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Ask the EP Experts

 
Azriela Jaffe
Are you an entrepreneur in need of relationship advice? Ask Azriela, author of Let's Get Into Business Together, Eight Secrets for Successful Business Partnering and Honey, I Want to Start My Own Business, A Planning Guide for Couples for help!
 

 EP Relationship Q&As

Q. I am currently an unemployed "Stay at Home Mom" of two. However, I do work very hard on a project I am trying to get off the ground and hope that it will one day become my business. I have a Web-Zine called "Unified Spirits" with a companion newsletter that goes with it by the same name. It's small right now - only 87 subscribers with a little over 200 page views per
month.
 
The problem is that since I do not earn any money for this work, people do not consider it work or worth doing. They have no qualms about interrupting
me while I am working because to them I am not working. I put a lot of time into this. It takes me about 3 weeks to collect the material. Then about 18 hours to figure out what I will use and the layout for it. Then of course I must edit it all. Then it takes another 6-8 hours to build the website pages. And that is not including the newsletter.
How do I get people to understand that this is my job, even though I earn no money from it yet? It could some day be my business and it is very important to me, even if I never earn a penny at it.
A. Your choice of language, in the way that you communicate this to me, to others, and to yourself, is critical here. You began by describing yourself as an unemployed stay at home mom. That was your first statement to me, thus I believe, the primary message that you are communicating to others. Later on, you complain that people do not respect your new job.

First, you must stop defining yourself as unemployed. Second, you are not in a business that should be taken seriously by others, the way you are describing it to me and probably to others. Your language communicates that this is a hobby of yours, a love, something dear to your heart, but it is not a business. A business, by definition, is set up to earn some money. Otherwise, what you have is a hobby. We can talk about how important it might be to set boundaries, and to keep your family and friends from disrespecting how important this hobby is to you, but that's a different matter. For right now, I want to help you refocus your language.
 
You state: "I hope that one day this will become my business." I believe that you are wishing for other people to respect it as a business already, when you have really not established it as so. Do you have a plan for how you will eventually earn money from your endeavor? Are you investing time and energy into something that you expect will earn profits at a later date, after a certain threshold has been crossed? How will you earn that money? You see, fair or not, no one cares about how much time it takes you to do this, or how much you energy you put into it. It's either a business in the making, or it's a hobby. You must decide which one it is.
 
If it's a hobby, stop being mad at people for not respecting it as a business. Then, you can communicate that in order for you to be a good mom and a fulfilled human being, you need to do this for your soul, much like some people need to go to church or synagogue every week - and they don't expect to be paid for it. Communicate to those who interrupt you that you are busy with something that is important to you, and you will take care of their needs at a later time. Try not answering the phone whenever it rings. Don't expect people to understand why it's important to you, or to be happy about not getting their immediate needs met. It's a process of negotiation and setting boundaries for you, since you sound like the type of woman used to making herself into a 24-hour service station for her family.
 
If it's a business in the making, then begin to communicate it differently. Create business cards and stationery and give your business a name. Put together a business plan, and even if the plan doesn't call for income for another six months, you can educate your husband or whoever is interested, about the direction you are heading in. Better yet, involve your family in
the planning. Call it a business, and set established business hours for yourself, when the kids and others understand that you are working. If you think of it as a project that you'll get to when everyone will leave you alone, they won't leave you alone. If you think of it, and speak of it, as a business that requires a certain amount of your dedication and time, and if YOU start taking it seriously, then others will follow.
 
You say: "The problem is that since I do not earn any money for this work, people do not consider it work or worth doing. You do a hundred things a day for no money that people consider worth doing - cooking meals, doing the laundry, taking care of the kids, and so on. We don't only measure worth by whether we earn money or we don't. You can't allow yourself to define your self-esteem that way. You are a woman who is dedicated to at least two passions in your life at the moment - caring for your children, and working on a new business. And maybe a third - taking care of your husband, if there is one. None of that may bring in a paycheck right now, but it is all worth doing.
 
Don't start with trying to change others' perceptions of your work. Change your own. When you recognize your self-worth, others will too.
 
