Working with your spouse—who’s the boss?

By Beth Caron

Who’s the boss when there are two bosses in a business? That’s a question every franchise partnership has to answer. But it’s especially important when the partners are also spouses. Just ask Great Clips franchisees Don and Laura Elliott.

“I’d say to Laura, ‘Are you running the place or am I running it?” said Don. “If you want to make some of the decisions but not all of them, that’s not going to work!”

“Don would say to me ‘Either you’re going to do it or not do it, but you can’t have it both ways,’” Laura says. “Working with your spouse can be challenging. What works best for us is most of the stuff comes from Don and I support him.”

The Elliotts, who own 20 Great Clips salons in the Knoxville, Tennessee market and four in Asheville, North Carolina, sum up their business partnership success with three key points:

  • Establish each person’s role in the partnership
  • Be respectful of each other’s roles
  • Treat each other like business partners

That issue of “boss-ship” (not to say bossiness!) is key. Every article and post I have read on the subject of working with your spouse stressed the importance of figuring out who does what in the family business, assigning duties and then sticking to that decision.

It’s also crucial to let your employees know who is responsible for what. This was a point made in an Inc. magazine article, How to Work With Your Spouse—and Keep Your Marriage Intact.

“You don’t want [an employee] coming to ask me something and then I tell them 'no' so then they run and ask Randy to try to get a 'yes,'" Angie Stocklin, co-owner with her husband of an on-line eyewear company, told Inc.

I came across a whole book about how family dynamics can spill into your business.

“The most intractable family business issues are not the business problems the organization faces, but the emotional issues that compound them,” say the authors of Family Business on the Couch. “Many years of achievement through generations can be destroyed by the next, if the family fails to address the psychological issues they face.”

When working with prospective franchisees, Great Clips franchisee development managers advise that both spouses get involved in making the decision, even if only one of spouses is going to be a partner. That advice is supported by Joel Libava, author of Become a Franchise Owner, in a Small Business Administration blog post.

“My clients have included high-powered ex-CEO’s, and ex-Wall Street executives—people who are used to being in charge and getting their own way. Some of them, after hearing my ‘involve members of your family-especially spouses or significant others early’ suggestion, have told me in no uncertain terms: ‘I don’t need to talk to them about this. I’m the one who makes the decisions in my house.’”

“Really?” asks Libava. “Major decisions are usually family decisions…. You’ve been warned.”

Duly noted! And it’s something that the Elliotts clearly would agree with.

“There aren’t any major decisions that we don’t work out together,” says Don. “I don’t make a decision unilaterally. I consult Laura and our salon managers and then make the best business decision.”

Many Great Clips franchise businesses are owned and managed by spouses. In a future post, I’ll introduce you to Debbie and Ken Tillery who have some tips for deciding which responsibilities belong to which partner.

Do you run a business with a family member? Make a comment below about how you manage that sometimes-tricky relationship.

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