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Does your wife or partner work in your building business? 

This can be the case for many family building businesses. Here’s how to make it work.

For many builders doing custom residential renovations and new builds, they’re running a family business where their wife or partner works in their building business too.

Sometimes this is formally structured, and their partner is given a specific role and responsibilities to execute as part of the everyday running of the business.

However, more often than not, it’s not formally structured. 

And the wife or partner is helping the builder here and there to take the load off. They’re helping out to try and lower the stress levels, and assist with administrative tasks the builder finds too challenging to do, or that they’re too busy to stay on top of.

Wives and partners are often not recognised for this contribution they’re making to the family business. And they can be juggling it with their own responsibilities in the family and in their own career. 

And it can cause a lot of frustration and difficulties in couples as all their time together is spent trying to stay on top of the building business. 

Whether it’s because the builder’s schedule is simply too full, there’s no systems and processes in place, or there’s difficulty with managing the required technology, many builders can let their wives and partners solve a lot of business problems – but not recognise or remunerate them for doing so.

If this is the case with you, read on, as Duayne shares how his wife was seen in their business originally (and what it did to their relationship). 

And he also shares how they structure things now so they can continue growing their building business, and keep it in balance with their relationship and family life.

5. DOES YOUR WIFE OR PARTNER WORK WITH YOU IN YOUR BUILDING BUSINESS?

Now we know a lot of builders will say NO to this question as their wives or partners aren’t onsite or on the tools with them. If you are anything like me, this is what I thought. 

But the reality is that for eight years of my business where I didn’t recognise my wife as working with me, I would have been lost without my wife’s help. The business would have stopped. 

But I still didn’t consider what my wife was doing as ‘working for the business’. She was just “helping out”.

The fact is that a huge number of builders wouldn’t survive if they weren’t getting help from their wives, partners, or girlfriends. Just because they aren’t on the tools with you or sitting in the office all day doesn’t mean they aren’t working for the business.

So many families in the construction industry are affected by the amount of time spent after hours in the office doing admin work. 

For most wives and partners this is often all time that happens on top of the general family duties they do every single day. And these days, this is often also on top of your wife’s or partner’s own career.

These partners and wives work full time earning money doing a job they choose to do and support the family. Then they deal with all the general life and / or kid stuff that we all deal with on a day-to-day basis before and after their work day. Then on top of this, they spend hours helping you, the builder, trying to keep things going.

For me, one of the big reasons that I was drawn to carpentry and then moving on to become a builder was because I enjoyed being outdoors. I hated sitting in a classroom having to do written tasks, and studying things I didn’t know or understand. 

Then as a carpenter, and definitely as a builder as our business grew, I realised there was so much paperwork. And with the increased use of technology, all the emails and paperwork was something I particularly didn’t enjoy doing and often avoided. 

For many years, I was always constantly getting myself into trouble because I just avoided doing what I knew I should have been doing. 

This created more stress and work, so I always ended up needing help from my wife late at night to help me sort it out and get on top of it.

We are sure that this most likely feels like your story.

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4. DO YOU RECOGNISE YOUR WIFE’S OR PARTNER’S ROLE?

If you’re like most family-run building businesses we know, this will be the truth: Your wife or partner is the real hero behind the scenes of your building business, always helping you out. 

You can’t keep up with all the general admin, quotes, enquiries, contracts, variations, time extensions, client approvals … the list goes on. You constantly feel like you have no time and you’re under a lot of stress to keep the business running as best you can. 

Your partner sees this. which then puts a lot of added pressure and stress on them, as they feel obliged to help the family business.

Quite often this starts out as a little bit of help here and there to keep your stress levels down. As time goes on and they start to get a better indication of what is required in the business, the workload grows and grows to a point that they play a very vital role in the business.

This is how things evolved for my wife and I.  

I would be out on the tools, having meetings and doing my daily tasks which didn’t leave me a lot of time to spend in the office.  I would be up early and off to work, which meant that my wife would be preparing for the day, getting our daughter off to day-care and then herself into the city for work.  

I would not normally return back until late afternoon or early evening depending on the day, which quite often would mean that I would only see my daughter for dinner and bedtime (and sometimes not at all). 

Eventually it got to a point where my wife would then join me in the office after the kids had been put to bed to help and ease the pressure a bit, just so I could get some down time.  

Soon it became apparent that this was becoming our “quality” time which added a lot of extra stress to our relationship.

It was during my wife’s maternity leave after our second child, we realised that things couldn’t continue the way they were.  It was no good for business, it was no good for the family and it was no good for our relationship.  

We realised that what my wife was doing was actually a more significant role in the business than just squeezing in a few hours of work every night.  The decision was made that she would not return to her career and she would take up full time work with the business to alleviate the pressure on me and create a more sustainable work and business structure.

It was a big step for her to leave her career like that. And one I’m very grateful for – because it made a huge difference in our building business and lives.

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3. DOES YOUR PARTNER OR WIFE GET PAID FOR WHAT THEY DO IN THE BUILDING BUSINESS?

Back when the decision was made for my wife to become full time in the office, we believed that this was an advantage because the business couldn’t afford another staff member.  

Looking back, this was really poor thinking, as emotionally and financially there were no positives to the situation.  

She was dealing with all the stress in the office and daily running of the business – and doing this with NO experience at all in building. She was learning and throwing herself into every facet of the business, and was not being rewarded or acknowledged financially.  

Going from a well-paid career with her own money to not being paid a wage that reflected her work was something that really affected her mentally and emotionally.

And it meant our building business was relying on free labour to keep going.

