Keeping your family business alive (if not thriving) through a pandemic

As we all know, we are in the middle of ‘interesting times’. As a family business, we are best placed to get through this, although it is going to be challenging and hard work.


The research is very clear, when directly compared to non-family businesses, family-owned businesses are far better at surviving down turns and recover faster. Family businesses are fantastic at innovation and are more trusted by both customers and employees. We need to tap into these inherent advantages; the odds are in our favour!


Being in a family business is combining love and money. It’s a potent brew. We need to be careful how we manage this combination. It can lead to amazing things but, if we are not careful, disastrous things can and do happen. In these crazy times, we need to focus on staying on the ‘amazing things’ side of the ledger while concentrating on both what we need to do for the business and to protect our family and build for the future.


Here are five things to focus on through this time:


  • Tap into family - They want to help us. They want us to succeed. Even if not involved directly, they are invested in the business and feel a surprising level of attachment and pride about it. They will be the ones who will work the extra hours when needed, the ones who will take the pay cuts and the ones who will be totally honest with us
  • Innovate - Family businesses are seedbeds of innovation and because we are such a large part of the economy - between 50-70% - we need to tap into this rich vein of ideas. The combination of your ideas and the new, different (and sometimes irritating) perspectives of family members are, in fact, a very powerful source of new ideas and ways of doing things. And, they’re often not shy in telling us what they think. This is where we have the advantage. We have trusted supportive family members, whose ideas we can tap into to discuss what needs to be done and how best to do it
  • Keep family close - As said, tap into family around the business, but also make sure you focus on family. Don’t talk business all the time. There is a place for business and a place for family. There is a risk we take family for granted, especially in these times. Tell them how much you love them, enjoy their company and realise (once again) what an amazingly lucky person you are for having such a wonderful family, and all their craziness!
  • Manage your stress - This is a stressful time. We cannot get away from this. While our family is our biggest supporter, they are also the ones who wind us up the most and the ones who we most often ‘let fly’ at in ways we wouldn’t do to anyone else. Be kind. You love them and they love you.


Know what your stress warning signs are. This is crucial self-knowledge. Know the best ways to manage your stress. Is it going into a room by yourself and listening to music? Is it a long walk, chopping wood or baking? Is it focusing on a cherished hobby or, perhaps, just talking? Whatever it is, do it! And, learn how to apologise.


  • Realistic optimism - Finally, we must be ‘realistically optimistic’. We need to be realistic about what the situation is, but always on the lookout for or open to new ideas. We are in for the long game here. It is going to be a long road to get back to whatever the new normal is, so we have to pace ourselves.


Like all businesses, we will need to review the viability of our business and look at how we manage our cashflow, maintain staff, keep customers and keep paying our bills. There will be tough conversations with suppliers, banks, staff, debtors and, possibly, family. However, know that you have a supportive, deeply knowledgeable group of people who love you to the ends of the world! Given that, all sorts of amazing things are possible!


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Philip Pryor is a family business advisor who has worked with family businesses for 25 years. He combines business and strategy expertise with a deep knowledge of family psychology, conflict resolution and negotiation to help clients. Contact Philip on 0274 118 820 or at


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