Azriela

Q. My husband and I are from two different worlds. He has two sons (from a previous marriage), that for the most part, his mother raises. She pushed him into keeping the boys several years ago when their mother left, and for the most part, she has taken over the duties of raising them. I bowed down to this when our daughter was born. My focus then as now is to raise her as a caring, loving, honest, and responsible individual.

My husband, on the other hand, has no patience with a toddler. He refuses to read and learn as I do, to understand her feelings and moods. He is very distant from her unless she bothers him - then he is good at scolding. He believes in being much more physical than I ever would. For this reason we are always on eggshells in our home. Our daughter desires the same attention from her daddy as she receives from mommy, but he is so unreceptive. It really hurts her feelings and she doesn't know how to handle it. She comes to me for comfort and support.

I worry about what this might be doing to her as well to me. It is more stress than I can handle at times. My husband watches her on the weekends as I work Thursday thru Sunday morning. I document her good days on a calendar. They are ALL good until I am gone. He doesn't give her things to keep her mind a little busy, as I do. Thus she becomes bored and screams out.

This situation has created a HUGE wall between us, not to mention his mother giving him constant direction with what she is doing with his boys. They say "Watch" and then do awful things. His mother approves of this where I do not. My husband just goes along with her wishes.

I was brought up to be responsible, polite, honest, and reliable as well as loving of all things. He on the other hand was not. But this side didn't surface until we married. Now with our daughter, I am stuck in this mess and trying to make the best of it, for my daughter. To leave, would only give his mother access to our daughter. He is a workaholic, so the time he would have her would be turned over to his mother. Whatever can I do to keep my sanity in this situation? For now to keep my daughter safe is my only goal.

A. I hear your pain and your fear. An individual who feels as trapped and unloved as you do will feel desperate, of course. I can not solve this complex situation in a short column, but I can help you reframe your current circumstances. You state that keeping your daughter safe is your only goal. That's the statement of a martyr. Don't do that to yourself. Perhaps your daughter's safety is your primary, and most important goal.
But it is NOT your only goal. Don't allow yourself to believe this is so. You also have other goals that are important to you - keeping the job that you are committed to, being in a loving relationship, improving your marriage or leaving it, keeping yourself safe. Lots of needs must be met for your life to work, not just the safety needs of your daughter.

You are making a central assumption around which everything revolves - that your husband must watch your daughter while you are working, and that if you were to leave your marriage, your daughter would end up in your mother in law's care. Where is this written? If your husband is not capable of providing acceptable care for your daughter, in your opinion, you can do what lots of single parents and dual career couples do - hire a babysitter. I know, you'll probably have two immediate objections. One, the cost. Second, your husband and mother in law might protest - it's ridiculous to spend that kind of money if they are able to do it.

Here is where you need to decide if you are willing to take a stand. The evidence is, it is not working well for your husband or your daughter for him to be in charge of her for such a length of time. Some men and women are just not cut out for watching over young children. He'll probably be relieved to lose the responsibility. Second, your husband can choose to allow his mother to run his life and the life of his boys. But you don't
have to give her that power. You, as your daughter's mother, have the right to choose who will care for her while you are at work, and to determine if they end up in your mother in law's care or not.

If you fear that your husband could be violent with you or with your daughter, then you must return to your statement about her safety being your only goal, and do what is necessary. The evidence was there from his decision to give over the care of his boys to his mother - parenting is not his strong point. You didn't want to see it, or perhaps you hoped it would be different with you. Now, you must decide if he is capable of changing,
or if you can live with it the way it is.

You are clearly debating whether to stay in your marriage. I strongly encourage you to seek professional counseling to help you sort out your options. Don't give in to despair, there is always hope that things will improve, or that you will find the resources you need. You are a strong woman and by your own description, responsible and reliable. You must utilize these character traits now, when you need them most. And don't be afraid to accept help from wherever you can get it. Good luck to you.

Azriela

Q. I have been married for 6.5 years and have known my husband for 8 years. He was just starting his home business when I met him and it was coming along slowly but surely. Since we met I have asked him if I could help him with his paperwork and he has declined the request. I think he mainly turns down the request because he wants me to work outside the home to make more money.
 
The field I'm in is flooded in this area and the benefits are lousy. I can't afford to pay daycare for 2 children and make it worth my time working. I'm a firm believer in being a stay at home mother but I know we also need a way for me to contribute to the family budget.
 
