Marriage, business & a competitive edge

NicheDr. Lynda Falkenstein is the expert behind Ask the Niche Doctor, a new business advice column that will regularly appear on our website, Do you have a question for the Niche Doctor? Email

Dear Niche Doctor,

My husband and I are nearing retirement and considering starting a business together. He has always wanted to be in business with me, but since we were involved in totally different fields, it wasn’t possible. He wants me to do the marketing and he will do the business management part. He is very good at what he does and it could work out financially. I have one question, though. Actually, maybe this question should go to “Dear Abby” instead of you, but I’m wondering if it’s a good idea to even do a business with him. It’s one thing living together, but are we setting ourselves up for trouble?

Your question is a really important one and you definitely aren’t the first person to ask me if business and marriage go together. In many ways, you’re raising issues similar to those likely to come up in any kind of partnership, but a few extra issues to boot.

The troublemakers in partnerships usually are divergent expectations about who’s doing what – “Who’s the boss?” kinds of issues. “Where’s the money going?” “Who’s in charge?” and “How are you going to get compensated?” are other issues to be resolved in any kind of partnership.

If you’re married to your business partner, you can have some other issues crop up, especially those relating to effective conflict resolution. It’s one thing to disagree with an employee or strictly business associate, it’s another to resolve conflict with a spouse when emotions can creep in and distort issues (and your relationship).

That being said, working with your spouse can be the ultimate in satisfying business relationships – both working toward a common goal. To ensure its success, however, do the following well before embarking on the business:

1. Decide how businesses disagreements are going to be worked out so you don’t bring the issues into your personal lives.

2. Identify your job descriptions and roles very specifically. Push comes to shove, as the saying goes, who has the final say?

3. Who gets paid what and where does the money go?

4. Very importantly, decide which is expendable – the business or your relationship, if it gets to an either/or situation.

I don’t mean to sound all doom and gloom, but the reality is partnerships don’t have a very good track record. In fact, I’ve been known to call them unnatural acts. All that said, while they do have a grim track record, you might well be one of the exceptions and find great success working together. Good luck whatever your decision may be.

Dear Niche Dr.,

I am a general partner in a national executive recruiting firm. Our problem is that we want to transition completely from contingency to fee-based billing. And we want to do it fast! We are very concerned, however, that we will scare away our existing clients and lose our competitive edge with potential clients. What do you think?

I’m glad to hear of your move and surprised that it has taken you this long. Across the country, professionals in many fields have been moving to fee-based compensation instead of (or sometimes in addition to) contingency billings. Though your concern is a logical one, it’s important for you to remember that good clients buy you for results, not for price, alone.

If your marketing strategies demonstrate that you can enhance your client’s success potential, how they pay you will be of far less concern to them than you presently think. Whatever marketing strategies you implement at this time, be sure they emphasize your successes, successes and successes.

Dear Niche Dr.,

I’m graduating from college in four months with a degree in business and I’m really concerned about getting a good job. My parents remind me daily that the job market is terrible and that I should plan on taking anything to pay my bills. With a heavy student loan that will have to be paid off, no experience and the fact that I’m young, I’m beginning to feel like my four years in school might wind up being a colossal waste of time. Where do I even start?

First, take a deep breath. Panic leads to paralysis and will get you no place that’s good. Your question raises several issues. I’ll tackle the biggest ones and offer some suggestions to help you move forward.

First and foremost, you use the term “good.” What specifically do you mean? Do you mean comfortable wages? Do you mean work that you enjoy? Both? It’s essential that you define this yourself. Don’t use anyone else’s criteria or definition. You have to live with yourself and your work is a huge part of that life. So, start by defining what it is you want out of a job and what you don’t want. Most of all, find out what you want and don’t want in your life. Work should deliver your life, not the other way around.

Here are some quick tips to help you get from your definition of “good” to an actual job:

1. Don’t start from square one. Identify several role models – other recent graduates who have landed jobs they feel good about, maybe even love. Ask them specifically how they did it. What strategies did they use? Then use the ones that make sense for you. No point in reinventing the wheel, as the saying goes.

2. Recognize that you’re embarking on a process, which for many people is best described as trial and error. Don’t be stressed if you don’t like the first thing that comes along. The process will help you get even more focused, better understanding what you like.

3. Work on getting focused. If you, like so many other young adults, don’t have clue which direction you want to go, intern and/or volunteer in as many situations as possible. Not only will you gain experience that will serve you well in resumes and interviews, you’ll continue getting yourself tightly focused.

4. Be relentless and follow up. It’s easy to flitter from one thing to the next, but never forget where you’ve been. Take good care of everyone who has helped you along the way. Chances are you’ll be seeing them again somewhere in your continuing journey.

Dr. Lynda Falkenstein is the author of NICHECRAFT: Using Your Specialness to Focus Your Business, Corner Your Market, and Make Customers Seek You Out. To contact her with questions or comments, email or call 971.533.3815. Please note that the Vancouver Business Journal and Dr. Niche reserve the right to publish your letter or an edited version in all print and electronic media.

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