How to Grow a Successful Family-Owned Funeral Home

Posted December 28, 2016

6 min read

Elisa Balabram, an expert in family business management, knows just how many benefits there are to being a part of a family business. For funeral professionals, it creates opportunities for family members to have a career and to be supportive of each other, she says.

“I think the main thing that family businesses have is the desire for continuity, so that the business becomes the legacy of the family in the long run,” says Balabram. “One thing that is important that other businesses that are not family owned don’t have—or at least might not have as much as—is trust, because family members grew up together.”

Being a part of a family business can be very rewarding, says Balabram. Just a few of the other benefits of being involved in a family business include:

  • Offers family members opportunity for career advancement
  • The ability to support one another as family members and business associates
  • Can contribute to the family legacy and heritage
  • Often provides a competitive advantage (consumers like to choose family-owned businesses)
  • Can support a strong foundation of trust for family members involved
  • Can support family members coming together to contribute to the community

“It offers strong family values to be passed on, through the business, so that it can continue for generations.”

Being a part of a family business has many potential rewards, but here are 4 key points to remember in terms of running a successful family-owned business.

1. Create a Space for Communication

Avoiding conflict entirely is near impossible, for any business, but communication is one of the most critical ways to lay the foundation for a business that can run as smooth as possible. This is no different for a family-operated funeral home.

Funeral home owners should make sure there is a space where people can communicate. It may sound like a simple concept, but it helps minimize assumptions and misperceptions in the long run. “In family businesses, as the business grows, it’s important to set up family governance, and that includes setting up regular family meetings and a family council, in many cases,” recommends Balabram.

“These family meetings will give the opportunity for people to express what they want for the business, their vision and their goals, and it might even provide a space for them to discuss some issues that they are having along the way.” When all family members practice proactive communication and active listening, much conflict can be avoided.

Many times family businesses find a great deal of growth (or conflict resolution) after implementing a third party consultant or even a board with independent directors. Outside perspective not only brings outside expertise and experience—but it brings with it a more objective point of view that can help the business as it grows.

“Involving a third party, or a consultant or someone such as a mediator can be helpful because these people are not focusing on one side, or on one family member.”

2. Make Roles & Responsibility of All Staff Clear

Conflict can occur because roles are ambiguous or unclear to those involved in daily operations. This is a common issue in family-owned businesses, but much confusion and angst can be avoided if roles are fully identified and made clear for everyone who works in the company.

The younger generation can also benefit from this process in the long-run. “If you have the next generation who is really committed, and they want to join the business, this can be good for building a business that’s going to continue for generations,” adds Balabram. Whenever employees know more about their current role and responsibilities, and how their current role can grow, it’s going to benefit the business and can help groom the next generation.

3. Create Family Rituals Outside of Business

Even though it’s ideal to add structure to make sure business meetings are thoughtfully planned out and regularly maintained, families also need to set aside time to cultivate their family connection by setting up rituals. Balabram recommends that this be a time where no business conversations are held.

“It could be that the family gets together to share a meal, or does a hike, or has some way to communicate just to connect and nurture the relationships beyond the business. This can help to minimize conflict,” she explains.

4. Set the Stage for Opportunity for the Next Generation

“It is very important to involve the next generation in the planning of the continuity of the business,” says Balabram. You want to ensure they grow personally and professionally, but you also want to hold them accountable as you would with any non-family employee. Consider the following:

  • Provide structure for all opportunities given to family members
  • Be open to having the next generation start working on a part-time basis
  • Give family members the freedom to choose their own career path

Make decisions and choices that will help to groom the next generation. This may include training them on the ins and outs of the business, including sharing with them the responsibilities that come with being a business owner. If it makes sense for the business, be open to them getting experience outside your funeral home.

“In some cases, it is great for them to get outside experience, even in another industry outside the funeral industry, or another area so that they can grow, and then they come back to the business fully committed…whatever they learn from the outside, they can bring into the business, and bring in fresh eyes and ideas that benefit the business.”

Besides empowering the next generation to lead the business, start succession planning early and take advantage of creating a board with independent members.

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About Elisa Balabram

Elisa Balabram is an expert in small business management and entrepreneurship. As a Lecturer at Baruch College, coach, and author, she’s written multiple books including Ask Others, Trust Yourself: The Entrepreneurial Woman’s Key to Success and she offers ongoing business and self-help advice on her blog AskOthersTrustYourself.com.

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