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Five tips to help manage family dynamics within your equine business

What you need to know about starting a family equine business

An equestrian centre can be a family home, and house multiple generations or fractions of one family. So it can be a complex mix of family dynamics.  This dynamic can lead to issues that can drastically affect your bottom line.

Here are five common threats and tips on how to manage them.

1. Family arguments

It’s so hard to separate your business and personal lives, especially when you live and work together. The arguments could be caused by differences of interests for each family member, personal egos or sibling rivalries which spill into the business environment.

Regardless of the cause, if you do not find a way to resolve the issue it will become impossible for you to achieve any results. Your staff will pick up on the hostile work environment with this potentially leading to increased employee turnover.

Top tip: Release your own emotional baggage. Emotions like resentment, anger, jealousy and hidden agendas. This will allow you to have conversations from a neutral space. There are many techniques that can help you. Find one that works for you from journaling to meditation or speaking with a professional.

The negative energy carried within is very strong. Others can pick up on this instinctively. If you come to a meeting having done some work on yourself, the atmosphere in the room will be less emotionally charged. This will result in a better communication exchange. Remember you can only change yourself. You cannot change others and manipulation is not a healthy tactic in any kind of business.

2. Nepotism

Favouring relatives or friends is a sure-fire way to alienate the people that work for you. Everyone wants to help out family. But putting someone in charge, or promoting them with no merit, for example, is a recipe for disaster.

This will demotivate non-family employees. Family employees could become complacent because they will not face consequences for non-performance. Ultimately, nepotism does not empower your employees. It will be your bottom line that suffers.

Top tip: Be seen to be investing equally in the training of staff – across family and non-family employees. Promote on merit and help each member of staff find their niche within your business.

Don’t take anything for granted. Maintain an open communication with your family team. Do you even know if a family member wants that level of responsibility yet? Perhaps they would prefer to focus on specialising in a particular area. Say marketing or bringing on the young horses?

Recognise that having an experienced manager on board can help train family members. An alternative is to encourage the next generation to work in the industry or another sector. They will then be able to bring new skills back in and help future-proof the business.

3. Separating emotions

In a family business, it is always personal. It is difficult enough for people to receive critical feedback in the workplace. It’s only natural to find it even more difficult to receive criticism from someone you love.

But not standing up to family members, when necessary will make you appear weak to both employees and customers. They will question your ability to make sound business decisions.

Temper this and act with sensitivity, otherwise, you may appear cold and unapproachable. No one said it was going to be easy, it’s all about finding the right balance.

Top tip: Set up a family charter while there are no immediate issues to address. Agree with family members on how issues should be resolved fairly. Take time to understand each other’s communication styles. Remind each other not to use personal triggers that families know and can use against each other. Share common goals and individual goals for the future to end on a positive note.

4. Have a good mix

Non-family employees will add balance to the business. They can throw in new insight and have an unemotional attachment. But only if this is allowed. Don’t be so precious about what you have built up over the years. Have an open mind, just because you have been running the business for years, there is always room to learn. Whether this is a new marketing technique or new stable management process that could save time or money.

Top tip: Give them the opportunity to share their valuable input on how to make the business better. Have regular team meetings and a clear organisational structure. Supported by processes so staff know how to filter their ideas into the business. Ask them to make a business case for their ideas and if they are solid get them to project manage them through. Allow them to take ownership and support them.

5. Succession planning

It’s a fact of life that things change. At some point there will be a retirement, someone leaves, or perhaps passes away. If you don’t have a plan, you are setting your business up for future failure.

You need a succession plan to cater for these eventualities. Otherwise, this will hang over daily life, making it stressful and increase family tension. If you don’t want to be working hard leading up to retirement, do you have the right team in place to take a back step? Do your siblings need to divide a property, and if so is there still a business for you? Will you need to buy them out? How will you finance this?

Top tip: Work with a professional to model scenarios and future income projections for the business. Face up to what you really want from life. Do you need to get a handle on your personal budget and investments to ensure there is enough capital to handle a buyout of siblings? Is there enough diversification opportunities within the land to support future generations? Or would you prefer a clean break?

Don’t rest on your laurels you may still need to plan an exit route such as a future sale. Start by speaking to a specialist equestrian estate agent. They can give you advice to prevent others developing your yard or investing in the wrong infrastructure that may put off future owners.  Ensuring when the time comes you get the best price possible.

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