Why Let an Outsider Into the Family Business

There comes a time when family businesses realize they need to bring in someone from the outside. Revenue has been stagnant or falling. Team members have diverse opinions about why, and conflicts within the team are just making things worse. Something needs to change.

The solution is to find someone to help determine what needs to change and how to implement new ideas. But it’s one thing for a non-family business to bring in someone from the outside. When the business is as close-knit and insular as a family business, getting help from a complete stranger seems like the hardest thing in the world.

Accepting Outside Help

A family member has started the business and built it through their blood, sweat, and tears. It’s provided opportunities and income for other family members, and no one can possibly know the business better than the family. But there are several reasons why an outside perspective can be helpful:

  • Family members often have the same background and opinion.
  • Younger family members are sometimes unwilling to challenge a parent or grandparent.
  • The older members feel that they know best and are not willing to give up authority to their children or grandchildren.
  • Family members have often grown up in the business and do not have the experience necessary to deal with new or different issues.

Remember: A business issue does not have to become a family issue. But it takes training, and sensitivity to keep the two separate. Often, family business owners have been so unable to confront the need for outside help that both the business, and the family, suffer.

Tips to Move Forward

So your business is struggling. Maybe there are difficulties with growing your business. Maybe internal frustrations are dragging the business down. There are a few things you can do to get momentum back:

  • Talk to others facing business challenges. Find a group like Vistage, C12, or the Young Presidents Organization (YPO) to gain perspective and get advice.
  • Read. Make a list of books relevant to your business. Have the team read a book together and discuss it once a quarter.
  • Compare yourself against similar businesses. See who’s growing. Review their websites, set up Google alerts, and join industry groups that include them.
  • Go to business conferences or trade conventions.
  • Seek advice from your advisors, such as attorneys, and accountants. Their unique perspective may catch things entrepreneurs miss.

The Other Answer

Hire an “outside-of-the-family” chief marketing officer to bring new ideas and a different mindset to the team and business.
Many family-owned businesses would immediately say no to this. They want to keep it in the family. They don’t want or need someone else to be a permanent part of the family. And the other family members don’t want someone else directing their work or exposing issues.
But this is why the “outsider” approach works when your business is struggling or struggling to get to the next level. An outsourced CMO:

  • brings a new perspective to the company. He will be able to identify where the company is falling short and where opportunities lie.
  • has experience in a wide range of industries and can provide knowledge and expertise learned through working at established, successful companies or floundering businesses.
  • will give an unbiased view of employee performance and issues. She won’t be entrenched in family politics or alliances.
  • can be hired for only as much time as needed. This isn’t a long-term commitment, but more of a way for you to get your business on track for the coming years.

This isn’t about tearing apart a family business or putting someone on the chopping block. An experienced outsider will set the business up for success — which can only bring the family closer.

About the author

Barbara Fowler, Managing Director at Chief Outsiders, a provider of part-time marketing executives to help mid-sized businesses. Fowlers specialties lie in sales and marketing synchronization, global business strategies and family business turnaround techniques. A frequent speaker and writer on topics such as leadership, cultural diversity and developing an environment of success, she has effectively led culturally diverse organizations and written and implemented training programs for CMOs worldwide.


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