StatsCan tells us about 1 in 5 Canadian businesses are owned equally by a man and a woman. Factoring in minority ownership of either gender, there is a significant number of Canadian enterprises involving “business couples.” Whether these are married or not, StatsCan doesn’t say.
Anecdotally however, the trucking industry has a good number of spouses in business together. And that’s why the organizers of Truck World, Canada’s largest trucking industry trade show, invited me to speak at their annual event this week.
In a 30-minute “Knowledge Stop” presentation called Making Money with Your Honey – 3 Secrets of Successful (and Happy) Business Couples, I discussed some of the fundamental differences in the way women and men tend to think about family, risk, money and making decisions.
The top three pieces of advice we covered focused on the concept of “mapping your business couple’s route.” I love painting a picture in people’s minds so I used lots of driving analogies. But the advice is the same regardless of the industry you’re in! The three secrets I shared include:
- Decide who is in the driver’s seat and when – This involves discussing and agreeing on a decision-making and conflict resolution process before an issue comes up. Business couples need to talk about who decides on what. When should spouses make decisions on their own, and when should they consult each other and make decisions together? Who does the information gathering? What importance will you attach to the impact on the family impact (something female business owners are tend to prioritize to a much higher degree than their male counterparts) vs. strictly business considerations? Who has the final say? This needs to be clear ahead of time.
- Know what is fueling your engine – This advice urges partners to seek to understand the motivation behind their respective positions. This is based on the Three Circle Model of Family Business. When there are disagreements, partners need to be clear. Are they being upset as the spouse, the manager/employee or the owner? The clarification of which “hat” (or hats) each partner is wearing is crucial, especially in emotionally-charged situations such as cash crunches, expansion decisions or succession planning.
- Pick a lane (and stick to it) by having clear job descriptions – Partners have their own expertise, and passions. They should honor that. My husband Heinz is our CFO. I don’t tell him how to do his job. And he doesn’t tell me how to market our company, which is my expertise. We each have our own job descriptions. If you don’t have clear roles and descriptions you’ll find employees, clients and even your kids will try to take advantage situations to their advantage. Clarity is key!
A truck business owner recently told me that the advice to clarify decision-making, roles in terms of ownership, manager/employee and family member and having job descriptions is was what finally brought down the frustration in his family business. Eventually the family sold their business. He explained that defining their respective lanes and having regular conversations focusing on each specific area (love vs. business), is what helped increase their level of happiness with both the business and their family life.
Doing these things is not always straight-forward, especially when personal considerations get in the way. After all, let’s be honest here, it’s difficult to “stick to your lane” when you’ve had a roaring fight. Or you’re too tired because you haven’t had a vacation in months or even years!
In those circumstances, it’s helpful to seek out an external source of support like a coach or a mastermind group.
I loved learning about how so many couples work together in the trucking and logistics world. Many people would assume it is a male-dominated industry. It is still, but it is changing!
It was wonderful to chat with couples who drive together, all over North America. Imagine being together, literally 24/7! Others “picked their lanes,” managing the business with one spouse on the road (mostly the guy, but not always!), and the other in the office. There are also more organizations supporting women in trucking. So great to see!
Finally during the session on succession planning, I spoke with dedicated family business owners looking to pass on their business to the next generation. Bringing sons and daughters (and sons-in-law and daughters-in-law) to the fold. It’s clear that truckers believe in making money with your honey. There is lots of LOVE and BUSINESS here!