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How to Keep your Business Going in Times of Family Crises

By: Jennie Kermode - Updated: 15 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Business Family Crises Family Crises

One of the problems with running a business whose members are all from the same family is that, from time to time, families get hit by crises which affect everybody at once. These could range from financial difficulties to the death of a loved one or even just a nasty bout of 'flu. How can you make sure that your business keeps going when family crises occur? If everybody is under stress and trying to cope with the same problems, how can work get done?

Lightening The Load

The first thing you should look at in this situation is how you can reduce the amount of work that needs to be done. Start by considering the following:-

  • How long are the current crises likely to last? Once you can establish a timeline it's much easier to work out what to prioritise.
  • What do you need to do to keep the business going? What paperwork is essential and what tasks are necessary to avoid running out of money or incurring fines? How can you organise deferred material to make it easy to process later?
  • What do you need to do to keep customers happy? What work is necessary to meet existing contracts and to keep up important correspondence? Remember that customers you know well may be sympathetic if you explain that you're struggling due to family crises.
  • How much capital do you have set aside for emergencies? This will determine the length of time for which you can get by on a reduced income.

Remember that much of the work undertaken by the average business is focused on growth. Continual growth is a good idea just to keep the business healthy, but in times of crisis it's not essential. What's important is to try and maintain the status quo. Be patient in your approach to the business and don't worry if nothing much is happening with it so long as it's still ticking over.

Flexible Working

Keeping your business structure as flexible as possible means that if certain people are not able to work, others can take over from them. It should also mean that, in times of crises, working hours can be flexible. Don't worry about trying to do five full days a week if you can manage with just Monday and Thursday or just mornings. Work things out between you so that whoever is most able to work can do so in a pattern that fits around the other problems they're having to deal with.

Remember that other family members may still be able to assist with the business on a consultancy basis, giving advice and helping with decisions, even if they're not able to do formal work.

When family crises are prolonged, it's sometimes worth bringing in outside staff on a temporary basis to alleviate the strain on the business. This may mean losing money in the short term but it can mean you have a stronger business to go back to in the long term, and it can take a lot of stress off the family at a time when you need your strength and energy for dealing with other things.

When The Crisis Is Over

As things get back to normal after a family crisis it's important to take stock and think about what you've learned. You'll need to work extra hard for a while to clear any backlog of work and to get things going at full speed gain, but you should also take the time to develop a coherent crisis management plan. This means that the next time something goes wrong you'll be better prepared. You'll know the capabilities of your staff better and you'll have a clear idea of how to set out your priorities.

You might also want to consider taking out an insurance policy to protect you from such difficulties - some family business specific packages can provide you with a cash lump sum in the event of a family crisis, making it much easier to cover extra costs like that of temporary staff. Of course you will never be able to be perfectly prepared for everything that may happen to you - the most successful businesses are always those whose managers can think on their feet - but if you've made some provision for it beforehand, a family crisis doesn't need to become a crisis for your business too.

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