All in the Family: The Delicate Art of Mixing Marriage and Money

Married couples who balance business, babies and everything in between will tell you-working with your spouse ain’t easy. After working together for years, these couples have mastered a few tricks of the trade.  

Tip #1: Separate Your Jobs

Lakeisha and Nathaniel Johnson

Just because you’re working together doesn’t mean you have to be doing the same thing at all times.

“I’m strong on computers, he’s strong with talking to people. That’s how we make our business work,” says Lakeisha W. Johnson, co-owner of Absolute Property Solutions LLC, a property management firm in Richmond, Virginia she’s run with her husband, Nathaniel since 2008. “He’s also very good at putting infrastructure in place, getting the business set up. I bring more of the day to day.”

To fully utilize each partner’s strengths, Johnson says that both parties have to clearly outline what’s expected of the other, communicate about how easily tasks are getting accomplished, recognize each other’s weaknesses and understand that their separate duties each come with unique challenges.

“My husband is my business partner, but he’s also in the army, so he’s not always involved in the day to day,” she says. “We don’t always agree and we’re both really stubborn people…Sometimes it’s hard for him to realize the reality of whatever problems we’re facing.”

To avoid hassles later, couples should clearly define each other’s roles before launching the business, go over it with a third party business pro (the mentors over at SCORE can help) and create a back-up strategy in case one family member has to leave the business.

Tip #2: Test It Out First

Scott and Donyea Saari and Family

Scott Saari co-owns a Pillar to Post home inspection franchise in Salem, Oregon with his wife, Donyea. Before launching the franchise earlier this year, Saari worked with his wife on and off on previous businesses before deciding to start their own business endeavor together.

“That definitely gave me an idea of what working together would be like, so there are no surprises,” he says.

If taking a test drive at working with your spouse prior to launching a company isn’t possible, try tackling a lengthy home improvement project, volunteer job or fundraiser together to get an idea of how each party acts under pressure.

Saari adds that running together simply won’t work for all married couples. “Just make sure that you like being around each other all the time,” he advises. “Not all married couples like being together constantly.”

Tip #3: Set the Boundaries

Maintaining your marriage is just as important as maintaining the company says Johnson, which means that sometimes the business has to take a backseat.

“When we went on vacation a couple of months ago, I was working most of the time,” she says. “Right now, it’s very hard to separate business from pleasure time, but sometimes you just have to turn the phone off.”

Setting defined office hours and restrictions on when and where you can talk about the job can help families define where work ends and their personal lives begin.

To Franchise or Not to Franchise an Inspection Business

New inspectors have a choice to make—to get their business off the ground as quickly as possible, is it better to buy into a home inspection franchise or simply go at it alone. Kathleen Kuhn, President of HouseMaster, a home inspection company with 169 franchises across the US and Canada, and Curtis Niles, the current President of the National Association of Home Inspectors who started his own inspection company, Armored Home Inspections, LLC in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania 12 years ago, present both sides.

Round One: Getting Started

If you can pass the introductory interviews and get your paws on a home inspection franchise, many of the decisions young entrepreneurs struggle with won’t be a problem. Home inspection franchises provide everything you need-from a business plan to marketing materials to continuing education courses-without requiring managerial experience from your end.

“So much of the leg work is done for you,” says Kuhn. “There’s a proven business model, your accounting systems are in place, there’s information on how to budget your company and position yourself in the marketplace. It’s an incredible shortcut to get up and running.”

Franchises also provide new inspectors with one invaluable commodity-a nationally-known reputation. While other new inspectors sit by the phone waiting for calls, those who take the franchise route have an automatic in with both realtors and home buyers. Of course, all of the perks will cost you says Curtis Niles.

“The biggest hurdle is the cash,” he says. “There is a financial outlay that may not be feasible for many.”

While HouseMaster franchises cost anywhere from $60,000 to $80,000 to start (and that includes all franchise fees, travel costs, training and start up materials), other companies price franchises substantially higher. The good news is that you’ll (hopefully) get back some if not all of your initial investment. Once inspectors are ready to leave a franchise, they can sell it off to the next owner.

Round Two: The Culture

If you don’t fit into your franchise’s company culture, think carefully before buying in says Kuhn.

“One of the biggest things we look for [when choosing new franchise owners] is are they interested in following the system? Do they like being part of a team? We want the person who says ‘I want a proven system with proven methods and I really like being part of something bigger than myself,'” she says, adding that the average franchise owner stays with HouseMaster for a full decade.

Franchise owners get the benefit of legions of corporate support at their feet, but those who go the solo road get to make their own rules.

“I wouldn’t change a thing,” Curtis Niles says when asked if he would take the franchise route if he had to do it over again. “Crazy nut jobs like me jump out [on our own] because we think we have the skills necessary. The right decision really depends on that person’s mindset and abilities.”

Before purchasing a franchise, both Kuhn and Niles advise inspectors to carefully evaluate whether they fit into the corporate culture and to ask both current and former franchise holders about their experiences.

Round Three: Closing Shop

If you own your own shop, you can open and close for good, move down to part-time, freelance for other companies and make your own boundaries. If you own a franchise, you’ll probably have to sign a non-compete agreement.

“Buying a franchise is kind of like a marriage; getting out is certainly difficult,” says Kuhn. “If we have someone leaving [their HouseMaster franchise], they basically want to get out of the home inspection business.”

Curtis Niles says that small business owners always have the option of setting their companies up to be franchise-able in the future.

“That’s the way I did it,” he says. “If I wanted to, I could pay the fees and get an attorney to draft up a franchise agreement and Voila! I have a franchise of my own.”