Did he start this or was it you? No wait you started it together. Okay great. Rare! Either way, you are both in it for the long hall. Whether you married into it or cofounded it, you, he, and it are married! Well at least until you sell it. I hope that the both of you understand the implications of owning and operating a small business, because if one of you does not, prepare for some strange sailing. I hope instead, your kids beg the question how did mom and dad cooperate so well to build their business. A trick is to keep it loose, keep it tight.
Assumptions For Our Argument
First assumption is that both involved want the business. Second, only one or neither is a type-A alpha. Thirdly, you want to like each other outside of your business. Once we have identified both parties are in it to win it then “keep it loose, keep it tight”. Working with a spouse is not like working with your MBA friends back in college, where progress and quality defined friendship. Spouse teams are traditional in that the players have roles, responsibilities, different desires, and dreams. A major difference from class and some employments is you do not get to pick new teammates when the going gets tough or when things get ugly. Thus, the differing drive & commitment levels, and expected future outcomes create waters requiring cautious navigation. The best way to navigate these waters is to “keep it loose, keep it tight.”
Keep it Loose
In a family owned business, remember whom you are dealing with. This teammate and partner has strengths and weaknesses. You cannot make a clone out of your spouse. You cannot superimpose upon them your greatest strengths; they develop their own. So be mindful of realistic expectations by keeping it loose enough for successful teamwork. Do not lose sight of who they are and who they are not.
Keep it Tight
Businesses do not build themselves and Romans did not build Rome in a day. Consider Rome is still expanding. Structure, expectations, and leadership must be in place or in the works. Someone has to lead and the other has to follow. Who leads is irrelevant as long as it is in place; leadership sharing can work. Furthermore, the team must understand where in the business life cycle their business is in order to operate more functionally as a tandem. Defining the stage as startup, rapid growth, maturity, decline, rebirth or death will help both partners understand realistic expectations and timelines. Different mindsets are required for the different stages. As business owners, you know these stages do not pay owners equally. Either way, there must always be clear direction, directives, and focused energy. Keep it tight.
Owning a business with your spouse is not for everyone.
It can create additional stress in an already stressed situation. Keep your family assets at the forefront of your mind when considering a family venture. And never bet the farm. Just as it is not time to have a baby when you and your spouse cannot see eye-to-eye on life’s majors, it is also not time to start a family business. The best recipe is talk, talk, talk, communicate, listen, rinse and repeat. Have some form of hierarchy and keep it loose, keep it tight.
This business article has influences from Keep it Loose, Keep it Tight – Amos Lee (Singer/songwriter).