What Should I Do if My Spouse Doesn’t Want to Work as Hard As I Do on Our Small Business? (Podcast) | Ep. #044

Michael Kelly, Elizabeth Larkin, and Eric Dollinger

In episode #44, Elizabeth Larkin and Gene Marks answer the question:

“I work with my spouse in a small business. My husband doesn’t want to talk about the future as much as I do. How can I learn to accept that the future of our business will be up to me without getting irritated with my husband?”

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Elizabeth: Welcome back to the Small Biz Ahead Podcast. I just want to note that I have not been saying, “Okay, welcome back to the Small Biz Ahead Podcast.”

Gene: Okay. Alright, fair enough.

Elizabeth: I’ve been really trying, but we all have those little tics.

Gene: Yes.

Elizabeth: Those little crutches, words that we fall back on.

Gene: My wife picks up on that a lot when we travel. We were in Milwaukee, we were in Wisconsin for a few days, and she was, “Do you ever notice everybody here says, okay?” Okay. I didn’t even notice that, but I guess they do. It’s a Wisconsin thing.

Elizabeth: Do they have one in Philly like that?

Gene: In Philly, I don’t notice those things. Philadelphia’s got it’s own sort of dialect. It’s like, “Yo, Yo”, kind of thing.

Elizabeth: Yeah definitely. Yeah, you say that all the time.

Gene: Do I? No I don’t.

Elizabeth: No, but you definitely have a Mid-Atlantic accent.

Gene: I do. When I speak around the country and I’m speaking to business owners and they’re from Nebraska.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Gene: I know they’re looking at me like, “This guy is from New York or Philly”, you know what I mean? It just seems really obvious, and how fast I’m talking and whatever.

Elizabeth: Everybody always talks about the Boston accent’s really distinctive.

Gene: That is distinctive.

Elizabeth: The New York accent.

Gene: Yeah.

Elizabeth: I feel like that mid-Atlantic, Philly, Maryland, Delaware.

Gene: Yeah.

Elizabeth: It’s not as distinctive.

Gene: They merge into each other.

Elizabeth: Yeah, but it definitely … There are few words, that when you say them, “Aw man, that does not sound right”.

Gene: It’s east coast, that’s right. That’s funny.

Elizabeth: Oh my gosh. Alright. We are going to be right back with our first question. Actually our only question; we’re changing the format of the podcast so they’re a little faster, so this is going to be our only question, but we will have a Word of Brilliance. This is about working with your spouse.

QUESTION: What Should I Do if My Spouse Doesn’t Want to Word as Hard as I Do?

Elizabeth: Okay, Gene, this question is going to be just for you because I know you did work with your spouse in the past.

Gene: Yes, yes. I have the scars to prove it. Still walk on a limp.

Elizabeth: This is from Lori. Lori does not tell us what kind of business she runs, but here’s here question:

“I work with my spouse in a small business. My husband doesn’t want to talk about the future as much as I do. How can I learn to accept that the future of our business will be up to me without getting irritated with my husband?”

Gene: Wow. First of all, this is more of a marital advice; you’re talking to the wrong person here. Look, I’ve met lots of people that are in family businesses where you’ve got the spouses working together. My wife and I try … My wife worked for me for three years.

Elizabeth: For you, or with you?

Gene: That’s a good question. She worked for me, but she never works for … God forbid you would ever say that to your spouse, that they’re working for …

Elizabeth: Is she going to listen to this?

Gene: Yeah, she would agree with this. She was doing marketing. It was after she left Ernst & Young. She was there for seven years. We were bringing up kids. The kids got to a certain age. She started working with me, helping out with marketing and accounting as well, and she just hated it. Her only reason for hating it was actually, she brought up the point was, it was a “for me” issue. It was like she was working for me, for Gene.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Gene: It was like … She wanted her own thing, you know what I mean?

Elizabeth: Yeah, totally understandable.

Gene: Totally, so she went back … Went to graduate school, and got her Master’s in education, and now she’s a teacher, and she’s a professional, and she’s quite proud, and she’s doing really well doing that. Spouse working together isn’t always … It’s got to be right for both spouses. The relationships that I’ve seen where spouses work together, really any family member is, when it really is clear … When it’s really clear what your responsibilities are.

