For better or worst, till business do us part
Never about power ... Kirsty and Graema de Vallance, founders of A Cast of Thousands.
Couples all over Australia are forging a business together. In fact, some of the country’s most successful small businesses have been built by couples now reaping the rewards of being in business together.
It’s been a dream scenario for Melbourne couple Mark Koronczyk and Amanda Walker, who have been working together since 2004 when they launched fast food business Lord of the Fries. The business started as a mobile food van that travelled to music festivals and other public gatherings.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing in those early days. The couple cooked up fries for the masses literally within arm’s reach of each other. After a few pulled muscles from hunching over deep fryers in the back of a wobbly food van, the duo decided it was time to move on to greener pastures and invest in a shopfront location.
Find a balance ... Mark Koronczyk and Amanda Walker, founders of Lord of the Fries.
The pair has since married and built up a successful franchise operation with seven branded stores across Melbourne. They are now eyeing off the Sydney market.
“It was pretty hectic in those early days. While we both believed in our business concept, we were starting on a shoestring budget and there was lots of work involved in launching the business and growing it in a relatively short space of time. But we thrived on it.”
Sydney couple Kirsty and Graeme de Vallance also run a business together. They left their respective careers seven years ago to launch a casting agency, A Cast of Thousands.
The business casts people for reality television documentaries. They have been involved in all four seasons of Network Ten hit show MasterChef and The Family on SBS, among countless other shows.
The business gives them the freedom to set their own hours and share responsibility for their two young children.
But they admit it was a challenge in the beginning. They were running the business from a far smaller home and while there weren’t any children in the mix at the time, they were working long hours to build the business from scratch.
Kirsty says while they knew each other well when launching the business, trying to decide who would control various elements of the business took time.
Although there has never been a power struggle between the pair, she says. “We had to figure out where our strengths and weaknesses lay and who enjoyed doing which tasks the most. It takes time to work that sort of thing out.”
Mark agrees it can be a challenging, saying there is lots of behind-the-scenes work involved in running a fast food business. Working together requires a great deal of trust in your partner’s ability to complete their tasks each day, he says.
“You’ve got to respect each other and know your capabilities and trust that the other person is doing their job well. Making sure that you find your own space at some point is also really important.”
And while it can be challenging, trying not to talk about work after hours is important, Kirsty and Graeme admit.
However, this can be harder said than done.
“It can be difficult to switch off when we’re not at work. We knock off and put the kids the bed and we’re sitting there watching our shows, discussing the casting all over again,” Graeme says.
These rules are a good start, according to the author of a new book that aims to dispel some of the myths around working with your partner. Author Dr Greg Chapman has been a business advisor since 2004 and has seen countless husband and wife teams grapple with power struggles, a lack of trust and countless unfulfilled promises.
Called Married to the Business: Honey I love you, but our business sucks, the book offers advice on how couples can grow profits and minimise disagreements.
The book was inspired by an email Dr Chapman received from a woman who explained she had resigned from business with her husband. An email from the husband raising concerns about how he was going to cope without her followed.
“I had mentored the couple and then received these emails about the wife throwing in the towel. The emails captured the passion and emotion involved in so many businesses run by husband and wives.”
Dr Chapman says the boundary line is often blurred when couples go in to business together.
In many cases, there is far too much informality within a business that is being run by a husband and wife team, he says.
“Because you automatically trust each other, often couples have only ever established very informal business systems, which can destroy a business.”
Dr Chapman recommends that couples set up a business management system and produce regular reports to ensure important elements of running a business don’t slip through the cracks.
Couples should also create a board to represent their business, he says. Both parties should be represented on the board and a third neutral person should also be appointed, he says.
“It might sound like a big step to bring someone else on to a board, but that third person can be objective and act as an umpire so things don’t get too personal.
“But it is possible to design a business around your family lifestyle if you put some steps in place.”