Working With Your Family

by Greg Nathan, Managing Director,
Franchise Relationships Institute

When Home and Work Become One

The blurring of home and work activities continues to be on the increase for many families. As I understand it, there are three main reasons for this.

Firstly, to keep up with the costs of living in a consumer society, double income families are now clearly the majority. In other words, in most two-parent families, mum and dad both work to bring in enough money to support the family’s lifestyle. Which means less time and energy is available to devote to the family’s needs.

Secondly advances in technology means anyone with a mobile phone or email address is a target anywhere and anytime for customers, staff, supervisors, suppliers or anyone else who wants to have a yap with you. Mobiles don’t discriminate so if you leave it on you’re fair game at anytime. Too bad if you are shopping, fishing, watching a football match, walking with your family, eating your lunch or sleeping (particularly a problem with international contacts).

Thirdly, the ongoing decline in job security (due to economic factors) means that an increasing number of people are either deciding to do their own thing by setting themselves up in a small business or are becoming contractors, working for several companies. This often results in the family home also becoming a base for work related activities.

Predicting Success

In my experience, most people today get good advice on the financial and legal issues associated with running a small business. However, business is a lot more than just managing finances and legal contracts. As I explain in my book, “Profitable Partnerships”, it is more often than not the human issues that make the difference between success and failure.

For instance, how motivated we are to keep going in the face of adversity, how good we are at getting on with other people (especially those who get under our skin), and how creative we are in coming up with fresh ideas.

So if you want to predict the success or failure of a business, one area that is particularly important, but is often overlooked is family support. Even when only one member of a family is directly involved in the business, support from the rest of the family is still critical.

Competing for Attention

A new business can in some ways be like having a new member in the family, competing for care and attention. It is possible that the family members not directly involved in the business might feel neglected and become jealous that the business is stealing their partner or parent from them. Children for instance can feel angry that their mum or dad is not as available as they used to be. On the other hand, if members of the family are tolerant of the care and attention the business requires, especially in the early stages, it can make a big difference to the fledgling business fulfilling its potential.

In addition to the commitment, time, energy involved in building a business there are the financial risks and sacrifices. For instance, money may initially need to be diverted from the family into the business and the family home mortgaged.

If the rest of the family are not supportive or become resentful it is unlikely that the person responsible for the business will be able to sustain the enthusiasm and commitment necessary for success. It will also not be long before this “work-family conflict” starts to become a serious barrier, not only to business success, but also to the health and happiness of the family unit.

Problems in the Family

Studies have shown that factors that make this work-family conflict worse include the following:

  • Where one partner is involved in working unusual hours and thus becomes isolated from normal social activities.
  • Extended regular periods away from home can leave the absent person on the periphery of the family while other family members might feel abandoned and angry.
  • Enterprising women tend to feel more dissatisfaction than men with the lack of time they have available for family activities. The more children they have, the greater their dissatisfaction.
  • The stress and long hours involved in running a business can lead to a lack of energy to participate in family activities during time off, which is usually needed to sleep and recharge the batteries.

Other problems in the family such as impending divorce or serious school or behaviour problems with children can also become potential barriers to business success because of the time they consume and the negative impact they can have on a person’s energy and focus.

Enterprising Couples

Where a couple are both involved in a business, the risk of work family conflict can actually be greater. But so are the opportunities.

In summarising the extensive research in this area Dr Don Edgar, Ex-Director, Australian Institute of Family Studies, says, “Being married acts as an inoculation to many of the major physical and mental problems that beset the human race. What stands out from the research is that quality of life is best predicted by one’s relationship with a partner.”

In other words, working in a business with your partner not only provides you with an enhanced opportunity for success, it also potentially enables you to further enjoy the benefits that come from a positive supportive relationship.

However, no one said it is easy. Being in business together raises a number of issues that require careful consideration.

Tips for Living and Working Together

Being in business with your partner raises a number of exciting challenges. Although some of these will be different for different couples, research shows that many of the stresses on working relationships come from a remarkably similar number of issues. Here are some tips and questions to discuss with your partner in a number of important areas.

  1. Risk. How much financial risk are you both comfortable with? Talk about the possibility that the business could fail and what this would mean for your family and your lifestyle.
  2. Financial goals. How much money do you need to pull from the business to support your desired lifestyle? What sales do you need to generate to enable you to do this?
  3. Vision. What is your vision of how you want your business and your family to function, including the goals you wish to achieve in both areas? These should embrace your most cherished values and be written down.
  4. Hours. How many hours are you each prepared to put into the business and what sacrifices are you not prepared to make? Also consider how the household chores will be attended to.
  5. Children. How might the business impact on your children and what can you do to ensure their needs are being met? If you don’t put aside time to do the things your kids want to do you cannot realistically expect them to support you.
  6. Authority. Consider your strengths and areas of expertise. Who will have the final say on what issues and who ultimately is the boss? Also ensure there are rules and systems in place to guide how money will be spent.
  7. Evaluation and adjustment. Things seldom go exactly to plan, so flexibility is vital. What process will you use regularly evaluate how things are progressing and the changes needed to accommodate emerging needs?
  8. Tolerance. Working and living together is likely to magnify you strengths and weaknesses. What quirks do you each have that may get on each other nerves and are you prepared to really accept these?
  9. Support. You will need to cover for each other when one of you is under a lot of pressure and back each other up “for better or worse”.
  10. Care. Don’t take your relationship for granted, even when business is absorbing a lot of your time and attention. Remind yourself, “It is good for our business, as well as our marriage, to take good care of each other”.
  11. Conflict. Don’t let things fester and don’t push too hard to get your own way if you know it will create resentment. Where there are long standing or serious difficulties, seek outside support.
  12. Fun. Keep your sense of humour and make time to have some fun in the business.
  13. Well Being. What can you both do to maintain your health and well being in face of pressure? Build a relaxation and personal health program into your daily schedule.
  14. Outside support. Encourage your extended family to take a positive interest in what you are doing and seek friends who are supportive of your business venture.


There is no substitute for talking through these and other associated issues in an open and honest way. From these discussions you are also likely to experience and enhanced sense of trust and interdependency which can only contribute further to your relationship and your business.

The message is clear. Don’t underestimate the impact of family issues on business success.

Another useful article on this topic by Greg, “Building a Winner: How to Make a Family Partnership Work”, was featured in the January 2001 issue of Franchising Magazine. (See for magazine details).

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