There are almost as many styles of business ownership as there are relationships between people. All have their strengths and weaknesses, but one ownership type has characteristics that sets it apart from all others: couples in a personal relationship who run a business together. While frequently referred to as “Married to the Business”, couples are often not married and may be in any of the common personal relationships that exist today. As long as their commitment to each other aligns their life goals, it will set their business relationship apart from all others.
Alignment of the Life and Business Goals
There is an opportunity, not available for employees, for all business owners to design a business that fits with their life goals. However, this is far simpler for a single owner or a couple in business than for non-couple owners with their own families. A couple may decide, for example, to have a lifestyle business. This might be a B&B or café in a small coastal resort town. They may instead decide to build a business to pass on to their children. Quite a difficult balancing act for non-couple partners.
Long Term Focus
As a result of the long term commitment couples have to each other, their focus for the business also tends to be longer term compared with a shorter term, more commercial focus typical for non-couple partners. Numerous studies have shown that planning for the long term produces superior returns for most businesses.
There will always be at least some level of disagreement between business owners, whether couples or not. Differences of opinion can be healthy, the alternative being groupthink. This is an area in which couples have more difficulties as it is too easy for the differences to be turned into personal and emotional appeals. For this reason couples try to avoid addressing issues until they become too big to ignore.
An essential part of any business is the discipline that ensures that the right things are done at the right time in the right way every time. In a relationship, however, discipline or even routine can be a big negative. Non-couple partners are faster to recognise this and formalise as many functions as possible and ensure they are driven by a management system. Part of this formalising of business functions is clarity of the roles partners have. Where non-couple partners share the rewards of the business, there is still a concern that each is pulling their own weight in the business to earn their share. This driver is far weaker for couples.
As a business grows, the knowledge required to take it to the next stage of its lifecycle changes. When a business plateaus it’s often a sign that the natural skills of the owners are approaching their limits. With the management systems that non-couple partners have in place, they more quickly identify the need for advice. Couples are more likely to struggle on, delaying the time they look outside their business as they are each other’s primary confidant and source of support. When couples marry, the celebrant says, “For Richer or Poorer”. It’s actually a choice. So here are the five 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 personal objectives.
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.
Dr Greg Chapman is a business advisor and CEO of Empower Business Solutions. He is the author of the award winning book: “Married to the Business: Honey I love you but our business sucks”. Further articles and interviews on Married to the Business are available here.