Family businesses have been facing a unique set of challenges in recent months as a result of the pandemic. Business leaders have had to make many difficult decisions on matters such as furlough, cash flow and company structure, and for families who have been living and working together during this period, it’s likely to have been even more stressful.

Specialists from leading Scottish business consultancy Family Business Solutions, Billy Andrew and Mark Bradford, discuss the challenges faced by family businesses which are navigating their way through the current crisis, and the ways in which they can prepare their business for a post-lockdown world.

Billy said: “Our main focus for family businesses at the moment is helping them cope and survive while lockdown restrictions remain in place. Although in Scotland we have moved to the first phase of lockdown easing, many restrictions are still in place, making it difficult for many businesses to resume work in the way they were before the pandemic. Crisis and resumption are the two main factors. We want to help families use this period to plan, so they can get to a position where business resumption will be easier, quicker and more efficient when the time is right.

“Right now, businesses don’t have the freedom to adjust to a change in dynamics – they have to be on the ball and come to conclusions fairly quickly.”

Be positive and plan ahead

Mark said: “One of the key things about the current situation is that the whole family is affected. That means leadership is very important, as there needs to be a sense of positivity coming straight from the top. This outlook will trickle down the business structure. Leadership needs to be divided into two aspects – with one person or a group of people looking after the operational side of the business and the other taking a more objective view and planning for the future.

“It’s very important for leaders to plan ahead. We may be three months into this crisis, but there is still a long way to go before normality resumes, so my advice would be to think ahead – plan for the worst but hope for the best. As a family business, you’ve taken on the responsibility of hiring a staff, and during a crisis, this can often result in having to make difficult decisions. If you have team members who have been on furlough, it’s important to think about what the next steps will be for them and the rest of your workforce.

Billy said: “Emotions are riding high during times like these. They can cloud people’s judgement, but they can help too. Emotions get bad press – sometimes they can be seen as a weakness. But actually, they can be used as an asset, as they can strengthen family businesses and bring people together.

“Instead of letting fear paralyse you, let it drive you. If you’re working remotely and are alone more than usual, there are ways you can turn that into a positive. For example, working on your own may give you an opportunity to focus better. As a family business, you should channel your emotions into protection, provision and planning. Having a good strategy in place will buy you enough time to allow you to make good emotional decisions when it comes to these three aspects.”

Seek impartial advice

Billy adds: “It’s important to try and stay hopeful during this difficult time. Turn to people you can trust for advice. Sometimes you need an outsider’s viewpoint in order to see the bigger picture. Keep focused on planning, protection and provision, and look after your employees, customers and staff.

“You may not always be able to look after them from an economic standpoint, but you can demonstrate good leadership through clear communication and relations. People always remember the way that you dealt with them in response to a crisis.”

Mark agreed: “Share the burden wisely. Try not to worry any family members who aren’t involved with the business internally – that way they can remain objective and offer valuable advice. Focus on the strength of what your family business can do. You have a unique team which has something more than just a financial involvement in the business – it’s an emotional involvement too. That can be very powerful during this time.”

Family Business Solutions – the consulting arm of law firm Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie – has teamed up with Farillio to produce a series of videos which offer advice to family businesses. They are available to watch on YouTube here –

Family Business Solutions are supporting The Herald Scottish Family Business Breakfast Online which takes place on Tuesday, September 1, 2020.

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