Family Business: Tips On How To Work With Your Spouse

It can seem a great idea to start a business venture with your spouse or significant other. It enables you to work together to a common goal, share interest and enjoy profits together.

But it can also go wrong. Recently, Bill and Melinda Gates announced their separation after 27 years together, but have confirmed they will still be working together at the Gates Foundation.

It begs the question – is working together with your partner or spouse a good idea?

We spoke to TAB Facilitator for Logan, Marlise van der Merwe about how she makes it work with her husband Willem.


What do you think are the main challenges of working in a family business?

The main challenge is alignment between family members on the what on business and sometimes even the why, because individuals may have different reasons for being in business.

It can also be a challenge is determining specific roles each family member in business will be responsible for.

Switching between business and home life can also be difficult, stepping away physically and mentally, from the office – and not bringing work home.


How did you overcome this? 

We clarified roles and responsibilities, set goals and a mutual business vision, based on personal visions on what is important to us as individuals and what is right for our family.


How did you divide the duties at the beginning? 

In the beginning Willem was focusing on the Peer Boards and coaching, and I were focusing on the office administration and processes.  We started a brand new business, both of us had a corporate background and on top of it all we migrated from South Africa.

We knew no-one here in Logan area, had no business network structure and had to build that up from scratch.  Culture was a bit of a challenge, but we adjusted quickly.  We missed our families in South Africa.  It is not easy to move country, start a business and have a normal family life. Everything was new to us, but a great adventure at the same time.

I must say, technology made life much easier for us, video calls to family and friends sure have helped.  The Alternative Board has great processes, are structured and the proprietary tools is of the highest standards, I have come across in my career that support SMEs with strategic planning, reporting and being connected all in one platform.


What would you advise people to consider before joining a family business? 

Being part of a family business is unique to each individual family.  It certainly is harder for the first generation to set the foundation of the business.  Have a look at each team members skillset, roles and responsibilities, know each others communication styles (DISC profiling helps with this).

Decide on company structure; who is the legal responsible person and who is the ultimate decision maker. No one has all the skill-sets necessary to run the business, personal development is very important to improve on skills that will impact on the business in the long run.


What’s the best part of working together? 

We both love what The Alternative Board is about and we both relate well with the Calibre culture of TAB.  We love to see how business owners start to get a sense of ownership, grow and solve personal and business challenges.  The bond the members form with each-other and the creativity that comes from these peer boards is outstanding. We also enjoy learning more about Australia, the native life, culture and diversity.

You can see more about The Alternative Board Logan here. 

Read: 6 tips on making a family partnership work