Elizabeth: I was going to say that. Even just at home, in any relationship, “I do this, and you do that”.

Gene: That’s the way we operate. In our house, she does the bills. I take out the trash, you know what I mean?

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Gene: There’s certain things that you own it. What was the name of this person who asked the question.

Elizabeth: Lori.

Gene: I apologize, Lori. Lori, if your husband doesn’t have the same goals as me, or not looking ahead as much, there really, in your business … Because it’s a business, it’s a livelihood, you may have employees, people that rely on you. The two of you guys have got to work out what your responsibilities are.

Elizabeth: Yeah. I think so too.

Gene: Maybe you’re the visionary.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Gene: He is doing the services, or he’s doing the sales, or whatever it is, you got to determine what your roles are in your business and agree on that, and then you own it. I think that’s the way you get over that problem. Everything doesn’t have to be a joint decision, as long as you’re looking after your own stuff.

Elizabeth: I think a lot of times, people do … This is in any work environment, they do resent when someone gets so stuck in the day to day and they can’t really see the future.

Gene: Correct.

Elizabeth: That’s fine that you’re doing this now, but what about in 10 years when robots take over all of our jobs? We need to be prepared for that.

Gene: Correct.

Elizabeth: I think that is a little isolating when you’re looking forward, and the other person is just not interested in doing that.

Gene: You know what? I’ve learned different people have different strengths.

Elizabeth: Yes.

Gene: That’s all. We were talking about this with a client of mine. Right now they’re going to get rid of their HR person, and we were saying, “If we get rid of that HR person, okay, she’s not very good at HR, but does she have other strengths that she could be useful to the company?” Getting back to Lori’s situation, she’s the visionary; that’s what she likes to do, and she’s strong at it. I’m sure her husband does other stuff very well.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Gene: You draw the lines, and you say, “Alright, listen. You’re really great at this, so you do that, and I’ll take care of the direction that we’re going in”.

Elizabeth: Do you have any clients that are spouses working together that it works well?

Gene: Yeah. I have actually quite a few where it works well. It’s weird. Most … Everybody’s going to yell because this is going to sound sexist or whatever, but I’m just telling you what reality is. When I see most spouses that I work together with in family-run businesses, it’s usually the guy that’s running it, and the wife is doing the finances and the accounting. I’ve seen that a lot, and still do.

Elizabeth: The husband’s doing more of the selling?

Gene: The selling and the operations and really running the business, and the wife is keeping track of the cash, and because the wife’s doing that, she has a more flexible role so that she could be home for the kids after school, and she can whatever …

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Gene: I get it. You would think things would have changed, and they have changed, but this is what I’m seeing. In reality, a lot of businesses that I see are like that still.

Elizabeth: There’s a name for that. It’s called the second shift.

Gene: Yeah.

Elizabeth: That women work, and then they go home; so they work all day.

Gene: Yeah.

Elizabeth: Then they go home, and then they’re still the primary caregivers.

Gene: The men sit on their you know what’s, watching TV, saying, “I guess it’s my wife’s job”. It’s like even now, when you look at … Even commercials nowadays … My wife and I always notice it … When you see the cleaning commercials, it’s always the woman that’s … “Those darn kids, tracking mud through the kitchen again”. It’s always a woman doing it in 2017. You think to yourself … I don’t know. That’s when I see … Getting back to Lori’s situation, it’s when I’ve seen spouses work together, I usually see the guy that’s running the show, but if she’s the one that’s running the show, which is great, again, repeating myself, they got to decide what their responsibilities are.

Elizabeth: Yeah, you got to figure out what to put him in charge of.

Gene: Right.

Elizabeth: Hold him accountable for that.

Gene: Right, mutually agree on that. Mutually agree on that.

Elizabeth: Okay, we’re back in a minute with our word of brilliance.

Gene: Awesome.


Elizabeth: Welcome back, we’re going to hear this week’s Word of Brilliance from Gene.

Gene: Two words. The words are Bill Gates.

Elizabeth: Okay.

Gene: Wrote about this recently.

Elizabeth: I’ve heard of him.

Gene: Yes, the former CEO of Microsoft. This is a story of when Bill Gates took a tech-support call for Microsoft.

Elizabeth: Oh! I think I heard about this.

