How to Work With Your Spouse Without Getting Divorced
In Australia, an estimated one in seven small businesses fail each year and for those in the first year of operation the figure is even higher. Now, imagine what happens when you are married to your business partner, and how this starts to affect your chances of success? You would be right in thinking that the odds are stacked against you. Not only due to today's tough economic times, but with every third marriage predicted to end in divorce. So, is it possible for life partners to successfully run a business?
A new book entitled The Invisible Partnership: How to Work with Your Spouse Without Getting Divorced offers some freshly astute, unconventional guidance and advice on how to successfully work with your spouse - without getting divorced. What further sets The Invisible Partnership apart, is the fact it's penned by a couple who have walked that very minefield of working and living together.
Co-owners of a thriving Sydney based business consultancy, Quantum Dynamics, Louise Woodbury and William de Ora have been working with small to medium sized businesses for over 17 years. Having been married for 16 years, the couple drew upon their professional and first-hand experience to write The Invisible Partnership.
The Invisible Partnership uncovers and exposes the hidden issues that exist when life partners are also business partners, such as power plays, covert behaviours, anger, frustration, disappointments, every day numbness and silent grieving which has become the norm. Ranging from the deeply personal to the downright comical, the book touches on the very essence of what makes a partnership work and leads the reader through the practical, simple, and yet profound steps toward building a business together.
Approximately 80% of small businesses in Australia are run by husband and wife, or partner teams. With small businesses reportedly representing up to 96 per cent of all businesses in the country, it is clear there is a huge number of couples trying to navigate through the many unique trials and tribulations of working and living together.
Louise says, "Too often, life partners in business end up working with professional consultants who have no personal experience in working with their life partner or have never actually run their own business. This is a mistake we made ourselves in our early years and learnt it the hard way.
"For example, people are commonly advised to keep home and work life separate. From our perspective this doesn't work. You each end up suppressing your feelings, never resolving issues, like a volcano waiting to erupt, and this then becomes your "normal" way of operating.
"One of easiest traps to fall into is wrongly believing that the rules for marriage will work for the business, and vice versa. Most life partners get this mixed up. Something else life partners working together should keep in mind is that the "seven year reality check" often becomes a three year reality check, simply because of the amount of time spent together, it's a 24/7, joined-at-the-hip relationship."
Earlier this year, Louise and William commissioned/conducted a survey on 100 Australian couples who work together, which showed that the number one place for discussing business was in the car either going to or coming home from work (82% of respondents). The research also identified meal times as the next most popular place for these discussions (71%), and over half said they held these during their holidays. Even the bedroom isn't sacred, with over one third admitting they allowed business talks to happen while they were in bed.
In their professional coaching capacity, Louise and William say they too often see highly competent, intelligent women who have joined their husband's business but aren't working to their strengths. Instead they are expected to be anything from the glorified secretary to the '"Jill of All Trades".
William says, "In this situation, not only does the working relationship suffer, but so too does the success of the business. It can only lead to frustration and resentment.
"The philosophy of The Invisible Partnership is that when couples work together in their own business, they both should have equal leadership and responsibility - with no compromise or domination by either party. Through writing this, we hope to assist both men and women to take their rightful place in the world of business with their life partners."
The Invisible Partnership aims to help couples uncover and tackle those blind spots and unspoken issues, ultimately enabling two people to work together and still love each other every day- without having to compromise.
The Invisible Partnership can also ordered online at: www.InvisiblePartnership.com
Louise Woodbury is an international keynote speaker and one of Australia's most in-demand business coaches because of her ability to turn businesses around and create astonishing successes - often out of stale or struggling operations.
With over 20 years' experience as a businesswoman, Louise offers a dynamic combination of skills. Louise's analytical expertise enables her to hone in on the key problems areas of any business and she draws on her astute people skills to identify the true motivators and drivers within business owners and their staff.
For many years, Louise worked with clinical psychologists to gain insights into how entrepreneurs respond to various environments and driving factors in business and life. It's an area of study that few consultants delve into but it's at the core of Louise's way of working.
William de Ora William de Ora has 23 years' experience working in creative, strategic and research roles with Australia's leading advertising agencies. William has worked in almost every major product, service, government and business category.