So many building businesses don’t understand what their overhead costs are and end up in this exact situation.  They end up with a wife, partner or even another family member, working at a very reduced rate, or more often than not, nothing at all.  

Just like me, they think they are in a good position, usually because they are not making money on their projects to start with and can have someone working in the business that is not costing them anything.  

In reality, all this is doing is making it harder and harder for them to grow the business, as they are just delaying the real cost that the business needs. 

The fact is that if your wife or partner is working in the business at all, they need to be paid for the role that they are playing in the business. 

This is a real cost to the business and needs to be included in your overheads/running costs.  

If you didn’t have the privilege of taking advantage of this free labour, it is a real cost that you would have to pay to somebody else. 

Realising that your wife or partner should be paid for the role they play in your building business is very powerful.  Can you imagine, going to work everyday and putting up with the stress of any role and not getting paid?  For anybody in this situation, it would make them feel taken advantage of and over time, this would have a detrimental impact on many parts of their lives.

For many family businesses, when you figure this out, it will be a huge turning point. As it will make all those involved feel respected, valued, worthy and a part of the team.  

Your relationship will also be in a better position as your wife or partner will feel appreciated.

And the sooner you adjust your business costs and finances to include a salary for the role your wife or partner is performing in your business, the faster you’ll be able to ensure your building business is sustainable and can continue to grow.

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2. WOMEN PLAY A POWERFUL PART

The saying that “Men are from Mars and women are from Venus” is so true. The fact that we are so different is what makes life so interesting, exciting and unknown. Being open minded about the differences between men and women can be incredibly powerful for your business.

Looking back now, I see so many terrible situations in my business that would have had completely different outcomes if dealt with by a female. 

For many years, I would be dealing with so much stuff every single day, running the sites, organising trades, liaising with clients, and everything else needed to run a building business. I was under so much pressure that regularly I would end up putting the client offside because I didn’t take time to respond properly. 

At night, I would talk to my wife, and on the days our accounts manager was in the office, I would talk to her about what had happened.

They would tell me that I should have read the contract first. Or that I should have waited a while and calmed down before I responded, and that what I had told them wasn’t correct. 

For a long time, I would hear them, but then do nothing about it and just keep getting myself and the business into the same situations over and over again.

It wasn’t until my wife started working in the business full time that I realised that having a female in the business could make such a big difference. And because we now had someone in the office everyday that could do a lot of the communicating with clients, it wasn’t long before things turned around.

You see, females have a very different way of dealing with things than males. For a start they are genuinely a lot more charming and can communicate better under pressure. They also tend to spend more time educating themselves on things, so they can know what they are doing.

You know the story; blokes can do everything without instructions (LOL). But a female will read and study the instructions before even doing anything. 

In business, this difference is very powerful. 

It’s worth recognising too, that renovating and building is like most other industries, in that 80% of the purchasing decisions are made by the female member of a couple. 

Having a female in your business to help support and relate to your female clients, can make a big difference to the quality of relationships you create with your clients and your communication overall.

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1. EMBRACE YOUR PARTNER IN THE BUSINESS 

There are many benefits to your partner or wife working with you in the business.  

Whether your wife or partner is just helping out a bit here and there, or they are working in the business full time, it’s really important that you make them feel comfortable.  

Remember that a lot of the time, working in your building business isn’t their first choice and they are doing it to benefit the family.  

Some tips we would give you to make this transition a little easier are:

  1. They will most likely have very little if any building experience/knowledge, when giving them tasks to do make sure you explain things like you are teaching them, not telling them.
  2. Work with them and be their mentor.  You want them to be as knowledgeable as you are, so they have the confidence to make decisions on the spot rather than waiting for you when you are available.
  3. Show them that you appreciate them everyday.
  4. Write down what their roles and responsibilities, and yours, are so there is a clear guideline on what is expected, and a delineation of work as well.
  5. When you’re working, speak to them like a co-worker rather than a partner.
  6. Listen to their ideas and advice. Their experiences from past careers can be adapted to the building industry in many ways and can end up being a powerful resource.
  7. Work on a process to communicate effectively, so you don’t end up in confusion or arguments that carry on after work hours.
  8. Tell your trades and suppliers that they are going to be working with you in more areas of the business and ask them to also give guidance if needed.
  9. Promote education and seminars to help them learn and network with others in the industry.
  10. Most importantly, control work hours and keep your work separate from your relationship / family life.

If you use these tips above and embrace the opportunity to have your wife or partner working in your building business, you will enjoy the rewards.  

Your success and wins become a family affair which can be celebrated by being able to work your own hours.  

This means you can have long family weekends, and work together to spend more time with the kids, as you can share tasks like school drop offs and pickups and after school activities. This can help you create a better family lifestyle.

Don’t get us wrong! 

There is likely to be some ups and downs and challenges to overcome as everyone continues to learn and adjust, but my personal experience proves that husband and wife building their business together can be very rewarding. 

My wife has added a huge amount of expertise and experience to our building business that has really contributed to it being greater.

So, here’s our 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 of the 5 Steps of Building Contract Preparation.

5. Deciding on what contract to use

4. Understand your contracts (or get legal advice)

3. Discuss your contract with your clients prior to signing

2. Other documents to go with your contract

1. Presenting your contract to your client

Live Life Build’s 6P Methodology unlocks the 6 ways to elevate your building business: 
PERSONAL | PROJECTS | PEOPLE | PARTNERSHIPS | PROCESSES | PROFESSIONAL

Want to learn how to be a better business owner? Learn the systems, marketing tools, mindset and business skills you need in our group program and mastermind, ELEVATE. Learn more here.

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