, but you’re developing website copy that’s formal and authoritative.
  • You’ve been giving clients access to extra support and resources, but your business partner hasn’t been including this.

These examples may seem like small issues, but these kind of communication mishaps can develop into bigger problems very quickly. Small inconsistencies in quoting or services can lead to unhappy customers. Given time, one of these problems could blow up into a conflict between you and your business partner before you even realise there’s a concern.

There’s a very easy way to avoid problems like these: communication. You may find it works best when you formalise it. Family businesses should still expect to hold meetings (in the office, not at the dinner table!), develop strategy documents and agree on business processes. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you know what the other is thinking simply because you know them so well.

If you’re part of a family business and are looking for more support, you might find this earlier post helpful: Nine Resources for Couples and Families in Business.

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