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It’s an interesting landscape we are all entering, both individually and as businesses. Whatever the ‘deal’ is struck with the European Union, our lives will never be the same again. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not purposefully being dramatic and suggesting that the sky will fall in or conversely that we will suddenly be awash with opportunities that were otherwise not available to us, but the way we conduct our business will indeed need to change and for some organisations that will be easier than others.

I am fortunate that I get to work with organisations of all shapes and sizes and across a range of industries. My experience certainly follows with academic research on the subject, which suggests that although there are obviously variances from industry to industry; regardless of the nature of the industry, it is the business structure and governance that is likely to dictate the specific challenges or opportunities businesses will face as we enter this new phase.

I have found, for example, that whilst the passion and vision for the company is greatly reduced in PLCs and non-family-controlled businesses, the opportunities for innovation and growth tend to be greater. Likewise, where decision making is slower in PLCs than in family businesses (which includes Couplepreneurs), the decisions are often more grounded as they are made based on wider information sources. Entrepreneurs, especially in the early stages, tend to fare better than PLCs, non-family run businesses and family run businesses as they are forced to employ external specialists quite early on – meaning a rounded set of resource, experiences and views are available and the division of labour is clearer whilst still being able to remain close to the source of the vision.

Hence different business types will need to address their business lives post Brexit very differently – a one size fits all method just won’t work.

And with many more businesses than ever now failing it is vital that we look at how we can ‘protect’ our businesses in more fundamental ways than just how we source our supplies; where our customer base sits and what pricing mechanisms we need to adopt.

So how does this affect Couplepreneurs and what can those who have entered into a business as well as a personal relationship together do to safeguard their businesses during this turbulent time?

One of the key things Couplepreneurs can do is maximise the advantages they have over other business structures.

01 / Protect and build on your sense of purpose 

Jim Lee Ph.D, from the Department of Finance, Economics and Decision Sciences at Texas A&M University – Corpus Christie, suggests that, among other things, motivation, passion, trust and sense of purpose is clearer and stronger in family and Couplepreneur run businesses than any other – especially where those concerned have a shared vision. It has been proven over and again that those businesses that are run and managed with purpose at the heart of everything are out and out the most successful businesses, regardless of other challenges. Jim Collins, in his excellent book ‘Built to Last’ gives an array of examples of this and John O’Brien and Andrew Cave, in ‘The Power of Purpose’ seek to explain to those that haven’t embraced this philosophy how to make the change. However, whilst Couplepreneurs are leading the game in the initial stage of their business, it is critical that as they grow and employ others to deliver responsibilities that they have previously undertaken themselves, that they find a way of ensuring this message is ingrained in every process, decision, and action.

Create a series of recorded VLOGs or Webinars for your future team, as you go about your individual tasks, explaining in detail what you are doing, how you are doing it and why.

Think of it like a YouTube version of a Quality Manual and a Training Guide. By doing this you are killing three birds with one stone!

  • Used as part of the induction/training, your passion, your emotion and your story will come across along with any technical instructions
  • And this can be built upon over time, as your team contributes to process improvements that enhance rather than detract from your purpose
  • It supports growth as it allows you to upscale quickly through quick immersion of new employees
Furthermore, It’s easy, its quick. personal (you can use your phone as you go), it’s cost effective and it will make your team invincible from the start. 

02 / Retain your ability to remain agile whilst guarding against the dangers of the ‘echo chamber’

It is well recognised that the speed of decision making for both Entrepreneurs and Couplepreneurs is a distinct advantage in business – especially where Couplepreneurs have clearly defined roles and accountabilities and where both are competent and capable in the areas they cover. The same level of competence in organisations with different governance structures (even family run businesses) loses its advantage through the cumbersome matrix, channels and relationships that decisions and reporting tend to have to go through.

There is though a danger, specifically for Couplepreneurs who tend to rely heavily on their shared passion and purpose as well as their individual skills, competencies and expertise, that they become victim to both the echo chamber and the very dangerous 3rd Quadrant of the Knowledge Engagement Matrix (where they don’t know what they don’t know). Simply said, because decisions are made primarily between two people who are close in their values, opinions and regular decisions, there can be a greater tendency to reinforce each other’s beliefs without really questioning whether there is another option. There also tends to be such a great deal of trust and belief in the other partner’s knowledge and competence that they don’t always push to test whether the knowledge is valid. This tends to lead to confirmation bias and any outside information is subconsciously distilled so that it reinforces what the couple already believe and know.

There are a few options that Couplepreneurs can consider ensuring they continue to maximise on their agility but reduce information bias when making key decisions.

1. Making space in the working week to reflect, learn and connect with others is critical according to Derek Draper in his new book ‘Create Space’. The book provides numerous case studies which demonstrate that carving out time slots during the week (something most of us say we absolutely don’t have time to do), will reap incremental rewards in the quality of decisions made and the productivity of those concerned.

