Behind great family businesses are great relationships. So what’s the secret to running a successful business together … at home and at work?
By Katrina Fox
We asked for some sage wisdom from family-run businesses where the co-owners also happily cohabitate. Here’s what they reckon is important when you’re running a successful business together and staying strong as a couple.
1. Be open, honest and trustworthy
These traits are important in any relationship, and they must extend to the business partnership too.
Grant and Tasha Stewart own and operate a real estate business, Province Property, in Perth, Western Australia. They entered their marriage with an understanding that they didn’t like things to be hidden.
“While we’re relaxed with each other with trust issues, we have rules in place where we don’t have secret phone or email accounts and everything is open to scrutiny at any time by the other partner,” Grant told Kochie’s Business Builders.
Stephen Sumner and his wife Joanne Buttigieg, owners of plant-based cake and dessert company The Compassionate Kitchen in Melbourne – and 2020 winners of Kochie’s Business Builder’s Australia’s Favourite Family Business competition– take a similar approach.
“We’re very open and flexible,” says Stephen. “We have all our mobile devices synched and we share the same business email and calendar.”
2. Share the responsibilities according to your strengths
Both partners in a business trying to do exactly the same tasks is likely to be a recipe for disaster. Instead, figure out what each of your strengths and skills are and divide up the responsibilities.
Chef Brad Anderson, who runs vegan restaurant Noo Moo Foods in Melbourne’s Heidelberg West, says his wife Lorraine has brought strengths to the business that he didn’t have.
“Lorraine’s more of the brains behind the business – she’s the one that sort of reins me in,” Brad laughs.
In all seriousness though, Brad has the expertise of more than 30 years cooking for famous faces like AC/DC, P!nk and Tom Cruise, which meshes perfectly with Lorraine’s background as a hairdresser who “enjoys hospitality and is really good with customer service”.
At The Compassionate Kitchen, Stephen does the photography, social media posts and web content, as well as running the production and managing stock and dispatch, while Joanne does the cake decorating, R&D and new designs, marketing ideas and customer service.
“We have a really good understanding of each other’s strengths and we allow each other to fulfil different areas of the business,” says Stephen.
Grant and Tasha at Province Property take a similar approach, with Grant typically taking on front-end duties such as initial client meetings, leasing or selling the properties, and then passing the process management on to Tasha.
“We play to our strengths, and where we might both have an equal level of ability in a particular skill, we usually leave the task to the one who is more aligned in that area,” says Grant.
3. Communicate ‘without an approach of superiority’
“It’s important that both parties communicate without one or the other taking an approach of superiority,” says Grant. “Respect for the other partner is critical, as well as backing each other up and stepping in where the other partner is struggling.”
Having solid decision-making systems in place also helps to avoid arguments escalating.
Stephen and Joanne make all decisions together. “We discuss everything in a practical and formal way and make the best decision for the business,” says Stephen. “Disagreements occur and require discussion until either a compromise or an agreement is reached.”
4. Reduce financial stress and go with (cash) flow
Grant admits he and Tasha didn’t manage their budget or cash flow well early on in the business. “As time went by we developed a better degree of responsibility to manage our funds,” he says.
Stephen recommends getting a good accountant and staying on top of your bookkeeping from the start: “Things can very quickly get out of hand and unpaid bills accumulate. This can put a huge strain on your relationship.”
For Brad and Lorraine of Noo Moo Foods, not even COVID-19 could stop them from making a major investment in another business: The Hemp Soft Serve Company.
When they needed funding to cover the costs of their packaging, the pair faced a setback when a small business loan with a bank didn’t go through as expected. Brad applied for a Prospa Business Line of Credit, which provides ongoing access to funds to cover cash flow gaps when they arise.
“That Line of Credit put me back in the game – we weren’t too sure what direction the business was going to go in,” Brad says. “But now we’re expanding and we’re having a punt – hopefully it’s all going to work.”
So far, so good. The couple are now able to grow the wholesale side of their business, and their take-home packs of hemp ice cream have provided Melburnians under restrictions a welcome dose of delicious goodness when they’ve needed it most.
5. Don’t forget to allocate ‘family time’
For Stephen and Joanne, their biggest challenge is working their production schedule around one of them being able to drop their four kids at school and childcare and picking them up.
“We can often work from 5am up to midnight with a ‘shift change’ at about 2.30pm,” explains Stephen. “I’ll get in early and bake all the products and Joanne comes in and decorates and finishes all the cakes. It’s challenging juggling a family and a business as we feel our days never end.
“We try to not discuss too much business when we get home and when we’re with the kids until they’re in bed. That’s the goal but of course we often slip up. We try to have dedicated ‘down time’ of all devices so we can bond with our kids.”
This article originally appeared on Kochie’s Business Builders.