The Australian Small Business Blog

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Couples in Business - Are You Arthur or Martha?

by Dr Greg Chapman

Small business owners are usually chief cooks and bottle washers. They have to be capable of doing everything while they are watching everything. It is a little easier if you have a partner in business to watch your back, but if you are in a personal relationship with your partner, roles can easily become blurred. The question is, if you are in business with your personal partner, are you Arthur or Martha?

If it is true opposites attract, couples in business have an advantage. Roles in any business are crucially important. Too often in business you see situations where the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing, or alternatively, there are two left hands and no right hands, and a lot of balls get dropped. However, for couples in business, despite the distractions, they tend to take on complementary roles, ones the partners prefer naturally.

These preferred roles have little to do with gender stereotypes. It may be that they are either extroverts or thinkers, risk takers or cautious, and big picture people or implementers. All roles are important and must exist in every business to a greater or lesser degree. While these differences occur in all partnerships, for couples in business, there is one other type of division that occurs far more often than in other partnerships – the technical vs the business focus.

Couples will often go into business together when one of them has a technical skill, for example a trade, and the other provides the office support and does not have a technical qualification; but over time they become quite proficient on the financial and other non-technical aspects of the business.

This can create many tensions for the relationship. The manager has a quite different outlook of the business than the technician. The manager’s focus is on whether the business is making enough money to pay their creditors, with whom they must deal, and chasing up their debtors so they can pay all the wages, and if there is anything left over, to pay themselves. The technician is a perfectionist whose focus is on doing the best possible job for the customer, no matter what it costs or how long it takes.

The manager does not understand the technical aspects of the business and must defer all those discussions to the technician. The technician is frustrated that it doesn’t matter how hard they work, they never seem to be able to get ahead resulting in arguments about lifestyle objectives with their partner.

An additional tension for couples in business is that if they weren’t in a relationship, the manager would probably not be a partner. For example, the practice manager for a doctor’s surgery is usually an employee. The person in the manager role for a couple in business thus feels frustrated that they cannot provide the support the technician really needs as a professional peer. Perhaps they are only there because of their personal relationship. A feeling can develop that their roles are not equally important.

Which comes back to the question for couples in business, are you Arthur or Martha? The most common situation is the person with a trade is a male, an Arthur, and the business manager is female, a Martha, although almost as often the roles may be reversed.

Martha’s feel they understand where the business is struggling but can’t communicate this well with the Arthur’s who speak a different language, and while the Arthur’s role seems to be well defined as a service deliverer; the Martha’s role is less clear. The challenge for Martha’s is to become knowledgeable business professionals, equally proficient in managing their responsibilities as the Arthur’s are technicians. To fulfil their role as equity partners in the business, rather than as an employee office manager. This will result in role changes for both Arthur’s and Martha’s with a new way of working together that enhances their personal relationship and achieves their lifestyle objectives.

You can download the first three chapters of Married to the Business: Honey I love you but our business sucks here or order now at

May Your Business this Year be - As You Plan It.

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Dr Greg Chapman is the Director of Empower Business Solutions and The Australian Business Coaching Club and is Australia's Leading Advisor on Emerging Businesses and provides Coaching and Consulting advice to Australian Small Business Owners in Marketing & Business Strategies Planning & Systems. He is also the author of The Five Pillars of Guaranteed Business Success and Price: How You Can Charge More Without Losing Sales.

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