The Australian Small Business Blog

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Couples in Business - 5 Golden Rules

by Dr. Greg Chapman

When a business is run by a couple in a personal relationship, there is a very different dynamic compared with other business ownership arrangements. It can be wonderful, or not so much. One business owner said to me "It helps if you are only 4 ft tall, so it all goes over your head!"

There are Five Golden Rules for Couples in Business Together.

Rule #1. Create a Shared Vision of your Business and Life Objectives

The advantage of couples who own a business together is that they can set the business up to meet their lifestyle objectives. When you work for someone else, it is their objectives that rule.

The key here is that your Life and Business objectives must be compatible. For example, if you business objective is world domination in your sector, I suggest that is not compatible with a three day work week.

Priorities can of course change over time, and a couple may decide to work hard early on, and pull back later to have a family. There is no right or wrong answer to this rule, except not to have one.

Rule #2: Restructure Your Business to Deliver Your Desired Lifestyle

Aligning your business and lifestyle objectives is not sufficient to achieve both. A plan to achieve these objectives may require significant changes in the way the business is run. This is likely to require a new business plan to achieve the desired profitability, and potentially new strategies. An understanding of the business' profit structure is an essential part of this process. It is common to find during this analysis that the true profitability of the business is much lower than the couple believed, and in fact the long term viability of the business may be uncertain.

The recognition that change is required and the need for assistance often takes longer for couples in business than other business owners due to the more emotional nature of decision making. Decisions are deferred to avoid confrontation, as the couple naturally put their personal relationship ahead of their business. In other business relationships, there is likely to be more objectivity, especially from the owners' families who are not directly involved in the business. However, without these changes, the probability that the lifestyle objectives of the couple being realised are small.

This is a time for a hard look at where the business is going and whether it will deliver what the couple wants.

Rule 3: Decide how You will Work Together

One of the strengths of couples in business is mutual trust. This is a great benefit, but the flipside of trust is informality. Business requires discipline, but informality can lead to sloppiness. To avoid this, roles and responsibilities must be defined, so it is clear who should be doing what and when.

Beyond roles there should also be a charter on how you will work together - Do's and Don't's. For example, you will always support each other in front of staff, and you will abide by decisions each makes within their responsibility. Role definition and a charter are just two steps to reduce the emotion of running a business together.

Rule #4: Managing Time

All business owners struggle with managing their time, but for couples in business, it is twice as hard. The temptation to bring back work into the home can be overwhelming, particularly when both are involved with the same work. In addition, poor time management at work impacts on the home life for both. It is essential that both partners examine how they spend their time within their business, and create boundaries outside of it to prevent business consuming their relationship. They can build on their personal relationship and trust to ensure that they hold each other to account.

Rule #5: Develop Systems that can make the Business Run without You

Non-couple partners have an advantage over couples that run a business together. They can time their days away so that the other can provide cover for each other, so there is always an owner present. For couples in business, this is a problem as they like to be away from their business together. This either means they take no holidays, or shut the business down when they go away, neither of which is a desirable outcome.

A better solution is to have management systems in place that will enable the business to run without them. This has many other benefits, such as increasing productivity when they are there and creating a Saleable Asset.

These principles are spelt out in detail in my latest book: Married to the Business- Honey I love you but our business sucks..

May You Business Be - As You Plan It!

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Dr Greg Chapman is the Director of Empower Business Solutions 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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Dr. Greg Chapman is also the author of
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