Another family business survey. Does anyone read them?

Photo by IJdema/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by IJdema/iStock / Getty Images

Last week Family Capital ran a story about the steep rise in the number of family business advisers. Well, along with their increasing numbers has come a rise in the number of family business surveys. That’s great for the purpose of observing strategic trends, but there must be a question mark over who actually reads these surveys, especially among the family business community.

A lot of surveys are produced by professional services firms, banks and business schools -- the business school studies are often done in association with the banks and accountancy firms. They survey family businesses in their country, or globally, and often come up with findings like this:

“Balancing of family and business issues remains to be the biggest challenge”

“Family businesses with an entrepreneurial culture are outperforming others”

“70% of family businesses reported growth in the last twelve months and 18% are aiming to grow aggressively over the next 5 years compared with 10% in 2012.”

There are endless other type of examples that can be pulled down to illustrate the point - and that is: survey observations on family businesses are often at best mildly interesting and at worst anodyne.

Of course, those companies and institutions that produce these surveys would argue that they are an extremely useful way to engage with family businesses and are more than worth the effort in producing them in terms of servicing clients and, indeed, winning new clients.

That may be the case, but a prominent consultant who now works for one of the big four professional services firms once told Family Capital that very few family businesses ever read research/surveys produced by the adviser community. Maybe they don’t have the time, or maybe they’re just not interested - the consultant didn’t know exactly why.

That observation is borne out by Family Capital’s own observations on what its community reads - clicks on survey-type stories tend to be a lot less than profile articles, or articles where a company, and/or individual is actually mentioned.

And this comes down to the heart of the matter - surveys have their purpose, but when it comes to reading matter, many of them lack appeal. That’s probably because they rarely mention the companies and personalities that make up all these family businesses surveyed --the banks and accountancy firms can’t in most cases because of a conflict of interest.

But it is the stories about the companies and personalities where the real interest lies when it comes to reading them...