Every entrepreneur should expect a roller coaster ride when running his or her company. Unfortunately, the unsuspecting spouse (or significant other) doesn't really understand what he or she has signed up for.
If you're ready to ride that roller coaster, then for better or worse you're taking your spouse along for the ride. They are seated next to you, but they're turned around backward and blindfolded. It can be very disorienting for your spouse, and you may think to make them a bit more comfortable you should tell them everything. But that's not necessarily true: You need to be very strategic about what you share and how you share it.
When I ran my own business, my wife used to say six words that ran chills down my spine: “So honey, how was your day?” I didn't want to relive the ups and downs that happened that day—if I shared too many ups, she had a skewed picture of how business was, and the downs just made her worry and ask questions. Here are the seven things I shared with my wife, and what I wish I had shared instead:
1. The company is having cash flow issues. This is a perennial problem for most entrepreneurs. Sometimes, you're “cash rich,” and many times you're “cash poor.” This could depend on a number of factors, and fluctuate from month to month.
What to tell your spouse instead: Don’t give your spouse a daily cash report, since it's always changing. Instead say, “Money will be tight for the rest of the year.” You will be right most of the time
2. I can’t meet payroll. While this is related to cash flow, it is even more serious because it involves other people’s lives. Your spouse may have met the employees that you now need to fire.
What to tell your spouse instead: [After the fact] “It was very difficult to let [employee name] go.” Do not let emotions go into a firing decision.
3. My bookkeeper just left. This can have a big effect on the company, since the bookkeeper is such an important part of reporting information to you.
What to tell your spouse instead: “I may need a new person to do the bookkeeping at the company. Do you know anyone?” Or better yet, just ask your accountant to help find a replacement.
4. I have no idea how to read a financial statement. Be smart and be quiet. While your spouse may not know what a financial statement is either, you may scare her with your incompetence.
What to tell your spouse instead: "Financial statements aren't my area of expertise; thank goodness my accountant is really helping me out with them." She'll appreciate that you're able to acknowledge your weaknesses, and get help when you need it.
5. My largest investor is pulling out. This could spell disaster for the future growth of the company. It could be a big blow; but in reality, you have no idea what will happen next.
What to tell your spouse instead: Don’t say anything, and work privately to learn to project your cash flow better so you can survive the bumps in the road.
6. I am taking $X out of the business. Your spouse will be surprised by how little or how much compensation you are able to take out of the company. The reason not to say anything is that this can change on a monthly basis.
What to tell your spouse instead: “On average, I am able to take out $X monthly (pick a low number) out of the company.”
7. I have a buyer for the company. While this is great news that you may want to share, many deals fall through.
What to tell your spouse instead: If you do tell her about any pending deals, make sure she understands that nothing is set in stone until the money is in the bank. Also, don't give her the dollar details; when the deal closes and the money is in the bank you can say: “Honey, what can we do with an extra $100 million?”
While I never suggest lying to your spouse, the details of running a small business always change. You have to deal with it, but why should your spouse?
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