starting a family business
More and more stay-at-home moms seem to be starting their own businesses these days, right from the kitchen table on a shoestring budget. The good news… many of them are succeeding at it. But what happens when the business begins to flourish before she’s ready to hire help?
In many cases, the first person asked to help is the spouse – free labor, after all. When creating a business from scratch, one becomes the CEO of everything; from accounting to marketing, sales and shipping. Oftentimes that’s where the spouse comes in, happy to help and get things off the ground. But the pressures of an entrepreneurial lifestyle can take its toll on a family (AKA quickly turn ugly) if you don’t pay attention to a few key factors when moving from personal into professional.
Meg Hirshberg, columnist at Inc. magazine and wife of of Gary Hirshberg, founder of Stonyfield Farm Yogurt, discovered that as she suffered through nine long years before Stonyfield finally became profitable. While the company is now the world’s largest organic yogurt company, Meg shares her “humble beginnings” in her new book, For Better Or For Work, A Survival Guide for Entrepreneurs & Their Families. When asked about the biggest challenge supporting her entrepreneur husband all these years, Meg once said that the five scariest words to come out of Gary’s mouth are “I have another great idea,” something that terrified her, even while it led them down a life path of financial freedom and flexibility.
Any success requires a strong relationship and even stronger plan. Here are my tips for mixing business with pleasure.
Respect the fact that your spouse has another job (if that’s the case) and that all of his/her free time doesn’t belong to this volunteer position.
Talk about how each of you sees this business fitting into the family dynamic. Is this something that you want to build into a real family business that your spouse will ultimately join full time or is it more of a “lifestyle” business that can eventually be run by just you and an assistant?
Divide responsibilities, giving each of you your own “departments” to oversee. This cuts down on the nagging – on both ends. Divide tasks according to each of your strengths. Typically, the person who enjoys handling sales, marketing and people-oriented duties often doesn’t share the same interest in accounting and shipping logistics. The “divide & conquer” strategy creates autonomy and accountability.
Understand the goals and needs of your new business partner and discuss regularly so you both feel you are working with and not for the other person. You are both on the same team, so while someone will take the lead in organizing and delegating, both of you should agree to let go of ego and happily do all tasks, (many of which may feel menial and tedious) but it’s all part of building a solid foundation for the business.
Set boundaries that work for you both. Maybe your spouse wants a break during downtime or family time. When you're starting a venture and it's all consuming, boundaries need to be established. And be sure to take time to enjoy each other away from the constant talk of business.
Schedule time on Sunday or Monday to review the previous week and prioritize goals for the coming week, communicating your individual goals and time frame. Discuss both short and long term goals and plan weekly or monthly rewards. Celebrating the little milestones and showing your spouse appreciation for the support is key to a harmonious relationship.
Finally, the most important thing is to keep those lines of communication open. Never lose sight of the big picture and the goals that you’ve set together. If done well, the journey can bring a deeper level of appreciation to your relationship when you have shared the challenge of building a business that contributes to the greater good of your family.