Gene: It was a kind of a well-known back in the day, and then people forgot about it, and I wrote about it again and it got a lot of action online, and it was back in 1989. Microsoft, not the behemoth that it is today, but it was still an 800-million-a-year company. They opened up a whole new tech support system, a whole new building with it and whatever. It was fascinating. Bill Gates got a tour of it, and he was just getting a tour with all the tech-support stuff or whatever, and he tapped one of the support agents and said, “Hey, do you mind if I take this next call?” The support agent was like, “Sure. You’re Bill Gates. Whatever you want”. Bill Gates-

Elizabeth: What if he said, “No’. Or she.

Gene: Can you imagine? “No, I got this dude. Move on, okay?” Bill Gates. He takes the headset, he sits down. Somebody calls in, they have a problem. They have a tech-support issue with Windows. Go figure. A tech-support issue with Windows. Okay, so they have a tech-support issue with Windows. Bill Gates, called himself Bill, “Let me see if I can help you”. He was very polite. He followed all the procedures. Looked it up on Microsoft’s new knowledge base that they had, and solved the problem. Got a thank you, all that kind of stuff. The person was very happy. Said, “Thanks very much”, and walked away. The person, literally called back a couple days later, because they had another small issue, and they asked for that great tech-support guy, Bill, that they talked to, and then they told him, “Actually, that was Bill Gates, the CEO”.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Gene: The point of the story was, which is fascinating is that, I do have many clients that they re-engage. I have one client in particular. He had one woman in customer service go out for maternity leave, so she was out for six weeks. He, just on a whim, just on a whim, he moved his office; he’s the president of the company, moved his office to her cubicle and worked out of her cubicle for the entire six weeks.

Elizabeth: What did he learn?

Gene: Everything about the company. People eventually, they were all like, taken a little aback, but everybody started relaxing and chilling. He certainly got to know the customer-service people better. He heard all the calls coming in. He overheard the conversation that were taking place. He got involved in some of the conversations. He became aware of the some of the issues that his customers were having that he didn’t even know about.

Elizabeth: That’s a brilliant idea.

Gene: It was fantastic. It’s the same thing as Bill Gates. I know it was only one call, but the guy sat there and took a tech-support call to hear the problem that was happening and see for himself how the system was running. I say that all the time … Not that I’m such a great business owner, but I really do try to it a point, at least once or twice a month, to go out and see an existing client and just walk around and talk, and take a look at the software that they’re using.

Elizabeth: What about taking a customer-service call or something?

Gene: Sure, why not? If you’re capable of doing that … Bill Gates wanted to prove that, even he … Because he’s removed from customer service.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Gene: They had a knowledge base and they had a process, and he wanted to prove that even he, with his rudimentary knowledge, could do that, and he did. The CEO himself, the president, my client, he never took any customer-service calls, but he was there if they were being taken, and he was giving some advice.

Elizabeth: He knew what people were calling in about.

Gene: Absolutely. Then, he also, on the employee side. He got a sense of the employees. He had four people in his customer service department. There were people coming in and out all the time, and he’s right there on the floor, and he overhears stuff, and he hears what some of the complaints, problems that people are having. He said it was an enlightening experience, and that was 10 years ago. He’s never gone back to customer service. He now barricades himself inside his office. I’m just kidding. He really found that experience helpful.

Like Bill Gates, maybe all of us should take a moment out and re-engage on the battlefield like a soldier.

Elizabeth: Definitely. Like we were talking about … We don’t know what Lori’s business is, but in the previous podcast, we were talking about Cindy who owned a yoga studio.

Gene: Yes.

Elizabeth: Maybe Cindy takes the shift at the front desk.

Gene: Agreed.

Elizabeth: Or answering the phones.

Gene: Right.

Elizabeth: She’s probably teaching classes.

Gene: That’s right. Sometimes you get far removed from it.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Gene: By the way, when you first start up your business, you were doing this stuff and you loved it.

Elizabeth: Oh yeah.

Gene: That’s why you started it from the beginning. I know you’re super busy and all of that, but at the core of things, what’s more important?

Elizabeth: Yeah, definitely. Alright. Great advice. Okay everyone, we’ll talk to you next week on another episode of the Small Biz Ahead Podcast.

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