How to Take Over a Family Business – 5 Steps to Get You Going in the Right Direction

So you have just been handed the golden scepter. You're at the helm of the family business and you are filled with ideas about how you're going to change things for the better. You suspect you might run into some challenges, but it's nothing you can not handle, right? I mean … you've managed people before. In fact, you've worked at some big companies and have taken over multiple departments of varying sizes. A family business? Should be a piece of cake!

Here are five "first steps" to get you going in the right direction:

1. Find out who's really the boss. Before your first day on the job, meet with the current owner and talk about their level of involvement in the business. Will they be on site every day or will they want a weekly / monthly update on progress? Lay out some guidelines for who will be making decisions about the business. Key areas to discuss are finances, employee hiring and discipline, and anything that is "off limits" for change.

2. Have a plan. Daily tasks can overwhelm any business owner and drown out the overall vision. Make sure you're vision is clearly identified in writing so you can easily reference it. Some people do this in a formal business plan and others simply journal in detail about where they are headed. Whatever your method, just make sure to have it. You will likely need to refer to it, adjust it, and possibly cling to it if the waves get choppy.

3. Get to know you're people – and let them get to know you. You're going to make some mistakes as you embark on this adventure, so let your team know that you're human and you're in it with them. When they succeed, everyone wins. Some new owners like to make an "all employee" speech and others simply integrate more gradually onto their team. Whatever your method, it's a great strategy to spend some time working alongside each one of your key employees. They will feel like you understand their contribution and struggles on the job, and you will have a better appreciation for what they do. While you're chatting, ask your employee what they see as the biggest opportunity for the business. I also ask "if you could change one thing about your job / this company, what would it be?". If you can change it for them, and it makes sense for the company, do it. They will never forget it.

4. Find a business mentor outside your family and friend circle. When your sister does not show up for work, and you learn your nephew is skimming money from the cash drawer, you will need a level headed person to keep you on course, not just take your side. Find someone you respect who has run a profitable family business for at least 10 years and has kept a good relationship with their family and employees.

5. Celebrate success. Remember that vision you have for your family business? Celebrate the milestones you reach and reward your team with something fun and meaningful. If times are tight, have a potluck and you provide the meat. Or, maybe you have cake and ice cream. Making the big bucks? Treat your employees and their significant others to dinner at a nice restaurant. A general rule of thumb is to provide smaller, more frequent rewards at first. This allows you to build up some momentum with your folks. Later, when the team is going strong and steady, the annual dinners out on the town are fantastic. Whatever you choose, make sure you choose a reward with your team in mind. After all, they helped your business become the success it is today. Let them know you appreciate their hard work and share what great things are in store for their future.

Running a family business can be one of the most rewarding, and challenging, tasks you will ever undertake. It can be done successfully, however; and I hope these five steps are helpful to you.