Evolving Small Business Themes in 2022

By Jamie Caudill, CFP®, Senior Wealth Advisor & Managing Director, MAI Capital Management

The last few years have been filled with many challenges and uncertainties for family-owned small businesses. Just about every area of business management has been affected by the pandemic, forcing owners and their families to learn new ways of staying relevant in a dynamic environment. As the world continues to adapt to the new normal and companies digest where to focus more of their time, there are a few themes that appear to be growing in importance for small business in 2022.

Succession Planning 

For some business owners, these challenging times have caused them to think more about their future, recognizing their mortality and seeking a better work-life balance. For family-run businesses, this could mean an acceleration of succession and new leadership for the future. This can be a challenging project for a business, so getting started and addressing succession planning regularly is important. Relationships, emotions, morale, and turnover are just a few of the variables involved with this significant aspect of a small business.

“Going Digital”

Disruption in business can often lead to innovation and new opportunities. The next generation is likely to be more adaptive to an online sales and market presence, while also modernizing business functions and technology. This type of change also requires the proper skillset to transform the business and may require hiring specialized staffing, including more non-family employees. Family businesses have traditionally been slower to adapt, which can make retaining talent more challenging. Organizations that offer more digital skills, job flexibility, and career growth should be well-positioned to attract the right employees.

Diversification

The pandemic has driven increased urgency for families to diversify their investment portfolio, which is key to protecting their future legacies. Considering additional lines of business, perhaps in areas that are more “recession-proof” or uncorrelated to another business, is also becoming more popular— this could be through acquisition or expansion. In some situations, a new business venture may be the idea of a family member who is not interested in the core business as the legacy business can help support the new business venture with resources and guidance.

A Better Customer Experience

A clear differentiator for companies operating during the pandemic was their ability to continue to deliver a good customer experience. There was a lot of market share and brand loyalty captured during these last few years and one of the key components was outperforming others in customer satisfaction. Businesses that embraced change and were adaptive to the needs of their clients and prospects were able to not only survive, but expand their market share.

A Growing Shareholder Base

As families grow and evolve, the shareholder dynamic can become more challenging. As more people become eligible owners, strategic planning becomes even more important. Families are forced to respond by either managing the dividend policy or the ownership structure of the firm.

In some cases, the family will consider a merger or a partial sale of the business. This provides opportunities to help finance stock buybacks, buyouts for workers who may be ready for retirement, and distribute wealth to family members who are not interested in the family business. Mergers and acquisitions can also help businesses become more operationally efficient and profitable over time.

ESG

Family businesses are well-positioned to adopt a more Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG)-based organization, as the culture of a “shared purpose” is often easier to develop and maintain within a smaller organization. Community involvement, philanthropy, and other ESG business practices can be beneficial for current employees, as well as attracting talent. A growing percentage of job hunters, consumers, and investors value ESG and may choose to look elsewhere if a company is not focused on these areas.

For many of these themes, it may be helpful for the family business owners to seek guidance from their trusted advisors. These subject matter experts can assist families with the financial, legal, and technical expertise necessary to help with planning and execution.

Authored by Jamie Caudill, CFP®, Senior Wealth Advisor & Managing Director; information updated as of 02.18.22. For more information, contact Jamie at 513-579-3583 or jamie.caudill@mai.capital.

The opinions and analyses expressed herein are subject to change at any time. Any suggestions contained herein are general, and do not take into account an individual’s or entity’s specific circumstances or applicable governing law, which may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and be subject to change. Distribution hereof does not constitute legal, tax, accounting, investment or other professional advice. Recipients should consult their professional advisors prior to acting on the information set forth herein. In accordance with certain Treasury Regulations, we inform you that any federal tax conclusions set forth in this communication, were not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used by any taxpayer, for the purposes of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by the Internal Revenue Service.

MAI Capital Management is a Goering Center sponsor, and the Goering Center is sharing this content as part of its monthly newsletter, which features member and sponsor articles.

About the Goering Center for Family & Private Business

Established in 1989, the Goering Center serves more than 400 member companies, making it North America’s largest university-based educational non-profit center for family and private businesses. The Center’s mission is to nurture and educate family and private businesses to drive a vibrant economy. Affiliation with the Carl H. Lindner College of Business at the University of Cincinnati provides access to a vast resource of business programing and expertise. Goering Center members receive real-world insights that enlighten, strengthen and prolong family and private business success. For more information on the Center, participation and membership visit goering.uc.edu.