Husband and Wife BusinessAh, the dream of running your own business!  Until it turns into a nightmare.  Does this sound familiar?  Mr. Know It All decides to go into business for himself.  He is good at what he does, so he gets really busy.  Certainly, he is too busy to do all the administrative work like accounting, answering the phone, sending out invoices, and paying bills.  He needs help!  Money is in short supply.  He’s not making enough money to hire a real bookkeeper or receptionist.

Guess who gets the job?  His wife, Mrs. Know It All.

Who else would do all that complicated, loosely defined work?  Only his wife would take a job that requires the diplomatic skills of Hillary Clinton, the financial finesse of Warren Buffet and the managerial skills of Jack Welsh.  And only his wife would do the job for free!

Some couples manage to work together smoothly, offering each other the best of their complimentary talents.  The best companies I know are family businesses.  Others create a living hell, for themselves and their shell-shocked employees.  The worst companies I know are family businesses.

By applying these tips to run your family business, you also set the stage for a smooth departure, should you decide to fire yourself…or fire your spouse or kids…

  1. There can be only one boss.  This is a toughie.  At some point, you will come to an impasse and one person must make the call.  Decide now who it will be.  Create a formal Organizational Chart…with one person at the top.
  2. Pay yourselves…both of you.  Pay everyone who works at the company…including yourself and your spouse.  Pay at least what that position is worth in the ‘market.’  Once you start paying yourself, you can drop your ‘I’m doing you a favor by working here!’ resentments.  Your husband, and your employees, will be so relieved!
  3. Write down who does what, when and how.  Create written job descriptions, policies and procedures.  You’ll get along better if you aren’t stepping on each other’s toes.  Play to your strengths.  Do what you do best.  And write down how you do it.
  4. You could leave and he could stay.  Really, do you want to work with your husband?  You could get your procedures documented and the Organizational Chart established.  Then, you could leave without chaos breaking out all over.  You could check the work of the person replacing you.  You could review the financials weekly briefly and monthly with a fine-tooth-comb.  And, that would take, maybe, a couple hours a month?  If you have systems in place, you could earn yourself some freedom.
  5. Get profitable.  When you are broke, your options are limited.  Educate yourself on how to make money.  Learn the basics of accounting and finance.  Raise your prices, beef up your service and make more money.  Most of our bad habits were born of the stress of being broke and hopeless.  Money buys options…and some breathing room.  You may be able to work better together as you get the financials “fixed.”
  6. Be kind.  Try to talk through the tough issues, without arguing.  Tell your husband what a great job he is doing, without expecting anything in return.  You can’t control anyone’s behavior but your own…so aim for kindness.

Bottom line:  A business plan can help.  And remember that, while some couples figure out how to make love and money together, don’t be surprised if you aren’t one of them.  It can be tough.

If you are unhappy working with your husband, deal with it before the situation gets any worse.  “Susan” and her husband were married for 27 years.  They started their company in their first year of marriage.  They argued endlessly about money and employees.  Finally, they sold their family business the same day they got divorced!  The business sale closed at 11:00 am; the divorce papers were signed at 3:00 pm.

Ask yourself, “Do I really want to work with my husband?”  When you are ready to fire yourself, or him, these suggestions could help you transition out of the company.  By paying everyone, you are budgeting in a salary for each employee.  The money for a replacement is already there.  The organizational chart job descriptions make it easier for a new person to come on board.  And solid profits make everything a lot less stressful.

You might even decide that you can both stay.

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