“There are 5.5 million family owned businesses in the US. They generate 57% of our nation’s GDP. They employ 63% of the workforce, and they create 75% of all new jobs,” according to Sheila Neisler of Catalyst Marketing Company, specializing in helping family owned businesses.

Last week we were the guest speakers for the Family Business Forum in Asheville, North Carolina. The attendees were keen on hearing our secrets to maintaining a healthy relationship as both life and business partners. Here is what we shared with them:

  1. Different Skill Sets. Ideally you should have different skill sets so you don’t compete. Then respect the other person’s skill set and know that it is essential to your success. Having the same skill set as your partner can lead to competition and friction.
  2. Positive Disagreement. When you know that the other person has your and your company’s best interests at heart, it’s easier to disagree without all the emotional reactions that can lead to arguments. Disagreements can be very beneficial to success. Hearing another side from a person you trust and respect can open your eyes to alternatives and compromises you may have otherwise overlooked.
  3. No Micro Management. Give your partner the freedom to perform his/her job unfettered. Trust that they know their stuff and that they feel the same about you. Sometimes you have to bite your tongue and not be a back seat driver. Micro managing can cause hard feelings and reduce the other person’s ability to perform the very job you have entrusted them to do.
  4. Unanimous Decisions. If you can’t agree, don’t do it. Avoid those “I told you so” hard feelings down the road. Sometimes it’s wiser to put off a difficult decision until both of you agree. We had a board of directors made up of four people, an even number. Plus it was two women and two men. All decisions were unanimous. If three couldn’t convince one, we didn’t do it!
  5. Third Party Experts. Often neither one of you will know the best decision. That’s the time to bring in a third party expert. If you still disagree, bring in another, and another, until you both agree. One of the biggest mistakes family businesses make is too often they think that they have all the skill sets they need in house. Do what you do best and delegate the rest.
  6. Separate Offices. It’s important to give your partner their own work space, physically separated from yours. This will make them feel less scrutinized and prevent you both from interrupting each other’s work just because you both are so close and convenient.
  7. Off-Limits Times and Spaces. Designate certain places in your home where you both agree business will not be discussed. This is especially appropriate for the bedroom. Separate business from romance. Also it helps to have rules to avoid business discussions during meals, even if it is only during dinner. Make Sundays free of work related topics. Buy some non-refundable tickets at the beginning of the year for a vacation from business, preferably to somewhere romantic!

It’s not easy working as a couple. In fact when we speak about this subject, we start our talk with, “Don’t try this at home!” Very few couples can sustain a romantic and a business relationship at the same time. For most, it’s better to work at different businesses and have a romantic relationship free of business challenges.

However, with that said, running a business together can be very rewarding. But it requires a level of mutual respect, common business goals, and disciplined adherence to some practical rules like these.

Who We Are

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey Barefoot Wine Founders

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey co-authored the New York Times bestselling business book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand. The book has been selected as recommended reading in the CEO Library for CEO Forum, the C-Suite Book Club, and numerous university classes on business and entrepreneurship. It chronicles their humble beginnings from the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse to the board room of E&J Gallo, who ultimately acquired their brand and engaged them as brand consultants. Barefoot is now the world’s largest wine brand.

Beginning with virtually no money and no wine industry experience, they employed innovative ideas to overcome obstacles, create new markets and forge strategic alliances. They pioneered Worthy Cause Marketing and performance-based compensation. They built an internationally bestselling brand and received their industry’s “Hot Brand” award for several consecutive years.

They offer their Guiding Principles for Success (GPS) to help entrepreneurs become successful. Their book, The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways To Engage and Empower Your People, helps corporations maximize the value of their human resources.

Currently they travel the world leading workshops, trainings, & keynoting at business schools, corporations, conferences. They are regular media guests and contributors to international publications and professional journals. They are C-Suite Network Advisors & Contributing Editors. Visit their popular brand building site at www.consumerbrandbuilders.com.

To make inquiries for keynote speaking, trainings or consulting, please contact sales@thebarefootspirit.com.