Born in Sri Lanka, William spent his early years raised among Buddhist monks. During his early teens William's family moved to the UK where he later studied graphic design before moving to Australia.
This unique blend of Eastern philosophy and Western commercialism makes William's thinking different to that of many consultants. In working with owners of small businesses, William brings solutions that tap into the potential which lies dormant within them and helps them explore possibilities beyond their radar.
The Invisible Partnership
Authors: Louise Woodbury and William de Ora
Question: What made you decide to write The Invisible Partnership?
Louise Woodbury: I think the biggest reason is that, this week we celebrate 16 years of marriage and we have been operating together for 16 years in business and life. What we feel is that we have a message that is pretty important to go out to the marketplace; that it is actually possible to work with your spouse in business, but to have you both operate as equals as opposed to one being the lesser person or background person. We are on a mission to support couples in business and live life powerfully.
Question: What wrong advice nearly lead you both to divorce?
Louise Woodbury: What we know now is that for couples in business if they follow the traditional consulting theories such as there should only be one leader, fundamentally the male is the hunter and the woman is the nurturer, they are out of alignment in what is really quite natural for a couple in business to operate. We are going back 15 years now in that kind of analogy but at the time we didn't realise that we should have been consulting with someone who was in business with their spouse.
Also there is 14 years ago difference between William and I, it's not like we were two 30 year olds bumping up against each other; William was 44 and I was 31, when we met. Williams's career was in a totally different dimension to mine. The advice was not right or wrong but they were heading down a traditional business path, which was not sitting with us and created far more conflict than it needed to.
Question: Where you surprised at the results of a survey you conducted on 100 Australian couples? If so, what surprised you?
Louise Woodbury: What the survey confirmed is that the majority of couples working together fall into business together; there is no business plan or risk assessment, it simply is driven by a crisis in the business. For example; the husband has started the business and it starts to expand and he isn't coping so his wife suddenly finds herself working in the business and then as a couple they wake up one day, five years on, and wonder 'how did that happen?'. Equally the female entrepreneur has started the business and she sees the strengths her husband has in either his corporate job or in life and certainly thinks 'I take the business to the next level, I really need some of that' and then the husband is brought into the business and equally wakes up and asks 'how did that happen?'.
What the survey confirmed for us is that there is no true planning that goes on; equally there is no risk management.
There is a lot at stake when couples are deciding to work together because if the business relationship does not work out, what do you do? Do you throw away just the business or business and marriage? It is such a fine line of implications on their marriage, business let alone their life.
Question: Can you please share with us the Top Ten Tips from the book?
Louise Woodbury: 1.Find a business you both are passionate about: Find a business you both are passionate about. If you are going through the motions at work, it will definitely have a negative overflow into your home life. If you are working in a business that you are doing just to make money, then build it and sell it so that you can do something you both love.
2.Set aside business-freetime: Try to keep family time separate from business. Nothing kills romance like a financial meeting in the bedroom. We encourage our clients not to create a demarcation point between business and home, but there is a time and a place for everything. Take regular breaks outside the work environment to relax and have fun together.
3.Communicate: All successful relationships require good communication skills. Working together requires that you are honest and forthcoming about issues relevant to your spouse. We call this being transparent with each other.
4.Discover individual strengths and weaknesses: Discuss how your strengths complement one another and contribute to the common goal of the business. This is helpful in defining business roles and working independently. This is for all those super heroes - you don't have to prove that you are good at every thing. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness.
5.Remain objective: Try to avoid double standards, hold each other to the same level of accountability you would do with any other co-worker.
6.Clear the air: If you're having an issue, raise it with your spouse. Sometimes trying to 'keep the peace' leads to bigger problems in the long term. A good argument is sometimes the best remedy. Especially when you are making up with each other. It's like falling in love again.
7.Don't make it a competition: Remember, you each have areas of expertise. By valuing each others strengths and talents, business successes will be celebrated together.
8.Don't fight in public: If you have an issue or concern, raise it with your partner in private. Public tiffs are unprofessional and can alienate your team. 9.Have separate interests outside work: For some couples working together in their own business it's important that they don't do absolutely everything together. Therefore, if this is important to you, then develop outside interests and friendships, this will nurture independence and provide non-business related conversation topics. Conversely, if you want to do everything together, and then be outrageous, do something that's daring for a change. For example, if you are a couple who are not into dancing, then why not enroll in learning to dance - learn the tango or jazz ballet!
