10 Strategic Growth Questions for Family Businesses

10 Strategic Growth Questions for Family Business

By Jim Fox

Our guest column this month is written by Jim Fox. I’m excited to share insight Jim has learned throughout his successful career in growing businesses. He is now delivering that same insight to small and medium-sized companies needing his leadership and mentoring capability on a part-time, fractional cost basis. A great solution for companies who could use his extensive tool box!

Some advisors (bankers, accountants, lawyers, consultants, executive recruiters, insurance brokers, EOS implementers, etc.) of family-owned businesses, build advisory relationships beyond their standard services to better ensure their clients’ succeed decade after decade. This can be quite beneficial to family business owners when they are challenged with one or more of the following issues:

  • Market share is shrinking due to competitive changes
  • Sales are decreasing due to an industry disruption affecting customers’ buying habits
  • The owner is considering selling the business and the valuation is lower than expectations
  • The owner is transitioning the business to the next generation and is risk averse
  • The business cannot afford to invest in growth initiatives due to suppressed profits
  • The owner lacks time and/or desire to focus beyond the day-to-day operation

The following are 10 questions which family-owned business advisors can ask their clients to think about the big picture to generate more profitable growth and improve the probability of sustaining the business for generations to come.

What do you ultimately want to get out of your family business?

Understand the unconstrained desires of your family-business owner clients. Probe for clarity on what is most important, both economically and non-economically. Although there are nuisances to family-owned businesses, they should be run like any other business, which is to maximize realized shareholder value. This provides the foundation to support the owner’s goal relative to their family, employees or community. Family business and individual goals should be addressed carefully to keep harmony within the ownership group.

How confident are you that you are on a trajectory to getting everything you want out of your business?

The business owner may be on the trajectory, but more likely there are gaps or risks of gaps. Probe to understand what those gaps are. Regardless of whether the family-business owner wants to thrive or just survive, growth is needed to stay healthy. After all, costs rise, business markets change, and customer demand combined with competitive pressures evolve, often at an increased pace. Also, as a family grows, there are more family members to support.

Businesses that do not grow ultimately go out of business. Businesses that generate good cash flows, despite a stagnant business model, may not make it to the next generation or yield the desired price if sold.

A business mantra to grow forces a business to develop new products and services and deliver a solid value proposition to customers to be competitive. A growth mantra enables an upward performance trajectory which generates the financial resources to reward ownership, employees, and community. Growth needs to be healthy, resulting in incremental profits. After all, growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.

What are your growth plans for the business? How were these plans developed?

Determine how much growth is sought and gain an understanding of the plans to achieve this growth. Understand past plans and growth achievement to inform the confidence level of executing growth plans. Probe how the growth will be achieved through a mix of organic growth in current markets, expansion into new markets, development of new products, M&A, etc. Regarding plan development, ask if these plans were developed in isolation, through brainstorming sessions and/or through using data analytical tools. Was there input from an advisory board? Brainstorming continues to be a best practice to unlock the creative power of a group which outperforms what can be achieved by any individual working alone. A newer technique to identify less obvious investable growth opportunities is to complement brainstorming with data analytics tools. This approach uses algorithms to find patterns amongst hundreds ofunstructured data sources to identify clusters and specific growth opportunities to expand organically or through acquisition.

Engaging an outside facilitator for strategic and business plan development can often improve the results of this planning process. The facilitator can help ensure that the approach used to determine the appropriate business strategies is fact-based and opinions of all team members are respected.

What are the biggest growth roadblocks your business faces?

Discuss the biggest threats to achieving the business goals, both external and internal. These may be legacy issues or unfavorable external trends which, if the business does not adapt, will present ongoing and increased headwinds. Note, competition should not be at the center of their strategy. Focus on external factors, especially accelerating trends, and look for opportunities to reshape industry structure to be better positioned with both customers and non-customers in the future.

How are your customers changing and what might they want in the future?

Examine market dynamics and how your client’s customer base is evolving to inform how this will impact their strategy. Improve the probability of investment success by gaining fact-based market insights versus decisions substantially based on opinions and gut. Extend thinking beyond current customers and brainstorm possibilities to reach beyond current demand. Providing your client with information such as market research builds your credibility. Share your synthesized point of view about what your client should consider to achieve their business objectives.

What could disrupt your organization’s growth?

Examine potential disruptions to the business, whether it is losing market share, increased regulatory requirements, or the effect of potentially industry game-changing technology. These are the sudden shifts that could have profound impact akin to what businesses experienced with the COVID-19 pandemic. How can the business be best positioned to align with favorable trends and mitigate the risk of unfavorable ones? Is there an opportunity to initiate industry disruptions to your client’s advantage? For example, how can a lower cost position and differentiation be achieved at the same time?

What should your business do more of to fuel growth?

Understand the commercial strengths of the business at this time. What are the foundational elements that should be bolstered or minimally maintained? To what extent can relationships and assets be leveraged to grow? Are there synergies with other businesses owned, privileged relationships with customers or industry specific talent, or competitive advantage from distinctive capabilities, assets or processes?

How can products and services be improved from the current offering?

Explore how your client can improve the products or services they bring to the market. What are the opportunities to penetrate further with existing customers in existing markets? What are the product or service opportunities to enable this? What are the logical market adjacencies to current markets and opportunities to win with existing products? Which new products or services grow the bundle sold to existing customers or win more customers in existing and/or new organization where they are part of a “greater good.” Community volunteering or other employee enrichment programs will provide another reason for people to stay.

How is your community? 

One of the reasons people stay in their jobs is due to relationships they have with co-workers and their boss. This has become more difficult through a movement to “remote” and “hybrid” work. Managers will need to find new and creative ways for their teams to build those relationships with each other or they will lose this “stickiness”.

Managers who are spending their time and energy on upward “impression management” or who lack a strong connection with their direct reports, will lose their top performers. A thoughtful and planned approach to management is critical for every leader. Everyone should assume that their best talent is being recruited every day. The truth is the bar has never been higher for leaders in today’s environment.