Monday, June 6, 2011

Should You Work With a Spouse?

I've never watched "Sister Wives" before, but caught an episode last night where all the wives quit their jobs and moved from Utah to Las Vegas, Nev. with their husband. As I understand it, they want to launch a family business together, although they have no idea what that will be. And, based on what I saw last night with all the wives moving into different houses -- and liking it -- launching a business together will be an interesting development.

I recently interviewed a couple who not only run a company together, but advise other couples on how to do the same. I think the "Sister Wives" gang might learn a lesson or two from this story I did for my Gannett/USAToday column:

Most couples learn at some point that if they want to stay together, some joint efforts are best left to others — like trying to hang wallpaper or put together a computer desk.

Working on those projects together can strain even the strongest union. Yet how do thousands of couples work together every day running a business?

The secret is making sure you understand that wedded bliss doesn't necessarily translate into career bliss, sayBethany and Scott Palmer, financial advisers known asThe Money Couple. Love doesn't guarantee that you won't want to attack one another with staplers if you try to launch an enterprise together.

"You have to go into it with your eyes wide open,"Bethany Palmer says. "You may think it sounds really glamorous to run your own business, but you've got to talk about the challenges and the boundaries."

That means, ahem, that pillow talk isn't good for business or a marriage.

Scheduling time to talk about business — and knowing when to knock it off — is equally important.

"We always turn it off for dinner. We might have some time after the boys go to bed to catch up on something, but for the most part we keep it part of our day — even if that means we get up at 4:15 a.m. to talk," Scott Palmer says.

Each say they grew up working for their fathers, and running a family business is in their DNA. They often take their boys, ages 7 and 9, on the road with them for seminars or speaking engagements where the kids help pass out books or assist in directing attendees.

"We've been very clear in our expectations when we take them along," Scott Palmer says. "We tell them first you pay, then you play."

At the same time, the Palmers say they pay attention for signs they may be too focused on their work.

"If they think we're talking too much about business, they tell us," Scott Palmer says of his sons. "And we stop."

The Palmers often advise other couples about finances and starting their own businesses, and Bethany Palmer says it's key that couples not lose sight of their personal relationship when launching a company.

She says she and her husband are religious about a date night every week, have a clear understanding of when they talk about work during their day, and remain flexible about how and when the work needs to get done.

The Palmers, authors of First Comes Love, Then Comes Money (HarperOne, $14.99) say they have several suggestions for couples who think they want to go into business together. Among them:

• Have equal footing. Just as a successful marriage is based on equality, so must be a business between partners.

"Capitalize on each person's strengths," Scott Palmer says. "Know what each person is good at and the expertise that person has."

Adds Bethany Palmer: "It's not going to work if one of you makes all the decisions and the other person is nothing but an assistant."

• Don't play the blame game. Just as McDonald's and Coca-Cola have had things go wrong, so will a family business.

The key is that those companies continued to move forward, and so must a small business. Spending time blaming one another is a recipe for disaster, they say.

• Be analytical. Make a list of the pros and cons of starting a business, and understand how you handle and approach money.

The Palmers suggest spending at least a year determining your abilities, your skills, how you will handle conflicts, etc. Look at items such as setting salaries, hiring and firing employees, managing workers and tasks, getting insurance, marketing your skills and even planning the work space.

They liken it to building another family. Unless you're both fully committed, it's not going to work.

• Meet regularly. Chatting while making dinner or picking the kids up from soccer practice isn't good enough.

Schedule regular work meetings to stay on top of key issues and make sure you're on track with business plans, they say.

Do you think you could work with a significant other? What advice would you offer?


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