10.Keep things in perspective: At the end of the day, your relationship with your spouse is more important than a business decision, so remember your priorities. And, have fun!
Question: Overall is it easy to work together in a partnership when you are husband and wife?
Louise Woodbury: It is, when you know how to put the foundations in place. Effectively what we work with, with couples in business is ultimately discovering individual strengths and discovering weaknesses of each party and that is what William and I needed to work on. Instead of bump up against each others weaknesses or have high expectation of what we should be doing in the day-to-day running of the business we really needed to work at what we are good at. Obviously you go into your own businesses as entrepreneurs to be in control and make your own decisions, equally you can default into a trap of being buried alive and being pulled in all different directions. One of the key criteria's or tips that we emphasize is people have got to know what they are naturally or innately competent at.
Sometimes there are unrealistic expectations, if you are employing someone there is a limit to what you can request from them and it is the same when you are working with your life partner; it is important to identify this. It's not necessarily that the male needs to be in sales or the people side of it and the female is in the backroom. More times than not, in the last 17 years, William and I have request that the female be the front of the business; simply because they poses the skills, meaning that their relationship building skills are extremely powerful. There is no stereotype in business that the male is the hero in the business and the woman is the one that holds it and cleans it.
In my early days, in being married and in business with William, I am very responsible so William would have an idea a minute and I thought that it was my job to execute all of those ideas, until I couldn't keep up with that and I became resentful and overwhelmed. To solve this we created an ideas wall and I said "If you have an idea, put it on a post-it note, put it on the wall and if it stays on the wall long enough, I'll do something about it. If it falls off, I'm not going to worry about it." The great thing about post-it notes is that they don't actually stay up; they are not that sticky (laughing).
It is important to harness the individuals strengths of both parties is the number one success factor.
Question: What tips do you have for female entrepreneurs?
Louise Woodbury: Depending on the quality and I know it sounds general but when the female entrepreneur has the business idea often the husband doesn't often take it that serious, they see it as a 'part-time thing' and part of our role, as educators, is to allow the female to be taken seriously, in there idea. Quite often it is the female entrepreneur that has very successful businesses because inheritably women are driven to succeed but they take a steady approach. Ultimately being confident and brave enough to request the respect and value the differences that a couple brings to their relationship and their business. It is important to understand the levels of support that you can receive from your spouse.
There are a lot of people out there that can have a richer experience in their business and there partnership. Even if the spouse, either way male or female, isn't in the business, what we also know to be true is that they may not be physically in the day-to-day but they are still involved with the business. Both people are involved in the business even if one is not showing up everyday; they're a part of it.
I think that the Global Finance Crisis (GFC) brought out fabulous opportunities for couples to make a decision and answer these questions:
What are we going to do differently?
How are we going to go about this differently?
How are we going to progress?
It is highly likely that a whole lot of partners are saying 'we can't rely on our corporate jobs so let's combine our skills and talents and go into business'. There are many options from marketing to taking on a franchise or a home based business.
In the beginning there is always a honeymoon period and because the couple is so excited about the possibility the whole business works and attracts the right clients and there is never an issue in the first twelve months or two years. It is when the business becomes a little bit routine or the novelty begins to wear off and real things arise and you need to questions:
Do you have powerful communication skills?
Do you talk about the tough issues?
Or, do you realise there is an elephant in the living room that you are avoiding.
With the GFC we have certainly seen with our clients that it is fundamentally the level of issues and the level of opportunity has been magnified because everyone has had a reality check in business. Everyone has to come back to basics and ask:
What are we doing?
Why are we doing it?
What is my contribution to this business?
What resources do we need?
It is very healthy for couples to be comfortable in their marriage and in their business even if they have been in business for 20 years but then one day they wake up and ask 'maybe this isn't what I am up for, for the next five years'. We don't just work with startup business, by any means, but with established businesses. Together, we realign them and suggest that they take it on a new level, with some different eyes.
The book is tailored, because of our niche, towards small business partners however, what I know to be true is that the information there is for anyone in a relationship because your marriage is like a business in itself; a marriage needs agreements, communications and success.
Interview by Brooke Hunter