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Opinion: How to fire a husband without filing for divorce

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Ah, the dream of running your own business. It’s great, until it turns into a nightmare.

Does this sound familiar: Mr. Plumber decides to go into business for himself. He is good at what he does, so he gets really busy. Certainly, he is too busy to do all the administrative work such as accounting, answering the phones, sending out invoices and paying bills. He needs help, but he’s not making enough money to hire a full-time bookkeeper or receptionist.

Guess who gets the job? His wife, Mrs. Plumber.

Who else would do all that complicated, loosely defined work? Only his wife would take a job that requires the diplomatic skills of Madeleine Albright, the financial finesse of Warren Buffet and the managerial skills of Jack Welsh. And only his wife would do the job for free!

Some couples manage to work together smoothly, offering each other the best of their complementary talents. Some of the best companies I know are family businesses.

Others create a living hell, for themselves and their shell-shocked employees. Some of the worst companies I know are family businesses.

Here’s some advice for business-owner spouses (or partners, significant others and other family members).

  • There can be only one boss. This is a toughie. At some point, you will come to an impasse, and one person must make the call. Decide now who it will be. Create a formal organizational chart with one person at the top.
  • Pay yourselves – both of you. Pay everyone who works at the company, including yourself and your spouse. Pay at least what that position is worth in the market. Once you start paying yourself, you can drop the “I’m doing you a favor by working here” resentments. Your spouse, and your employees, will be so relieved.
  • Write down who does what, when and how. Create written job descriptions, policies and procedures. You’ll get along better if you aren’t stepping on each other’s toes. Play to your strengths. Do what you do best, and write down how you do it.
  • Get profitable. When you are broke, your options are limited. Educate yourself on how to make money. Learn the basics of accounting and finance. Raise your prices, beef up your service and make more money.
  • Be kind. Try to talk through the tough issues, without arguing. Tell your husband what a great job he is doing, without expecting anything in return. You can’t control anyone’s behavior but your own, so aim for kindness.
  • You could step back. Really, do you want to work with your spouse? You could get your procedures documented and the organizational chart established. Then, you could step back without chaos breaking out all over. You could check the work of the person replacing you by reviewing the financials weekly in brief and monthly with a fine-tooth-comb. And that would take, maybe, a couple hours a month. If you have systems in place, you could earn yourself some freedom.

Ask yourself, “Do I really want to work with my spouse?” When you are ready to fire yourself, or him, these suggestions could help you transition out of the company. By paying everyone, you are budgeting in a salary for each employee. The money for a replacement is already there. The organizational chart job descriptions make it easier for a new person to come on board. And solid profits make everything a lot less stressful.

You might even decide that you can both stay.

Ellen Rohr is an author and business consultant who offers systems for getting focused and organized, making money and having fun in business. Her latest book is “The Bare Bones Biz Plan.” She can be reached at ellen@barebonesbiz.com.[[In-content Ad]]

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