It’s impossible to reflect on Plantscaper’s 40th anniversary without reflecting on 39 years working with my husband, Mark, and eight years of working with our daughter, Courtney. It’s not often that you can say that your business is older than your marriage, but in our case, it’s true! Plantscapers has always been a family affair, and that is a blessing and a challenge.
Over the years, people have asked what it’s like working with my spouse. At first, I didn’t know how to answer. It was simply all I knew. After further reflection, it’s all about working towards the same goal to the best of your abilities. It’s the ‘best of your abilities’ part that I’d like to dive into!
No matter what your business is, there will be aspects that are not in your wheelhouse. Mark and I started working together in our 20s, and we didn’t know what we didn’t know. We were young and energetic and thought we could tackle anything. It wasn’t until we started looking outside of ourselves that Plantscapers really started to grow. Sometimes acknowledging your weaknesses can help build new strengths.
One thing we did well was to underpromise and over-deliver. Our clients knew that we would be ethical in our dealings and go the extra mile for them. That was enough for a while. But once we reached the end of the ‘best of our abilities, ’ reaching out for help was vital.
The Outside Help You Need
An outside accounting consultant—the first thing our consultant did was introduce us to good accounting software that helped us run the money side of the business well. Streamlining our accounts payable meant understanding where we were as a business. As they say, the numbers don’t lie.
A Peer Group—it’s okay, nay, it’s GREAT to have a circle of peers in your industry. Exchanging ideas and best practices can elevate your business and make you more competitive. Our peer group taught us valuable human resources tactics, how to manage and discipline well, and kept us up to date on the latest design trends in our industry. Because of our peer group, we have created financial benchmarks and recruitment and hiring standards.
An Accountant and an Attorney—the business world is very litigious, and small business owners are better served to pay someone for their years of expertise than trying to figure out a complicated system of laws on their own. Find good counsel and trust them. It will save you time that you can spend investing in your skills. Find someone that you jive with and go with it.
A Business Consultant—this one is probably the most valuable investment we made. When working with family, it’s essential to have an impartial party that can separate the business from the personal. One of the worst mistakes Mark and I ever made was bringing work home. Our consultant showed us how to divide our business life from our personal life, and both sides are happier because of it. Some carryover is inevitable. Courtney, says she’s been part of the company since she was in utero, as she’s heard us talk business since before she was born. But as much as possible, we try to have a life outside of work.
Even with the best outside help, it’s important to lay ground rules when working with family. These guidelines have helped us thrive in and outside of the office.
Tips for Working with Family
- Carve out time to have regular weekly meetings with your partner at work and discuss wins and losses. Leave those at the office door and live the rest of your life.
- Don’t dwell on things. Make decisions, execute, learn from mistakes, and move on.
- Have a written agreement with all team members(especially family members) stating job responsibilities and duties. Make responsibilities and expectations clear.
- Appoint one person to keep lists in meetings. Letting one person be the gatekeeper of who, what, and when keeps things clear and accountable.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate—when dealing with obstacles, we need to talk to our team the most. It’s innate to do the opposite sometimes.
- Review financials monthly, quarterly, and at year-end.
- Spend time to plan for the future. Don’t just get caught up in daily tasks. Getting caught in the day-to-day details is a surefire way to tread water instead of swim.
Working with your family can be very rewarding and beneficial. You’ll never have more trust than when you know a person’s history and traits intimately. It’s lovely to all be working towards the same goal and use the great energy in a family to get there. The last 40 years have been a true blessing. Have we obstacles? Of course, but we have also had some fantastic wins and changed many people’s lives for the good. For this, I lay my head on my pillow every night in gratitude and thankfulness!