Keeping It In Family
© 2002 Elena Fawkner
I'm sure you've heard this dreaded statistic before: failure rate of all start-up businesses is around 90% mark. Add to that further distinctly unpleasant fact that roughly 50% of all marriages end in divorce and you can quickly see that odds of your new small business succeeding, already slim, become positively anorexic if you run your business in partnership with your spouse.
So, what are some of key challenges faced by newly entrepreneurial couples and what can YOU do to reduce chances of becoming a statistic?
A structure is only as strong as foundation upon which it's built. If you're in business with your spouse, foundation of your structure is relationship. That needs to be like bedrock before you even *contemplate* starting a business together.
Make sure you honestly assess your commitment to business and to each other up front. Do you share same family values and desires? Do you plan to have (more) children? If so, how do you accommodate family responsibilities and build a business at same time?
Discuss these issues before they arise. The last thing you, your business, your relationship or your family needs are nasty surprises. If you simply assume your spouse will cut back on business and assume lion's share of parenting responsibilities, think again. Your spouse may be making same assumption ... about you!
Preserve and nurture what's led you to where you are today: your relationship with each other. And that may not be as easy as it sounds.
At least in early days of business, your relationship will need to thrive on a lack of quality 'couple' time or, indeed, any time at all! It is by no means unusual for new business owners to be working 16 hours a day, 7 days a week to get their businesses off ground. That's one very important reason why your relationship needs to be in good shape before you go into business together. You don't want to be subjecting a relationship in trouble to that sort of pressure.
Look for ways to retain romantic intimacy. When you're working 16/7 that won't happen by itself. One good idea is to schedule 'dates' on a regular basis. Even once a week can make all difference. Just make sure you don't use time to talk shop. This is supposed to be romantic time for two of you as a couple. Tomorrow's time to discuss business and it will be here soon enough!
You can, I'm sure, think of many other ways to keep romance alive. Start little rituals, such as candlelight dinner breaks, for example. The important thing is to always stay aware of this area of your relationship and don't let it slide, no matter how absorbed you both become in your new business.
You'll probably find you take it in turns being vigilant in this area.
DIVISION OF RESPONSIBILITY
It is absolutely crucial that each of you has your own clearly defined areas of sole responsibility. Any business needs one and only one person to make a final decision. This doesn't mean that one person makes all decisions, it just means that one person makes final decision in his or her area of sole responsibility.
Start by allocating business responsibilities between you and having a very clear understanding that each of you has final decision-making authority in your respective areas. Under no circumstances should you encroach on your partner's area of responsibility and/or override his or her decisions. Start doing that and cracks WILL begin to appear, I kid you not! Sure, consult each other when making decisions. That's what business partners do, after all. But ultimate decision-making authority must rest with one who has overall responsibility for relevant area of business.
The business is not only area where responsibility needs to be divided. Don't forget to allocate responsibility for household chores and parenting responsibilities. Who is to do grocery shopping, laundry, cleaning and bill payments?
Each of you should treat other just as you would a respected colleague outside business. So show each other same respect, courtesy, appreciation and gratitude that you would show any valued co-worker.
No matter how well people get along, disagreements about certain aspects of business are inevitable. And just as in any other business, what is important is how those disagreements are resolved.
A clear agreement on division of responsibility is a very good start and having already agreed that one of you has final decision-making authority in your respective areas means that there is always a means for resolution of disagreement - a final decision. Otherwise you'd find yourselves going around in circles, unable to agree, until finally one of you would take matters into your own hands out of frustration or you'd simply do nothing. And that's bad for business and bad for your relationship.
A good way of communicating about business issues is to hold regular business meetings together. Perhaps a Monday morning partners' meeting would work well for you, or lunch on Wednesdays, perhaps. Although idea of a meeting may seem a little formal at first given your relationship outside of business, keep in mind that disciplines you find in an external business are there for a reason. They keep business on track and keep everyone focused on task at hand. So take time on a regular basis to regroup, take stock, stay up to date with where business is, where it's headed and what each of you is working on and planning.