Navigating the Family-Owned Business
When Bob and his
wife Prudence decided to start a business together, they jumped
right in. They thought it would be fun to work together so they just
did it. Unfortunately, this kind of strategy, and lack of planning,
can cause a couple to kill their romance or even end their
Bob was on the road
working a large territory for corporate America for many years. With
a hectic schedule, he flew home on weekends. Prudence was home
raising the children. She handled all the responsibilities of
educating and raising a happy, well-adjusted, healthy family.
Prudence also managed their personal matters, including the finances
and schedule. While on the road, Bob—not the type to spend his
downtime in a bar—sought neighborhood bookstores to spend his free
time. He called home frequently and, during one of these phone
calls, became alarmed. While speaking to his daughter, she asked,
“Are you my phone dad or are you my real dad?” That was the moment
Bob decided his road warrior days were over.
Soon afterward, Bob
and Prudence purchased a bookstore franchise. The problem they ran
into was the same one that many couples realize when opening a
shared business. While many couples understand how to manufacture or
sell their product or service, few have the necessary skills to run
a successful business. To be successful, you have to do more than
just place an “Open” sign in the window.
With 80 percent of
businesses being family owned, many couples desire to work together,
even when it means overcoming various obstacles and challenges that
face business owners. So, if you’re already in business together,
what can you do to improve your company, both financially and
emotionally? How can married couples and families thrive in business
Every business should have a written business plan. In the
beginning, it might be only a couple of pages. A business plan is
always a work in progress. You’ll continue to tweak the plan as the
company grows, but there are basic items it must convey to avoid
future conflict. First, state your overall goals, both short- and
Ask each other how
you plan to let customers know you’re open. What will you do to
advertise and market your goods or services? These are two more
basic elements. The plan should also cover all the responsibilities
necessary for success. It should also describe who’s in charge of
each responsibility, including sales, marketing, expenditures and
finances. Then it’s time to determine a budget. Discuss how much
money you’ll need to accomplish all the plan’s goals.
Your business plan should clearly state the different
responsibilities needed to run your business. Together, you should
determine who is best to accomplish each responsibility. Is your
spouse better at finance and numbers? Let the stronger one be in
charge of fiscal responsibilities. The spouse who is in charge of
the financials should also be responsible for government reporting
and all functions relating to accounting. Who will handle sales and
customer service? Once a job function is designated, respect him or
her to make the right decisions. As the company continues on, make
sure the appropriate person continues to handle his or her
responsibilities. Check back with one another on a regular basis.
Everyone has a different style of hearing and learning. Listen to
how you speak to one another. Some people hear what you say but need
a little time to process it. Learn how each other hears and be
patient. Whenever you have a disagreement, never voice those
concerns in front of others. Nobody likes being told what to do by
his or her spouse. Avoid acting or appearing as if you’re the boss
of the other. Let each person state his or her opinion and, if
necessary, go back to the written business plan as a reference
at the front door.
There’s no room for power plays in a family run business or office.
You must create and maintain a harmonious environment for yourself
and your staff members, even if it’s just the two of you. Your
harmony together (or lack thereof) can make a huge difference in
sales, customer service and productivity. You must be united in your
efforts to succeed. Customers, employees, vendors and suppliers must
see you working together. A bickering couple creates tension and
makes the entire environment toxic.
If you are not doing this already, it’s a great idea is to schedule
weekly or even daily meetings. They should be held at the business
location, not your home. This is the time to discuss expenses,
profit and loss statements, goals, problems you have and those you
may encounter. All communication should be constructive and in line
with carrying out the business goals.
board of advisors.
Creating an outside board of advisors is wonderful for finding
solutions. Differences can be settled with the use of an advisory
panel. It should be comprised of trusted people with varied
expertise. It can also be a wonderful sounding board for any issues
or challenges your business might face. You can meet as a group,
quarterly (for example), or one-on-one as necessary. A good mix
would include a CPA, an attorney, a banker, a marketing expert and
someone retired from your industry.
Check with your
chamber of commerce to see what programs it may have to help
businesses grow. Many have formal groups that meet and act as
advisors. There are also private companies such as TEC that have
programs designed specifically for executives to get together in
non-competing industries. Formal or informal, it doesn’t matter how
you get together; what’s essential is that you have a group of
professionals or trusted friends who will provide honest feedback.
Remember: At the
end of the day, you’re going home together. Try to keep things in
perspective and leave the shoptalk where it belongs. To survive in
today’s competitive marketplace, you must be able to successfully
conquer a work-life balance. When you maintain balance, you can have
a successful and happy business and marriage.
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