Now this is a loaded question; should a husband and wife work together in the business? Prior to going into some of the basic factors that go into that decision, I want to start off with the greatest issue. If you’re a small business with few other admin or management employees, you’re putting your business at risk should one of you become ill. If either of you are in the hospital for a month or so, there’s no one to keep things going while you’re bedside helping with the recovery.
Upon recovery, you’ll be faced with rejuvenating a business suffering from no ownership while you were out. Plus, you have a severe illness to overcome. This situation adds insult to injury and makes the business and personal recovery unsurmountable. If you’re in your twenties, you can survive and struggle through it. If you’re in your fifties, there’s less time to recover and the odds increase with age that one of you will experience a serious illness. My wife was extremely ill last year, spending 30 days in the hospital on two different occasions. She’s better now and I was fortunate to have a great staff who filled in for me. None of us are immortal and there needs to be a backup plan.
Another challenge for husband-wife teams is family vacation. Who’s going to mind the store while you’re away? To avoid feeling trapped, a backup plan needs to be established regarding vacation situations.
The next thing to consider is if that person is qualified and committed to the job. In other words, would you hire this person for this position if they weren’t your spouse? Hiring a family member for the wrong reason sets the family employee up for failure or at best mediocrity. Another consideration is if this person is willing to put the required time in as the company grows. This can be a real problem with young couples who are growing their business and their family simultaneously. You can’t have more children while creating more workplace demands and expect things to go smoothly.
If you have a family member in your business who isn’t working out, I encourage you to fire them. Long-term, this is a bad situation for the company and the family member. Simply tell them it’s better to have them as a mother, father, husband, wife, daughter or son than to have them as an employee. If a son or daughter isn’t a successor to a family business because of desire, ability or personality, the founder’s death can lead to a sad situation with a 50-year-old sibling with nowhere to go.
If you do decide to work together as a couple, here are some guidelines that can prove useful.
Limit home business discussion.
Work time is work time. Family time is family time. To avoid constantly talking about the business, establish a set time once or twice a week where you discuss business issues in a management-type meeting. This needs to be a formal meeting that must be committed to and not blown off. Companies have sales and production meetings all the time. Being married doesn’t eliminate the need for good, formal business communication.
Create job descriptions.
Clearly spell out the duties for each of your positions. Include time commitments, what skills will be needed, etc. Communicating expectations with employees is always a positive thing. Family members need to abide by this same practice.
Don’t take it personal.
Business is business, family is family. If either one of you tend to take business things personally, you have to get over that or one of you find another job. In businesses, customers get upset, employees make mistakes, things happen. Things also happen between partners. It’s part of the process. Having a business disagreement should never be a reason for one party to sleep on the couch.
Have a clear understanding of who’s responsible for what. Define rules of behavior. Make it ok for the other party to draw an appropriate line in the sand. Know what each other’s turf should be.
Be careful of other family employees.
Mom’s and dad’s tend to see things differently regarding children. Without even knowing it, family partners enable other family members in creating a difficult work environment. Good non-family employees will leave if mom and dad are constantly showing favoritism to underperforming family members.
Can you work together?
I love my wife dearly. We’re best friends. She helped make three different companies and owners millionaires but we couldn’t work together. We both have strong personalities and we’d clash. It’s better that we’re husband-wife rather than business partners. This is one of those cases where you need to know what’s required to work together and to have the wisdom to know what will and will not work.
In summary, working together in business can be a glorious partnership, but all partnerships are difficult to manage. Husband-wife partnerships are even more complicated. Partner’s lives, goals and interests change. What worked when starting out may not work down the road. Be realistic and be willing to adjust. If you need a consultant to help sort things out, call someone. We’re generally cheaper than divorce lawyers.