Every Monday I like to post a reader question and take a stab at answering it. This week’s has to do with a husband and wife working together: can you run a business with your husband without getting into conflict?
A reader writes:
I am a stay at home mom and my husband works from home as well. We run a small business, I handle the admin and he is the artist. We had a big adjustment when our baby arrived and my husband did not do well on lack of sleep. It resulted in us being very late on all of our client orders. This stresses me out to no end, while my husband doesn’t seem all that bothered by it. I can’t stand it when he takes naps or sleeps in during the day when he should be working. I am up all night with the baby so he can sleep, and he still does this. We are far behind and our clients are starting to complain. As the manager in our business, it is extremely hard not to become a nag to him, or see him as one big long to-do list. How do I separate my husband as ‘husband’ from an ‘employee’ who is, quite frankly, slacking off. He has also become quite addicted to a game on his phone (he admits this, but hasn’t stopped it). I try and keep busy out of the house during the day, but when things keep not getting done, it’s causing some serious problems in our relationship. Even if we try and do something as a family, I still can’t seem to quiet the feeling that he really should be spending the time getting caught up on our clients so that we can breathe. What do I do?
I can’t tell this particular woman what to do because I don’t know her financial situation, their education or skill levels, how easy it will be to get other jobs, etc. But I would like to just mention a few big things about a husband and wife working together, and give us a way to think about the BUSINESS side of how to work with your spouse–or whether we should be running a business together in the first place. (Tomorrow we’ll look at the marriage side!)
The hardest part of marriage is communication. And the hardest part of getting along well at work is communication. Put the two together–and it’s really tough! So it’s just essential to put things in place so that these conversations are automatic, natural, and expected. Then business problems are far less likely to derail your marriage. Here’s how:
When Husbands and Wives Have a Business: Sorting out the Business Side
1. Create a Business Plan
Often we end up “falling” into a business together because one person has an idea or a skill, and we run with it. But unless your roles are clearly spelled out, and unless you know what you’re aiming for, you’ll have no way of judging whether the enterprise is working well or not.
For instance, let’s say that you figure out that if one of you worked full time and one of you worked part time you could make $60,000 a year. You may decide that if you both were able to work from home that would be worth about $10,000 to you. So if you could generate $50,000 from a home-based business, that would be a win-win.
But unless you’ve sat down and talked about it and come up with that number, how do you know whether continuing in the business is worth it?
So you need to write a business plan. That sounds really scary, because it involves numbers and goals and honestly taking a realistic look at what your business can accomplish. But you need something on paper. Here are two books that can help you do this:
Here’s a simple book outlining how to create a business plan that’s measurable–and that works!
Everything you need for a step-by-step traditional plan with revenue goals, competition, and more.
Seriously, I wish they taught this stuff in school.
Our letter writer is married to an artist–and many businesses are more creative in nature. If you’re a creative type, and the thought of sitting down with checklists and a calculator paralyzes you, here’s another way to go about creating a business plan that’s more intuitive.
It’s colorful, it’s bright, and it’s all about brainstorming, and you and your husband may find this a more palatable way of getting your thoughts and goals down on paper.
2. Treat Yourselves as Employees with “Measurables”
Once you’ve figured out your business plan it’s time to figure out what each person needs to do. Write up job descriptions for both of you. What are you each responsible for? That’s the big picture.
Now for the day-to-day. Within your job responsibilities, create to-do lists with definite deadlines. Post these somewhere where both of you can see them–or use an online system so that you can look at the to-do lists. Know what needs to be done when, so that you can also know when you’re late.
What happens if you work for someone else and something doesn’t get done? You stay late or you have to come in on the weekend or you have to take work home. It’s expected.
If you’re running a business from home, you have to do the same thing. If deadlines aren’t met, it should be easy to verify that and see it, and then you can talk about how we’re going to meet those deadlines and what that may mean.
I work from home and I know the pull to sometimes have a Netflix marathon instead of getting my work done. I know how easy it is to let yourself get sucked in with all the other things you’d rather be doing–or all the other things around the house that need to be done. But that’s why you need these deadlines and to-do lists so that you can be sure you’re pulling your weight.
Even if you’re not a list type of person, it avoids a lot of potential conflict if the deadlines are there for everyone to see. It keeps people accountable without one person having to nag.
3. Have Regular Evaluations for Your Business
In the workplace people have performance evaluations, usually on an annual or semi-annual basis. Do the same thing with your business–plan that once every six months, or at least once a year, you will take off for a day, without the kids, take out your business plan, and see if you’re sticking to it. Where are our finances? Are we doing well? Should we be putting more resources into advertising? Into new product creation? Are we each pulling our weight?
Again, if this is a regularly scheduled thing than there won’t be tension around it. Often what happens when spouses work together is that we find it difficult to critique one another or to bring up the hard questions. It seems as if we’re criticizing or we’re mad, when really we just may have legitimate business concerns. And because the marriage is involved, it seems as if bringing up a business issue actually could undermine the relationship. So sometimes we say nothing and choose to stew instead.
If, on the other hand, you have regularly-scheduled times to check in and to plan and evaluate, then you have a natural time to have these conversations without them having to reflect on the marriage.
My husband and I set aside twice a year to look at our schedules, figure out when I’m going to speak, what conferences he’ll take, and pray and plan together about where we each should be putting our energy and effort in the upcoming year. We don’t work together (well, not yet anyway), but each of our businesses affects the other, so we have to plan together. And I find that having those planning meetings helps me stay on track, and forces me to take a long, hard look at what’s working, and what’s not.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Look for Alternatives if the Husband and Wife Business Isn’t Working
Part of the evaluation and the business plan always needs to be the two questions: “is this business worth continuing?” And “are we both the best choice of people to work in it?” Sometimes a business may be worth it, but one spouse may be getting so busy with a different job, or with caring for kids, that hiring outside help may be wiser. Sometimes the business may be expanding so much that having a spouse do the bookkeeping really isn’t working anymore–you need an honest-to-goodness accountant.
And sometimes, like in the case of this letter writer, one spouse may just be refusing to work, which makes the business itself not viable.
Trying to keep a business going at home when one spouse isn’t working on it is likely to kill both the business and the marriage–or at least do serious damage. Sometimes the best thing you can do for a marriage is to say, “I love you, but I don’t think working together in a business is good for us or our family. I’d like to look at alternatives to bringing in some income.”
Now, there may be periods where you spouse needs some grace. If your spouse has an idea for a business that is going to take several years to really see fruit, you may very well owe it to your spouse to stick in there–just like you might support a spouse while they went to law school or med school. You know those three or four (or more!) years are going to be awful, but you put the time in because of the reward at the end, and because you know it’s important to your husband.
And sometimes, like with this couple, huge changes come like the birth of a baby and you both need some time for adjustment.
But when it’s a chronic thing and the business just isn’t going well, there should be clearly defined measures when you know, “it’s time to part.” Nagging someone or being upset at someone isn’t viable in the long term. Personally, I think if you can financially handle it, it’s better for one of you to stop working in the business than for that business to always be a source of tension.