Terri & Steve Weil
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Biggest challenge of working with a spouse: Prying ourselves away from the business.
Best advice: Make sure it’s the right fit and make sure you can handle spending the time together.
For a numbers guy, Steve Weil talks a lot about feelings. That’s because in addition to running a successful accounting firm in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Weil gives seminars to couples who own businesses together. Weil and his wife, Terri, own RMS Accounting, an accounting firm that also offers tax and payroll services.
Working with a spouse can be “tremendously rewarding” when done right, Weil said. He counsels couples to start by identifying their skill sets and look at where they differ. Each person should choose areas of the business to run based on their strengths. “If you both have exactly the same skill sets, you probably are going to have problems,” he said.
In the case of the Weils, he loves sales, business development and thinking up new projects. She shines at bringing projects to fruition and developing systems so others can successfully run them. It was obvious who should handle what, he said. “She’s super at the day-to-day stuff. I handle a lot of the marketing and development work for the firm,” he said. “It’s different skill sets.”
“Respect” also needs to play a role in the business relationship, he said. Once you have divvied up the duties, you need to step back and allow your partner to do his or her job, Weil explained.
He recommends having separate offices or at least not working from neighboring desks. “That way you can do your thing in your space without me listening to everything you do and telling you what I think. And I can do my thing in my space without you listening to everything I do and telling me what you think.”
It’s crucial that early on couples discuss how they will settle disagreements about the business. Partners need to develop a plan that they can stick to, he said.
“Our agreement is that if we disagree, I would become the tiebreaker,” said Weil, who founded the business and ran it solo for a few years before Terri joined. “In 25 years, we have never had that situation. One of us usually says, ‘Let’s try it your way.’ That’s a skill we had to learn.”
Working with your spouse means that there is someone else equally invested in the business. Weil said he knows his wife will either handle issues or, when warranted, bring them to his attention. “It’s someone reliable, committed,” he said. “I’m not worried about accountability. Once I’ve turned it over to her, I don’t have to worry about it. (Working with Terri) frees me up to do what I do best.”
Couples also need to learn how to separate themselves from the business. “I’m not going to tell you we leave it at work,” he said. “But we don’t take it to the bedroom.”
The Weils do talk business at home, in part because they don’t see much of each other during the day. Family dinners are often peppered with talk about work, he said. “The truth is it’s been hugely educational for our children,” he said. “They understand business.”
Still there are times when it’s inappropriate—such at holidays or family get-togethers, he said. “Be careful what you take home and when. That takes some intuition on both parts.”
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