Hiring a family business consultant: Key questions and considerations

Bernie Kliska
Bernie Kliska

As a consultant to family businesses, I am frequently asked, “When will I need a family business consultant?” The simple answer is, when you need one, you will know it.

A consultant is usually brought in to help a family resolve particular issues that they do not have the time or expertise to resolve by themselves. There are basically two types of systems consultants often used:

Expert or project consultants will give you solutions to particular problems and help implement those solutions.
Process consultants help you define the problems and then assist you in reaching your own conclusions and solutions.

What should you be looking for when hiring a family business consultant? The first and most important factor is straight forward: can they help solve your particular issues that are hurting the family and business or both?

Before hiring a consultant, here are some questions you should ask yourself:

  • What type of experience do they have working with family businesses?
  • How broad and deep is their training?
  • How long have they done family business consulting?
  • Do they demonstrate expertise on the pertaining issues the family is presenting?
  • Have they helped other businesses with similar issues?

Two other basic criteria are cost and time. Is the consultant affordable for you and is there a time constraint? Do you have confidence that the consultant will complete the project on time?

While these are important factors, the real question is, does the consultant have the experience and ability to manage the specific issues that are involved? A quick and cheap solution that doesn’t solve your problems is not very useful.

Helping to cultivate harmony is an important part of the consultant’s involvement. Family businesses are incredibly complex entities. Family business members inherently need to work through a broad range of complicated challenges, with the consequences of failure being not only the loss of the business, but also potentially the loss of the love found in family relationships.

Succession, ownership, communication, family dynamics, and governance all require different types of management. However, to be successful, all of these things need to be functioning in harmony. Thus, there are many different skill sets that a consultant needs to work with a family business.

Running a business is hard, especially these days. Trying to run a profitable business with your family, while maintaining harmony within the family, can be even more difficult. Fortunately, there is help available.

Family business consulting is basically the art and science of helping a family business find the delicate balance of peace and success among the family and the business.

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