Going into business with your life partner sounds like a great idea. You know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, are fairly sure the other won’t try pull the wool over your eyes, and are probably both pretty passionate about the vision you have for the business.
But is it really such a good idea?
One person that knows more than most on the matter is leading businesses advisor and author of the book Married to the Business: Honey I love you but our business sucks, Dr Greg Chapman.
He says there are some great benefits of being in business with a personal partner, but ones that can become problematic too.
“Having aligned life goals that hopefully align with business goals too mean there is more trust than in a conventional business relationship,” Dr Chapman says, “And this trust translates to a higher level of support.”
“Also couples in business together tend to have a much longer term outlook than just viewing the business as a vehicle for financial return.”
This translates to stronger, longer lasting track records. According to Family Business Australia, family businesses now account for around 70% of all Australian businesses, employing a mammoth 50% of the workforce.
But that’s no guarantee of success. There are some common problems that come with getting into business with your bedfellow too.
“That trust and informality also works against the required disciplines essential to running a good business,” Dr Chapman warns.
“The common lack of formality in the business relationship means roles are not well defined and business problems are not properly addressed for fear of work affecting the personal relationship.”
So what’s the trick to successfully running a business while preserving your private rapport?
Boundaries, says Dr Chapman.
“When you leave the office, work is over, or when you’re in the bedroom, business talk stops. If you don’t define firm boundaries you’ll sloth around and get work mixed up in your personal lives.”
“It’s very important to hold each other accountable, but keep this to the workplace.”
And part of that accountability means being able to take and deliver constructive criticism, an often prickly part of working with a spouse.
“While it’s often the case that one partner will manage the office and the other will have a specialised qualification in the field, it’s important to take a higher level view of the business,” Dr Chapman advises.
Not only will this ensure all parts of the business are operating as they should be, but it will reinforce an appreciation of the bigger picture and make it easier to take criticism on board.
“There must be systems in place – one for the office manager and one for the technical partner – to ensure the smooth operation of each facet of the business, but also cohesive interaction between the two as well.”
With these systems set out a proper working relationship can be established and the personal relationship preserved. It also ensures the business can operate without your constant presence.
So, do couples make good business partners? Definitely. Just as long as the right boundaries and systems are set, says Dr Chapman. And of course, that you remember to enjoy it too.
“There’s no reason you can’t go somewhere nice for board meetings,” Dr Chapman reminds, “And the best bit is its tax deductible!”
Dr Chapman’s 5 golden rules for small business success with personal partners.
1. Create a shared vision of business and life objectives.
2. Restructure the business to deliver on this vision, both in financial terms and meeting the objectives set out.
3. Decide how you will work together.
4. Manage your time to be effective during business hours and create boundaries with your personal life.
5. Put robust systems in place so the business can run in your absence.
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