Is investing in a franchise with your husband, wife or partner a formula for a successful working relationship or a recipe for disaster? Lynne Lister, managing director of X-Press Legal Services, offers some expert advice
If you are thinking about buying a franchise, you’ve probably also considered the daunting prospect of being solely responsible for developing the new enterprise while dealing with routine daily tasks.
Sharing the load with your husband, wife or partner could be the solution. This is usually very successful and many couples say that their relationships are greatly enhanced by being together all the time - and there are thousands of examples of successful couples working together in franchising.
Many people say that they get on better and are much happier the more time they spend with each other. Making plans, sharing ideas and making decisions are very positive aspects of having your own business. Channelling effort and energy into a joint venture is very motivating, particularly once you begin to achieve growth and success.
But just like any working arrangement, there are pros and cons. Being together around the clock isn’t right for everyone. There are people who jealously guard their independence, can’t compromise, won’t share and who would find it impossible to work with someone else as an equal.
It seems that the most successful franchising couples are those who have established ground rules right from the start and stick to them. I would say the most important ones are:
* Be very clear from the outset what your aims are - personal as well as business.
* Stick with the plan and don’t deviate.
* Make joint decisions.
* Share the responsibilities 50:50.
* Recognise - and maximise - each other’s strengths and areas of expertise for maximum efficiency.
* Keep work and home separate.
* Make time to spend with your family and don’t talk shop at family times.
For some a big advantage of working together is improved communication. One franchisee says: “Because you’re both involved and know what’s going on, you don’t have to explain everything you’re doing. It’s amazing how much time that saves.”
Having your own business offers great flexibility, which is a boon to couples with children or other domestic commitments. They can discuss priorities and divide up the day to meet the demands of both business and family. This applies equally if the business is home or premises-based.
That isn’t to say people should think running a franchise will enable them to have a part-time business to fit in round the children and their needs. While childcare is important, it is not paramount and must never interfere with providing excellent customer service. Quality of service should never be compromised.
For those whose franchise is premisesbased, travelling time offers an ideal opportunity to think about the business. “Our drive to town gives a window in our hectic day for thinking, discussion and planning,” says one couple.
Some people think they would hate working with their partner and are very resistant to the idea. To quote one woman: “I’d always said to my husband, I would hate working with you. I can’t think of anything worse. Then when it came to it and we decided to buy a franchise, I realised how wrong I had been. We love working together.”
Recognising each other’s strengths and areas of expertise is important. It enables couples to divide the workload, so that each one is working at optimum performance on the things they are good at and are not struggling with tasks they can’t do very well. Maximising the effort in this way makes the business more efficient. One female franchisee comments: “We work very well together - he’s decisive and a clear thinker, whereas I’m a little bit scatty at times, but then I can multitask.”
Responsibility should always be 50:50 to avoid any possible resentment by one person feeling they are not being treated equally. Accusations and finger pointing create an uncomfortable atmosphere and can lead to a situation where no one wants to make decisions.
The ability to share both rewards and responsibilities is the key to a successful working partnership, so you need to be realistic about your own individual relationship - both parties should be fair-minded and in total agreement from the start, otherwise resentments can surface and erupt into war.
If one of you is not happy, you must be able to say what you think, openly and honestly, without causing offence. That’s sometimes easier said than done, which is why it’s important to establish from the beginning what you expect from the franchise, how you will allocate the tasks and achieve your goals.
Try to be objective and treat your other half as you would any other colleague - adopt a professional relationship. Make it an absolute rule never to discuss or refer to any personal issues in front of customers or staff. If you’ve had a terrible row at home, leave it behind when you shut the front door and never, ever bring it in to work. This is a difficult thing to do, especially when you think you’re in the right!
Similarly, if there are problems at work, leave them there at the end of the day. Never take them home. It’s much better to go back again in the morning and tackle the difficulty when you’re fresh and rested.
When you decide to set up a franchise, plan your business together and continue to make all decisions jointly as you progress. Forget male and female stereotypes or who is ‘the boss’. Discuss new ideas and decide together if they are viable. Never go off on your own path, as independent action is likely to lead to disaster.
In my own franchise, Penny Brierley, our current franchisee of the year, works with her husband Graham who originally had no intention of giving up his job. But Penny’s business grew so quickly from the outset that help was soon needed and Graham decided to join her. Today Penny employs eight people and turns over a six-figure sum. While maintaining clearly defined and separate areas of responsibility for routine day-to-day tasks, Penny and Graham make all decisions together and both are active networkers.
It’s important to say something nice when things are going well, so remember to say ‘thank you’ or ‘well done’ if your partner has been largely responsible for the success, just like you would to an employee or colleague. Celebrate the good achievements with an evening out.
The continuing growth and prosperity of the sector, year on year, is testament to the strength of franchising. Consider the many awards for excellence in franchising every year to see how people of all ages and from many different backgrounds have succeeded, particularly couples working together - so why not you?