|A lot of optical businesses are like ours –a husband and wife effort. Just because you have a successful marriage, though, doesn't mean you'll succeed in business together. In fact, there are certain things you need to consider in order to have the best of both worlds –a successful practice and a successful marriage.|
We think we've been successful at both. Success, though, is always a journey. Here's what we've learned along the way that might help you do the same.
If you're just starting a practice, it helps financially to have a spouse involved if you have similar goals and values. In our case, we both focus on growing the business and not fixating on maximizing short-term income. When your financial incentives are aligned, you both can scrimp and save together. Making payroll is completely different when spouses are involved. You're both focused on the long-term success of the business, not the week-to-week paycheck.
The same alignment of financial interests also holds sway should you decide to expand your practice by remodeling, buying a building, adding parking, or taking on more staff—you are building your family's assets through the business.
When operating a husband-and-wife business, a spouse is considered an employee if there is an employer-employee type of relationship. That means that one spouse substantially controls the business in terms of management decisions and the other spouse is under the direction and control of the first spouse.
If such a relationship exists, then the second spouse is an employee subject to income tax and FICA withholding. The employer spouse must pay the Social Security and Medicare, but not unemployment taxes.
When considering working together –either as doctors, doctor and optician, which is our case, or doctor or optician and business manager—recognize that marital bliss doesn't automatically translate into a successful business relationship. For example, if you co-operate and collaborate on the domestic front, you'll probably carry that pattern into your worklife. On the other hand, if you don't see eye-to-eye about domestic chores, working together in business might be a risky proposition.
Even if you do work well together, some disagreements are inevitable. Handling differences of opinion with respect and calm is particularly relevant when staff or customers are on the premises. Heated exchanges, which may work over the dinner table, can destroy the work environment. It’s very important to remember that there can only be one boss. You and your spouse need to be clear about this.
When one of you is supervising the other and reviewing the other's work, it's critical to be respectful when giving or receiving constructive criticism. However, you can't overlook a spouse's mistakes or failings.. Preferential treatment can lead to staff resentment. That can hurt staff morale, which is always the key to success in a small business.
Some other benefits of working together are:
- Being on the same schedule.
- Traveling together to conferences, workshops, eye mission trips, which can be a write-off for both of us if it is eye related.
- Taking care of "both sides of the exam door" means agreeing on what the highest quality of service is in a personal and caring atmosphere.
- Alleviating stress for each other by diffusing difficult situations and controlling how our days unfold. We work at making sure we control our schedule and that it doesn’t control us.
- People love to see we are a partnership business – a mom-and-pop shop, so to speak. It seems to give our patients comfort and confidence.
Remember to separate your business and your personal life. As husband and wife, a big benefit is that there are many times you wish to discuss business issues at home. But if you have a bad day at the office, leave it there. Don't take it home with you. You need to create psychological space apart from your business. That may be easier said than done. However, practice re-affirming the wisdom of that maxim to each other and it will become a way of life for you.
When spouses work well together, a family business can be extraordinarily satisfying.
Dee Paulsen and Eric Paulsen, O.D., operate Door County Eye Associates, in Sturgeon Bay, WI. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org with comments and/or suggestions for future topics.