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No two businesses are alike, of course, but businesses that survive the test of time often share certain traits.

Sherri Noxel, director of the Austin Family Business Program at Oregon State University, has spent years studying family businesses. Here are some of the common features she's noticed in successful long-lasting businesses:

• Transparency and communication, especially between the generations in a family business, are critical. Such consistent communication ensures that a younger generation (or, for that matter, outside leadership) is ready to take the reins of a business when the time comes.

• Successful businesses know when it's time to get good advice from outsiders, Noxel said — and are willing to pay for quality counsel. To that end, the Austin Family Business Program maintains a list of professionals, in a variety of disciplines, who are available to offer timely advice. Not that the advice from your brother-in-law can't be valuable, Noxel said, but sometimes it pays off to have an experienced outside look at an issue.

• Succession plans are critical, particularly in family businesses. Noxel said it's increasingly common to see business owners and key players start such planning earlier than before, and to have those plans involve younger generations right from the start. The work of creating these plans helps to ensure that there's good communication between generations.

Although those traits may seem to be common sense, Noxel said they can be difficult to put into place.

For one, owners may feel that sharing knowledge may make them "a little bit vulnerable."

Second, successful planning for the long range takes more time, and time likely is at a premium for people working to keep a business going. 

But that investment of time may well be one of the keys that keeps businesses in the black for the long haul.

"Change is going to happen," Noxel said. "How well have you prepared the incoming generation for the change? ... You're just kind of thinking ahead, and it's intentional."

More information about the Austin Family Business Program is available at this website: http://business.oregonstate.edu/familybusinessonline/

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