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Jean Chatzky will be covering a variety of different topics in this space every month. Come back next Tuesday for the second article in this month’s Relationships series. Please leave your relationship questions as comments below and she will address several of the questions at the end of the month.
When it comes time to expand your small business, it seems natural to look to your spouse or partner. After all, he or she is probably already the person you turn to when you need some extra help, whether that means bouncing ideas back and forth or answering the phones when things get a little too crazy.
But what about when your spouse’s entry into your venture has less to do with wanting him or her onboard, and more to do with the economy? For example: One spouse has a growing small business, the other a full time job. Then come the lay-offs, and all of a sudden the full-time spouse is unemployed. He or she tries to find another job but with no luck. So out of desperation, a genuine desire to help, or both, he or she ends up joining your business. Sometimes it works out, but often it doesn’t, says Jean Charles, a business coach and the author of Couplepreneurs: Prosperity Through Partnership.
“The reason your spouse wants to join your business is really important,” says Charles. “A bad reason is if they’ve lost their job and are desperate because they can’t find another one. If the business can’t support both of you, or it’s something that only you are interested in, then your spouse joining out of necessity is really a bad idea.”
What are good reasons? The business is growing fast enough to support both of you. You’re both committed to it. And you’re both interested in the work. If your business suddenly starts taking off, and your spouse has skills you need, there’s no reason a working relationship can’t work out – provided you follow a few rules:
- Pretend you’re not married – at least at the beginning. Whether you’re forming a partnership or one of you is clearly the boss, you want to treat this like any other work arrangement. It will help to have an organizational chart or other document that details each of your responsibilities. It will keep you from allowing yourselves – or each other – to slack off.
- Leave your work at the office. This is hard for any small business owner, but it’s particularly hard when you’re working with your spouse (or even another family member). “You need to have boundaries between your business and your home life. Some people don’t function well at night, and you don’t want to talk about business over the dinner table. (Others don’t want to start working until they get to the office – even if it’s a home office – in the morning.] So have regular business meetings during business hours to discuss business issues,” says Charles. And your bedroom? Make it a business-free zone.
- Make sure your relationship is stable. It almost goes without saying, but you’re probably not going to have a good working relationship if you don’t already have the foundation in a strong marriage. If your marriage is already rocky, working together could easily push it over the edge, so you – both – need to be really honest about where you stand. “You’re going to have conflicts, but you need to be at a place where you can exchange ideas and talk through any problems,” says Charles. If you’re not there yet, work on your personal relationship for now – the business side of things can wait.
- Take a backseat. This piece of advice is for the spouse who is joining the business. Trouble generally starts brewing when you come in and try to make changes, or criticize the work that was done prior to your involvement. That’s not to say you can’t make suggestions or improvements – that’s at least part of the reason while you’re there – but initially, sit back and take some time to really learn how things work before you start making changes.
- Make your relationship the priority. If things fail – and you should be realistic about the fact that they might – put your relationship first, even if it means that one of you has to break away and get a different job. And if you need a little impartial assistance, don’t be afraid to contact an outsider: a business coach, mediator or family therapist will do the trick.
Jean Chatzky, award-winning journalist and best-selling author, is the financial editor for NBC's "Today," a contributing editor for More magazine, and a columnist for The New York Daily News. She is the author of six books, including her newest, Money 911: Your Most Pressing Money Questions Answered, Your Money Emergencies Solved. Check out Jean's blog at JeanChatzky.com. You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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