‘Til Death Do Us Part:
How To Survive as a Couple in Business
When Bob and his wife Prudence
decided to start a business together, they jumped right in, with
little or no thought to the idea. They thought it would be fun to
work together so they just did it. Unfortunately, this kind of
strategy and its lack of planning can cause a couple to kill their
romance or even end their relationship.
on the road working a large territory for corporate America for many
years. With a hectic schedule, he flew home on weekends. His
talented wife, 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.
the road, Bob – not the type to spend his downtime in a bar – sought
cozy neighborhood bookstores to spend his free time. He called home
frequently and during one of these phone calls he became alarmed.
While on a call home, his daughter asked to speak to her “phone”
dad. She asked him, “Are you my phone dad or are you my real dad?”
That was the moment Bob decided his road warrior days were over.
a lot of time or thought into how the couple would work together,
Bob and Prudence jumped at the opportunity to own 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
of them have the necessary skills to run a successful business. To
be successful, you have to do more than just place an “Open” sign in
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 together?
Setting: 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. Continue to tweak the plan as the company
grows. There are basic items a plan must convey to avoid future
conflict among married couples. First, the plan should state the
overall goals that you want to accomplish. Perhaps you want to grow
your company from a local to a statewide company. Perhaps you dream
of becoming a franchisor one day. The overall goal of what you want
to accomplish is the main element in the business plan. Ask each
other how you plan to let customers know you are open? What will you
do to advertise and market your goods or services? These are two
basic elements of the business plan.
should cover all the responsibilities necessary to help make the
company successful. It should also describe who is in charge of each
responsibility, including sales, marketing, expenditures, and
finances. Then it’s time to sit down together to determine a budget.
Discuss how much money you will need to accomplish all the goals you
have placed in the business plan.
Responsibilities: Your business plan clearly states the
different responsibilities needed to run your business. Together,
you should determine who is best to accomplish each of the
responsibilities. 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 to someone, 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.
Communicate Effectively: Everyone has a different style of
hearing and learning. Listen to how you speak to one another. Some
people hear what you say but they need a little time to process what
was said. Learn how each other hears and be patient. Whenever you
have a disagreement, never voice those concerns in front of others.
Always go behind closed doors or go to a nearby café to discuss the
issues. Nobody likes being told what to do by his or her spouse.
Avoid acting or appearing as if you are the boss of the other. Let
each person state their opinion and if possible, go back to the
written business plan as a reference guide.
egos at the front door: There is 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 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 the couple working together. A
bickering couple creates tension and makes the entire office
meetings on a weekly basis: If you aren’t doing this already, it
is a great idea is to schedule weekly or even daily meetings. These
are meetings held at the office, not your home in the evenings. This
is the time to discuss expenses, the profit and loss statements,
goals, problems you have or think you may encounter. Nothing should
be combative or argumentative. All the communication should be
constructive and in line with carrying out the goals of the
your 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. The advisory board is comprised of trusted
people with different areas of business expertise. They can also be
a wonderful sounding board for any issues or challenges that your
business might face. You can meet with them as a group quarterly or
meet one-on-one, as necessary. A good mix would include a CPA,
attorney, banker, marketing expert, and someone retired from your
with your Chamber of commerce to see what programs they may have to
help businesses grow. Many Chambers 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 is essential is that you have a group of
professionals or trusted friends that will be honest in their
feedback to you.
Remember: at the end of the day you are going home together. Try to
keep things in perspective and leave the shoptalk at the office. To
survive in today’s competitive marketplace, you must be able to
successfully conquer work-life balance. When you maintain balance,
you can have a successful and happy business and marriage.
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