2. Find a business mentor. Someone who inspires you, who has been through the challenges your business is likely to face, ideally someone who has won, failed and won again. Through building relationships with separate mentors, you will each have access to your own business guru who will challenge your thinking and give you a different perspective on things.

3. Take up meditation or mindfulness. According to Mindful.Org research from the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute found that people who meditate regularly react rationally rather than emotionally when faced with difficult decisions. Furthermore the NHS backs research that suggests that meditating for just 20 minutes per day can lower the stress hormone cortisol, a factor that is attributed to poor decision making. Indeed, research from Andrew Hafenbrack, which was published in the Journal of Business Research, volume 75, June 2017, suggests that just one focussed breathing, or mindfulness session, can have an impact on the decisions people make – giving them a better perspective on the here and now.

03 / Build on your entrepreneurial traits to foster further and continual innovation

Whilst it is recognised that the creation of new ideas and seeing how these can be applied in different ways is an ability available to most people; there are few who have the ability to recognise these as solid business opportunities; who have the confidence to take action and the discipline and passion to follow their ideas through to fruition. I would argue that Couplepreneurs lead the field in this area, given that they are ‘all in’ with their business idea. They don’t have a partner providing a separate income if it all goes wrong and they run the risk of their relationship being strong enough to weather some of the storms most businesses face at some point along the route.

However, Jim Lee’s research (published in S.A.M. Advanced Management Journal, 2004) concurs with that from Boshoff, Farrington, Venter and Eybers (published in Management Dynamics: Journal of the Southern African Institute for Management Scientists 2009) that a problem for Couplepreneur businesses can lie around the governance structure and personal contribution to the business that are often adopted (mostly out of necessity at the start and then because the structure is never challenged). The tight control around decision making and tendency to ‘own’ several responsibilities can mean that once the original business idea is up and running, new innovations are slower to follow.

Furthermore, the above research also suggests that family run businesses and Couplepreneurs can have a tendency, in the absence of external stakeholders, to shortcut best business practice of continually and formally assessing the external environment and the company’s internal abilities to meet any changes and maximise its position. In the main, time and ‘day to day’ priorities are the reason these are overlooked but lack of suitable resource is also often a factor.

It is those companies who cease to look critically at how they can change and improve their products and services as well as the way in which they deliver these that are ceasing to exist. Whilst the structure of Couplepreneur run businesses can, depending on their set up, pose challenges in this respect, they are also in a prime position to address this with relative ease, and without upsetting the status quo by considering:

1. The appointment of a Non-Executive Director. Usually appointed once a business is up and running and making a profit, Non-Executive Directors have the same legal duties, responsibilities and liabilities as Executive Directors, but their role is usually limited to being board advisory partners. NEDs can bring a vast amount of value to the business. Couplepreneurs are undoubtedly the best equipped to manage their business day to day, but to have a seasoned business veteran on board can bring fresh perspective to business decisions as well as vast business experience and a network of influential and skilled people which can help open the door to new opportunities. Furthermore, having a Non-Executive Director on the board, can make a business look more attractive to outside Investors.

2. Consider an annual Business MOT, using the services of an external consultant to provide a completely impartial appraisal of the industry, your competitors, your customers and your company’s internal abilities to adapt to, and capitalise on, these.

3. Joining or starting a Mastermind Group.

Essentially, Mastermind Groups are peer to peer gatherings comprising between 5 and 8 people who are equally driven and motivated, are at a similar level in their careers and who want to unlock major developments in their businesses. These individuals meet regularly and are committed to actively participating in each meeting and supporting the needs of the other members. It’s a bit like having an objective board of Directors who come together to actively discuss and brainstorm the different challenges each are facing/potential disruptions that could benefit the participants. At the end of each meeting goals are set and members take accountability for acting on these before the next meeting. For Couplepreneur led organisations where the structure may not allow for innovation to be built into the business, this type of forum provides an effective, inspiring and motivating environment that will help spark new ideas for any business.

4. Make more informal connections with those with similar experiences.

Having the opportunity to build connections with people in a similar position, sharing stories, experiences and learning how others have tackled and approached similar stages of organisational growth, can be extremely beneficial for those who often primarily rely on their significant other to discuss potential innovations. Just the act of taking time away from the business in an informal setting and meeting new, inspiring people can add just the spark that is often missing when we stay in our normal environment.

Without doubt, all businesses will need to focus and plan around how and where we source our supplies; where our customer base sits and what pricing mechanisms we need to adopt once Brexit arrives. But to an extent, all we can do now is guess different scenarios. In the meantime, I would suggest that Couplepreneurs are well placed to get ahead of the curve by putting in place the above foundations that will make such planning and decision making quicker and more effective than their competitors.

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