Looking To Start A Small Business?

My first conversation with John went very well. He was a good candidate looking at various franchise opportunities and was familiar with the strength of the Sport Clips Haircuts brand. John was on an upward trajectory in middle management, newly married and expecting his first child in six months. He wanted to start a business before his family obligations grew and before he was sucked too far into corporate America. Toward the end of our conversation I asked my typical question, “Will your spouse be involved in the business?”.  John said, “No,” and indicated they had talked about various franchise opportunities and she was on board.  I let him know the importance of her being part of the franchise discovery process and encouraged him to have her on our next call…and left it there. 

Johns’ wife, Mary, was not on our second call, but I inquired again about how she felt about things and John responded, “they were talking about it” and she was “supportive.” Our second call was also very productive, and John appeared to be tracking well. I told him the third call was a great opportunity for Mary to join our conversation because it was some review, but also went deeper into the Sport Clips keys to success.    

Our third call was just John again. It was a great call taking a deeper dive into the real estate considerations and covering elements of the Franchise Disclosure Document.  At the end of the call John asked the question a salesperson always wants to hear, “Where do we go from here?” I let John know he would now have an operations interview with the Area Developer and if everything went well, he would be on track to attend Discovery Day. I explained to John it was imperative that Mary participate in the operations interview, and adding with a laugh, “I’m courting you along, but you are going to marry the Area Developer” and it’s imperative the Area Developer see your spouse is supportive. John understood and let me know he and Mary had narrowed their franchise choices down to two. 

John and Mary had their operations interview with the Area Developer, who was impressed and thought they had what it took to be successful. I followed up with a face-to-face meeting with John and Mary over a cup of coffee.

The morning when we met, Mary abruptly asked “Why has it been so important that I be part of this process?  None of the other franchises seemed to care as much as Sport Clips that I be involved?”  I took the question as a huge compliment (although I am not sure she asked it in that same spirit) and the whole reason for this article was born.

There are significant numbers of considerations when deciding which direction to go in starting a new business, but I am amazed at how often the involvement of a spouse in the process is either minimized or disregarded altogether. 

That is often a big mistake on several fronts. John was clearly getting increasingly excited the more he learned about the Sport Clips franchise opportunity. With each meeting he could see a way to ramp-up a business while he remained employed and give him the option in a few years to transition from corporate America to truly focus on the things important to him. He was way down the road in the process and while Mary may have been sincere in her support, the reality of the impending business opportunity decision combined with a new marriage and developing family situation brought out that she was clearly concerned taking on a business start-up.

If Mary had been part of the calls from the very beginning she either would have realized early the semi-absentee business model of Sport Clips, combined with John’s ability to take it on, would be manageable and worth the short-term disruption for the long-term freedom and flexibility they both desire or she would have decided they needed to put it off. Another important reason for getting your spouse involved early is the difference between getting your spouse’s agreement/permission and getting their buy-in. Your enthusiasm and “selling skills” for the opportunity may ultimately win the day in convincing your spouse to buy in, but far too often when the challenges of small business ownership come, it becomes a recipe for resentment because the spouse never fully bought in. There is a world of difference between “Ok, go ahead” and “I agree, this is a great opportunity for us.” 

Most importantly, the ultimate long-term success of your business may hang in the balance. Small business failures are caused by many factors, but too often overlooked is that small businesses are inevitably family businesses whether both spouses are actively involved. You may have decided your new business is the most incredible opportunity ever, but misalignment within your home and family life is a major reason many small businesses fail.  However, when both spouses clearly understand the realities of small business ownership and are in it together through good times and hard times, they have the best chance of reaching their ultimate lifestyle goal of freedom, flexibility, and long-term stability.

John and Mary have not moved forward, and I truly respect that their decision is what is best at this time in their life because clearly, focusing on their marriage and family is most important.  I also hope that the Sport Clips thorough and transparent process will encourage them to reengage to consider Sport Clips when they are ready to start a business.