Small Biz Advice: Conflict Resolution for Working Couples


holly-photo-280x290Holly Howard runs Ask Holly How, a small business consulting company based out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn that works with a wide variety of businesses from restaurants to retail to art studios and pretty much everything in between. Her clients report increased income and profit, decreased expenses and a significantly better quality of life. Holly heads up the Small Business Book Club at McNally Jackson Books.

Want valuable insight into how to grow your business?  Holly hosts FREE 30 minute strategy sessions at The Yard in Williamsburg.  Email her to set up a time or to ask a question for the next Ask Holly How.

Dear Holly,

My wife and I run a business together, and let me just say that it has not been easy. When we first began, it was clear that I was in charge of product development and she was managing the business side. However, over the years, the lines have blurred, and I feel like we are constantly crossing over into each other’s territory. We fight a lot about the way things should be done and who should do them. I know it’s impacting our bottom line because we can’t get anything done in a timely fashion at this point. I’m pretty sure our employees feel the strain of this situation as well.

Do you have any advice for couples who run a business together? I’m sure we need to make some major changes. I just don’t even know where to begin.


Strained Spouse


Dear Strained,

Running a business is hard enough, but working side by side with your spouse is probably one of the most challenging things you can do.  This is a common problem that working couples have, and there is a solution.

First, make sure you are both expressing yourselves in a respectful way. Just because you’re engaged in a personal relationship doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t maintain a professional means of communicating. When we work with a spouse, we tend to blur the lines of what’s personal and what’s professional. Make sure you speak to each other, and treat each other, with the same respect you use towards another colleague.

Second, keep work at work, and keep the personal issues at the door. It’s vital that you set these boundaries. I know a lot of business owners say that it’s too hard not to discuss work at home and vice versa. As Chris Rock said, “Just don’t do it.” Each of you must accept the responsibility to set and keep those boundaries. If you choose not to, nothing will change.

Third, clearly write out your roles and responsibilities and stay accountable. You mentioned that when you started your business, you were each clear on what your responsibilities were. But, as the years have gone by, it’s much more blurry. You each need a clear and up to date job description. Again, a lot of owners don’t think they need to clearly delineate their and their partner’s responsibilities so they skip this step. This is a huge mistake! Each of  you should sit down and write out what you think your responsibilities should be, and then bring them together. My feeling is that you’ll have a lot to discuss and clarify.  Don’t end the conversation until you have delegated all the tasks between the two of you and nothing overlaps.

Finally, make sure to keep balance in your relationship. Don’t neglect the personal side of your relationship once you start working together. See this not only as a priority for your relationship, but for your business as well. You’re business will function better if you two function better as a couple. Make sure that you’re carving out time to do things outside of the business together that you both enjoy.

Good luck. The solution is quite simple, but it’s not always an easy topic to broach. I work with a lot of owners who fear confronting this issue at first. It can be done, and if you change this situation, you will see the success you desire.



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