5 Ways To Avoid Family Business ‘Cons’ At Your Funeral Home

Mixing family and business can be a beautiful (and stressful) thing.

Since I’ve spent most of my life running my own business and working alongside family members, I have a special place in my heart for family-owned funeral homes. The world needs more of the heart and soul that only family teamwork can offer.

But, just as corporate funeral homes have their own set of problems, family-owned funeral homes do, too. I guess it’s natural that when you put a group of people with the same blood together in a room and ask them to do business together, problems will arise.

And since 86% of funeral homes in the U.S. are family-owned, there’s a good chance you work with your family, and an even better chance that you’ve run into a problem or two along the way. After years of trial and error, I’ve come up with these 5 rules that will help you avoid 99% of the problems that arise in any family-owned business.


Rule #1: Set a clear vision

One of the hardest parts about any family-owned business is deciding what’s best for it. Family dynamics can take a toll on the future of the business, especially when it comes to passing the business down to future generations. Often, the older generations have a very different vision than the younger generations do. And that’s when things get messy.

To avoid conflict, get everyone who has a stake in your funeral home together to set a vision for your future. How many families are you aiming to serve each year? What are your biggest long and short term goals? What steps are you going to take to achieve them? Make sure to put this vision down on paper and make sure that everyone agrees on it.

If your funeral home has already established your vision, make sure that it’s meaningful, realistic and in touch with the needs of today’s families. Once your vision follows each of these criteria, it will be easy for future generations of business owners to make decisions and improve your business, as they won’t have to question what will be best for your funeral home ﹘ the answer will already be laid out for them in the vision.  For help setting a complete vision for your funeral home, be sure to check out the article: How To Create a Meaningful Vision For Your Funeral Home.

Rule #2: Always do what’s best for the business

Every family knows that a “best for the business” mentality is the only way to avoid conflict and keep everyone happy. A business-first mentality versus a family-first mentality is not only helpful financially, but also for the well-being of your family in the long run. If you don’t believe me, look at the numbers: research shows that businesses with a “business-first” mentality earn $7 for every $1 a “family-first” one does. Once you adopt this mentality, excuses like “but we’ve always done it this way” or “it would upset someone in the family” will be irrelevant and unproductive for your business. Look at it this way – by setting aside emotions, family dynamics, relationships and drama for the sake of your funeral business, you’re setting a foundation for yourself and your future generations.

Rule #3: Define a solid company framework

Does your funeral home have a solid company framework that lays out everything you do and why you do it? (And if you do, is it accurate, up-to-date, and in line with the current state of your business?)

A company framework for your funeral home should detail all important aspects of your business, including HR and employee policies, the experience that you want your families to have, arrangement processes, facility maintenance standards, and much more. A good framework answers the questions of what, how and why you do everything, and should always define clear roles and responsibilities, so it’s clear who is responsible for what. If your company framework isn’t being used as the foundation of all your decision making, it’s time to organize it in a way that will.

Once this happens, all of the gray areas that come with family and employee responsibilities, expectations and rules will be made clear. That way, next time someone isn’t doing his or her job correctly, you can point to your company framework, decide that an employee review is necessary, and take the necessary next steps without hurting anyone’s feelings. This is a business after all, not your family dinner table.

Rule #4: Treat everyone with the same respect and equality

When it comes to your family business, it can be very easy to segregate for a variety of reasons. Maybe you’re harder on your son then anyone else, or pay your daughter more because you know she’s strapped for cash, or maybe you have an attitude towards your brother because you simply don’t get along. Whatever the segregation that’s occurring, it should be stopped (and fast). By treating certain employees differently than others based on your relationship (or lack thereof) with them, you’re opening up tons of opportunities for unhappiness, resentment, gossip, and unnecessary drama. You’re all here to achieve the same goals you’ve set for your business, so work together as a team to make them happen.

Rule #5: Maintain open, healthy communication

Whether you’re the manager or the secretary, everyone should encourage an “open door policy” when it comes to communication at your funeral home. That means agreeing to be up-front, honest, constructive and helpful with each other, no matter what. You’re all on the same team here, so criticism, suggestions, or opinions should be welcomed. However, an “open door policy” doesn’t mean that you should discuss your wedding shower plans at a meeting or talk funeral home gossip at the dinner table. It might be hard at first, but by keeping family and emotions separate from business, open communication will come naturally and easily.

My final piece of advice

Funeral service is one of the only professions that is still ruled by families, and to me, that’s a beautiful thing. Just remember that every business has its rainy days. Without them, we wouldn’t grow, would we? Every failure should be a lesson learned, and every big achievement should be taken with a hug and a smile, because that’s what families do best.

What types of problems has your funeral home faced, and how have you solved them? Tell us in the comments below!

Joe Joachim


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