Small business enterprises these days are both co-owned and co-managed by real-life married couples. These husband-wife partnerships can be considered as positive experiences to strengthen the commitment to and the enjoyment of their personal and business sides. The accounts of these partnerships that established struggling and thriving businesses are ever-present in the industry.
Entrepreneurs and experts who were able to succeed in business warn about the additional hurdles encountered by entrepreneurial couples. I have known many husband and wife teams which have worked well, and others which do not work at all. Remember that if it doesn’t work in business it may well jeopardise the home relationship too.
This, however, can be mitigated or lessened when certain precautions are taken. Below are some of the common considerations entrepreneurial couples face and the solutions.
How married couples in business can survive
Lack of Clear Business Skills
Husband and wife should bring relevant value to their business. Each partner should have a clear fair-share to the business. Spouses who fail to provide significant contributions in business operation perhaps need to reconsider if they should be in the business. There is little point having a partner in the business who, in fact, hampers the business. It may not be intentional, but their lack of skill and ability may, in fact, put the business at risk. It’s not different from employing family. If the family being considered for employment is the best person for the job, then there is just the consideration of how the family relationship will ensure if the person leaves. However, if the person is just being ‘given a job’ and really isn’t qualified or able to do the job, then you are doing the business no favours and ultimately not the family member either. Somewhere down the track, you’ll have to let them go and that can get uncomfortable (even nasty). Alternatively, you keep them on, the business suffers and they will know they are the cause. If your husband or wife is unable to bring skills to the table, are they the best person to go into business with? Being in business ‘together’ may sound romantic, or even practical, but when you’re fighting at work and at home, romantic will be the last word on both your minds! Remember also, training may be necessary. If you had an employee who was struggling with bookkeeping, you’d get a trainer in, so just because the person struggling is a life and business partner, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t receive training. Don’t just give them the opportunity to shine; give them the skills necessary to help them to shine.
Competition Between Partners
Entrepreneurial couples should not compete with each other. No different from any effective working management, all partners have to take responsibility for business failures and never blame another or point the finger. Likewise, if you know you are both ‘competitive’ type people, then how will that competitiveness translate into a business together? Mostly when I see things working, there is a ‘stronger’ partner who takes charge and is the face of the business; the other partner/s are happy to allow that to happen and happy to make things work in other ways. Look at your personalities first and ensure who haven’t got two Chiefs who aren’t willing to sometimes take a step back, down or even listen to another.
Uncertainties Caused by the Newness of Ventures
A new venture is full of risk. Before both parties jump in (especially quitting a well-paying job) get the business off the ground and running. Ensure it’s making money and will financially support both partners. You are putting all your (income earning) eggs in one basket, so ensure that basket is sold and strong. One of the reasons that marriages break up and then there’s bickering in a relationship, it’s often about money. Be realistic about the financial soundness of the venture to support the whole family.
Absence or Lack of Good Communication
Good communication is critical in small businesses. Relationship couples do communicate differently than business partners. Couples should incorporate factors like focusing on the issue, not taking any criticism personally or laying blame. Each partner should be allowed to speak and the other should listen, without interruption. Have a pen and paper to write down thoughts if you need – but let the other person speak. Honestly, all of us (partners or not) in any business challenge should focus on the solution, not the problem and should be listening. What is added is that in a couple relationship, there needs to be separation from business disagreements versus personal affection.
Couple-owned partners ideally have separate, complementary skills. Disagreements can be minimized when they handle separate responsibilities. One partner may be responsible for the operations side of the business and the other responsible for Admin or Marketing. Naturally, these areas overlap but by having clearly defined areas, it does make it easier. Additionally, both partners (like all staff) should have written Position Descriptions which clearly outline their roles. Operate like a professional business and be professional in how you do business.
Difficulty in Adapting to the Changing Executive Roles
Some spouses I’ve known find it difficult to see the person they married differently and sometimes even equally. Executive positioning adjustment is almost always difficult for husbands since they are accustomed to lead in their marriage and the relationship. They are often used to making the big decisions, being responsible and taking the lead. Working on more equality can take time and will definitely take effort and patience. Couples can work on this through mutual agreement.
Separation of Home Life and Work Life
Many entrepreneurial couples can lose sight of their personal relationship due to flurry business issues. Such romantic spark that initially drew them together can be cut away by things happening in the business – regulatory changes, a massive deadline looming, cash-flow concerns, a problem employee or other business issues.
I strongly recommend that business meetings occur in the office (not the home, kitchen or worse, bedroom) and in fact, a business meeting should be set once a week at a set time. In fact, where possible, avoid business chat at home, otherwise, you will soon find your relationship becomes all about business and less about two people together. ‘Date nights’ should never revert to a Board Room Meeting … respect and value the other person in the relationship and both relationships will more likely stay stronger.
You will hear some couples say that their marriage lasted so long because one of the parties travelled a bit or worked long hours. Often when retirement comes around, it’s hard having that person in the house 24/7.
Whilst a couple needs quality time together, so I believe, they need time apart. When you both work at the same place (and assuming you’re working together, perhaps in an office or shop) then you need to ensure you each have ‘time out’ from the other person. This is not about not loving the other person. This time allows each person to assert their individuality and to function as an independent individual. It might be that one of you plays golf each Saturday, or you have sporting activities, art classes, lunch with girlfriends or drinks with the boys. Some time apart allows you to appreciate each other and to bring back something fresh to the relationship – perhaps a funny anecdote you heard during golf.
Don’t fight in front of the ‘kids’
Now here, I’ve said ‘kids’ in inverted commas. I am actually referring to couples in business who fights in front of their staff. In some cases, people don’t like working for a husband-wife team for this very reason. Just as it’s not good to fight in front of your children, so should this NOT occur in the business in front of staff, suppliers or worse, customers. Remember to be professional. If a discussion needs to occur later (in private) ensure you’ve cooled down and you address the matter in a respectful and appropriate way – no different from how you would speak to an employee. No longer can you swear or yell at your staff – your business/life partner deserves no less. This goes for both genders; I’ve seen it come from both directions.
Keep communication open, be professional and value your life and business partner. If at the end of the day it is simply not working and you recognise it won’t work, perhaps it’s time to draw back from the business, in order to maintain the personal relationship. However, before you go there, try to communicate first.
Treat your business partner with as much (or more) respect as you would if they were not your life partner. Because they are your husband or wife does not give you the right to disrespect them, not listen, not value their contribution or to speak badly of them to others. As above, you don’t yell or swear at them. Be sure to thank them (like any employee) for their contribution and show that you value their input. Often in a business relationship, this gets neglected and should not.
So if you really want both worlds of marriage and business to work, you should respect both parts of your life through focus and devotion. Have clarity and be at the edge necessary to keep yourself at pace on both tracks.
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