What We've Learned About Having a Family Business


When we meet new people and tell them what we do and that we work for ourselves, from home, they're intrigued.  I think anyone that's worked a 9-5 job has, at some point, fantasized about never having to leave home to work and never having to deal with a boss.  I certainly did.  I dreamed about pajamas and coffee  and doing laundry in the middle of the day or maybe just going to the mall at 2p.m. for "inspiration."

Then, they realize that Ash and I spend every single day, every day together.  Working together.  All day.  With the kids.  Together.  Every day.  And they wonder what it's like.  Because, that's kind of crazy?  Don't we get sick of each other?  Don't we just fight about work all the time?  What do you talk about that's not work or the kids? It is crazy.  

We pretty much only talk about the business and our kids.  We don't have co-workers to gossip about (but luckily we both have totally wacky families that provide endless fodder).  However, we don't fight that much or get sick of each other.  Anymore.  We used to!  But, we figured out some coping strategies:

1)  Super clear divisions of labor. Ash used to be a one-man show, I dabbled in sorting out his office systems for a couple of years before I was fully involved in the business.  In the beginning, I split my time between office and workshop, so did Ash.  Bad idea.  I am terrible at detailed jobs like polishing jewelry and Ash is terrible about micro-managing.  We also both have VERY clear ideas about how things should be done.  Once I got out of the workshop and Ash trusted me enough to take charge of the administrative side of things, lots of friction dissolved.  There are lots of ways we can collaborate, but it really works for us to have our main roles that we are in charge of 100%

2) Set working hours. This was another big mistake we made in the beginning.  Ash is amazing at mixing in fun stuff with work stuff and peppering the two throughout the day and making sure that everything gets done when it's needed and is happy pottering away all day and night.  I can't relax until I know everything's all done and finished and sorted and now let's have a gin and tonic and high-five baby, cause it's quittin' time!  So, I'd be all stressed out when Ash was gardening at 3pm on a Wednesday and Ash would be all grumpy that he was working and I was watching Grand Designs at 8:30pm on a Thursday.  Once we set clear working hours, our expectations were managed and so were resentments.  Yay!

3) Act professionally. At some point, we realized that we had a full-on real business that supported our whole family and that we weren't just cobbling together an existence based on hope and good luck.  With this realization came a lot of respect, for ourselves and each other.  So, we upped our professionalism around each other.  We treated each other as colleagues and stopped airing our dirty laundry (like, literally) in the context of our working relationship.  This helps a whole lot especially when one of us messes up.

4) Keep talking and mixing it up. It's easy for us to want to divide up our whole lives into super clear divisions (see #1) in the same way that we do the business, but then we get sick our "jobs" and end up getting resentful.  So then something snaps and Ash tells me that he's sick of making dinner and I'm all sweet!  Cause I'm sick of looking after the kids while you make dinner, let's switch it up.  And then we have the same three things for dinner over and over again and we all get sick of that and then it goes back to the way it should be.  But, we all feel better because we talked about it!  Huzzah!