Bringing a Spouse into the Business

Can a husband and wife work together in a woodworking business? Depends who you ask. August 7, 2006

I currently have a one woman wood shop - sole proprietorship. I produce some small furniture pieces and a very popular line of boxes and accessories which are our bread and butter items. Right now I turn away much more business than I take in but have hesitated to take in employees for worries of finding help that will work to the quality I desire and also the liability issues and paperwork that is involved with full time employees. The business is in a place now where there is much potential for growth, but I'm beyond topped out at my current production rate. I have been considering bringing my spouse in as a partner/employee. He has no formal woodworking experience but has helped in the shop periodically in the past and has done a much better job than any other piece sanders or part time/contract help that I've had. He also has the willingness to learn, is one of the hardest workers I know plus I don't have the concerns of him stealing my designs like I have with other new employees. Has anyone taken this step, and do you have any advice to give?

Forum Responses
(Business Forum)
From contributor A:
Sound like it would be the easiest thing for you to do. You would still have to consider him an employee and do all of the paper work and insurance that comes along with having an employee. But you may want to think about the family aspect of it also. Is your relationship in good enough condition that you can stand each other 24 hours a day? Making critical money decisions may put a strain on the relationship. If you can take all of that then having your spouse within the working relationship could have many rewards, including more money.

From contributor B:
This question has been addressed in a number of business books - you should find one and read it. There are pros and cons - probably the biggest con being that trouble and stress at work can destroy your marriage. Also, if you have difficulty managing employees how are you going to manage your husband? It sounds to me like you might want to think about that first. Good luck!

From contributor C:
What does your husband do now? You will have to pay him what he now contributes to the family income. If you don't then you gain nothing. In fact you lose. And take it from someone who has had family work for him - you will treat and talk to them differently than other employees. An argument or discussion at work will not end at quitting time. Having been there I would not do it again. There are many ways to spell divorce. What you are considering doing is one of them.

From the original questioner:
He is a surveyor and looking to get out of it anyway. I'm not really worried about making back his current salary - the work is already there. We're currently only selling retail due to high demand and I have a waiting list of clients who want to open wholesale accounts with us. I'm thinking to give us both space I would have him eventually take over his own part of the business - say the boxes - freeing me up to work on furniture and letting us both do our own thing to some extent. We talk about the business and business finances all the time already anyway, so it's not like I leave it at the door now when I come home now. We have a good solid partnership or I wouldn't even consider it.

From contributor D:
In 35 yrs. I have seen this arrangement nearly at every employer that I ever had. They all imploded. I wish that I could say differently but the fact was that even after making tons of money, the arrangement will not work. Advice? Which is more important - your business? Your marriage? More advice - consider closing all shop activities at 6 pm. I do not say this lightly. Have you considered an employee who does have cabinetry experience?

From contributor E:
I started our cabinet business 22 years ago. Two years into it my wife quit her job and came into the shop. Best thing we ever did! We have both loved working together. Now she runs the showroom and I run the shop. Just make the business work. The two of you can work as many hours as it takes if you do that with employees overtime will eat you up. It was a lot of long days at first but now we have it pretty good. It worked for us but I would say that most probably won't work.

From contributor F:
My wife and I worked together in the Navy (before even dating) then at several factories, and school. We then worked together in our shop for around 20 years, and then she got burned out and now drives a city bus route. She now wants to come back to work in the shop, but the health benefits are so good we can afford to take on health care insurance -as you know self employed pay the max amount. It can work very well, but youíre going to see each other basically every hour in every day. If youíre in that kind of relationship go for it. But if you need your own time and space it could wear on you or him.

From contributor C:
If you have faith in your relationship and he is so dissatisfied with his current job then go for it, but beware. As far as selling retail because of high demand, keep it that way. Wholesale will kill you slowly with only the two of you. Itís not about what passes through your hands Ė itís about what you keep. Your output will not double because there are two of you. In fact in will slow down for a while as he comes up to speed. If it doesn't pan out you can always fire him.

From contributor G:
You are considering bringing on your husband as a partner/employee. Which is it, or is it both? If he's an employee, the onus of payroll, accounting, etc. will all be the same regardless of who the employee is, as Leo and Paul mention. If he's a partner, then you have additional issues (legal and otherwise) and expenses to deal with. It sounds like, if he becomes a partner, he would only be bringing sweat equity to the table, which to me doesn't sound like enough to make him a partner. Two other things strike me from your post.

If you're concerned about an employee working to the quality you desire, with an employee other than your husband you always have the option of firing that employee. With your husband that could be more problematic. And lastly, I think the last thing you should worry about is someone stealing your designs. I'm sure your designs are original, but they are no doubt derivatives or variations of other work that is out there. If someone steals your designs, there's not much you can do about it without great time and expense. Focus on building your designs faster and cheaper, and on solidifying your brand and place in the market. Then if anyone steals your designs, you'll be in a position of greater strength.

From contributor H:
I make custom hand-painted kitchens, something which is popular and fashionable here in the UK at the moment. Two years ago my wife left her full time job and joined me in the business as a partner. This was on advice from our accountant. For us, it is much simpler for her to be a partner than an employee. Anyway, it works out just fine. We already had a very good relationship, being mature enough to understand that when stuff isn't the way you want it to be, it isn't necessarily the other's fault.

From contributor I:
I too have a partner (my wife), and I say go for it. Thatís the nice thing about posting on this site - you always get both sides and that helps in your decision. It works for some while other itís not so good. My wife and I are the only employees and we do quite well together. We both give a little and we have been in business together for 9 years and been married for 18 years. Things come up from time to time but we have always managed to work it out. Itís not for everybody but you will never know unless you try.

From contributor J:
It didnít work for us. I tried bringing the wife in and we were at each others throats. I like being married more than having a business. Work is work and life is life. I like to keep them separate. Others have had success.

From contributor K:
We started our business in 2000. We are proud to be a family business! I was working alone. Then, as we grew, at one point we had two full time employees. I know exactly what you mean about hired labor. There are good people out there but they are very hard to find. Ultimately, my wife came in to focus on the office side. Then we purchased a Thermwood CNC and fired the two employees and have never looked back. We have been married nearly 20 years and know each other very well. Sometimes, she gets on my one nerve and sometimes I get on hers. But we know and trust each other and I value her input. She is in the office 60% of the time and on the floor the rest. It works very well for us. I think it all comes down to your relationship with your husband. You could always give it a couple of months and see how it works.

From contributor L:
In business 38 years, and married almost 34 years. The secret? Don't mix the two.