Working alongside your spouse or another family member may seem like a dream come true, but it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.
Annette Powell MAAT is managing director of Zenza Limited, a bookkeeping and payroll practice based in Doncaster. She talks about the highs and lows of running the business together with her husband, Mark.
When did you go into business together?
The company started trading in April 2014 and Mark joined it in October that year, working part-time. We didn’t know at the time that we would soon receive some devastating news. In early November 2014, our eldest daughter Laura (then aged 9) was diagnosed with a brain tumour. You can only imagine the impact this had on the whole family, it really turned our world upside down.
We made the decision for me to concentrate on the business during the day, and for Mark to take a break to look after Laura. He became our daughter’s full-time carer, as the impact of the treatment she was receiving was so unpredictable. She had to learn how to balance and walk again after her surgery to remove the tumour. It’s not something you ever imagine having to go through.
Thankfully, Laura came through her treatment and is now in remission. In fact, she’s returned to school part-time. Mark, I am pleased to say, was able to re-join the company last April. It’s been such a relief, I am so happy my daughter is well and he is back in the office.
How do you split responsibilities?
I am responsible for the bookkeeping and payroll departments, marketing, client appointments and customer service. Mark is responsible for credit control, internal processes and training. In fact, he was able to utilise his knowledge on education and we are now a Sage Accredited training provider. His management and IT experience from his previous roles has been invaluable in helping our practice grow, too.
Any downsides to working as a husband-and-wife team?
When you are both involved in the business, it does affect your home life financially.
In the early days, the financial pressure was quite hard. The responsibility seemed massive as the practice needed to support the whole family. I still remember the anxiety and the sleepless nights. At times we even considered if Mark should return to external employment and if we should downsize the business.
But of course I’m glad we persevered and I’m even thankful for what we went through. We are now empathetic to other small businesses facing exactly the same issues at the start of their journeys. They need support and someone who understands to talk to.
The other downside is something that never quite goes away. Trying to stop ourselves living and breathing work when we get home is not easy. You really do have to be disciplined not to be constantly talking about it. But we met and got married well before we went into business together, so we recognise it’s important not to become consumed by the business. After all, it is only one facet of our relationship.
And what are the benefits?
We may not always agree on everything, but generally we’ve learnt that by working closely together we can draw on each other’s personal skills and use them to the company’s best interest. Both of us know the other one is there and cares as much about the business. I can’t imagine what it would be like not to have that close connection and total understanding.
In many ways we’ve created a business we love to work for but which works for us, too.
We have the flexibility for one of us to take time out should Laura or one of the other two children be taken unwell. One of us can be committed to the business while the other spins the family plates.
I also think that, because we are a family practice, we’ve been able to create a stress-free and friendly work environment for our staff. We do think of our work colleagues as friends. It’s so important to make people feel at home to get the best from them.
Before we have invested in a great team around us, we were constantly handling enquiries and that affected the time we spend together as a family. Now we can go on holiday together and completely switch off, happy in the knowledge that our business is in safe hands in our absence.
We now have seven employees and are currently recruiting. Yes, it’s taken dogged determination and lots of hard work, but sometimes I can still hardly believe what we’ve achieved.
So, no regrets?
No! It’s great to know that together we are building something for the future, that all the hard work will benefit our family.
Hopefully, we will be able to pass the business onto our children if they decide to follow in our footsteps.
Iwona Tokc-Wilde is a business journalist.