Meanwhile, my husband's business has exploded into a fast-paced business. He recently hired an old friend to be part of his business because he has become very busy. He also hires employees to help with the expanding business.
 
Would it be beneficial for me to work for my husband's business? I know I can be a great asset for organization (he needs that) and time management (needs that too). How can I approach him with this concept?
 
I would love to hear any advice you might have for me.
A. Let's say you applied for a job advertised in the Help Wanted section of your paper, a job you really wanted, a job you felt eminently qualified for. You just knew that you'd be a
tremendous asset to this organization if they would have the good sense to hire you. But then you get the dreaded rejection form letter, and your dreams are out the window. Would you go back to that organization over and over again, begging them to employ you, and trying to convince them of the error of their ways? Unlikely.
 
Your husband has made it clear that he doesn't want you working for him. You have made some assumptions about his motivation to keep you away from his business, but I suspect that it is far more complex than that. You are looking at the situation very logically. He has a need for some administrative help, and you have the skills. You come a whole lot cheaper than hiring an employee, so for goodness sakes, why is he kicking a gift horse in the mouth?
 
I don't know why your husband is reacting this way, because I can't ask him. But this much I do know. Plenty of men in this country do not want their wives to assist them in their business, regardless of how helpful to them it could be. (The reverse is also true -- plenty of women prefer to keep their husbands out of their business affairs as well). Here are five possible reasons why your husband might feel that way, other than the reason you proposed, which of course may be true as well.
 
1) Perhaps he prefers to keep his business and personal life separate, and feels uncomfortable about you trying to merge the two. Most people in this country do not want to work with their spouse, and view such a possibility with great dread and resistance.
 
2) Although you might have high regard for your skills, he may not. He may love your cooking, appreciate your sex life, believe you are a fabulous mother, be madly in love with you, and still not see you as the ideal employee for his organization.
 
3) You may be approaching him in an angry, accusatory way -- "Why don't you hire me, you fool!" which is triggering him to push you away in defiance.
 
4) He may want you to work outside of the home, not just because of the desire for more income, but also because he feels smothered working at home with you and he is seeking more space.
 
5) Although you perceive the "clear need" your husband has for your assistance, he may not see it that way. Perhaps he is focused on bringing different skills to his organization, skills you don't have.
 
6) Your approach to your husband is a set-up for triggering his defenses, since you are trying to convince him that he needs you because he is deficient in administrative skills and time management. It's only natural that he would respond by insisting that he doesn't need you, because to acknowledge that he does would make you right about him being inadequate.
 
Here's my advice. Work for your husband only if he invites you to do so. Express interest in his work, praise his progress, and in the meantime, take your focus off of his business, and put it on yourself. If you don't want to get a job outside the home because of your commitment to your children, then look for other work at home opportunities. You are only asking for trouble in your marriage if you continue to badger your husband.
 
And a funny thing might happen if you let go. As you do so, your husband may very well come around, on his terms, when he is no longer absorbed in trying to push you away. Ironically, your best chance at getting what you want is to give up on pursuing it altogether -- for now.
 
Last, but not least: Show your husband this EP Q&A. It may open communication between you, so that you can get to the bottom of all of this.
 
Azriela

Q. My friend and I embarked on a partnership on a whim. Out of the blue one day we found ourselves purchasing supplies. Then she went $200.00 over budget and told me that I needed to pay her back soon because she had bills to pay. I was furious. I am paying her back, however, she has taken it on herself to go out and keep buying more supplies and charging me for half. It turns out that the product we chose to make (identity disguised) is very time-consuming. I don't feel we can charge what they are worth. My time and creativity should yield more than $5.00 an hour!

 
How do I tell my friend that I want out? We went through the process of registering our name and getting our wholesale number as partners. Do you have any idea of the market for this unique one of-a-kind product?
 
Any help would be appreciated.
A. Your questions to me send a mixed message, which I'm sure reflects the confused signals you are giving your friend and business partner. On the one hand, you ask me how to get out of this partnership. Then you ask me if I have any ideas for marketing your product. I wonder if there is a part of you thinking: "I think this is a hairbrained idea and I don't like
the manner in which my partner is conducting business. I want to get out of it before I lose anymore money...but just in case there's a market for this product, maybe I shouldn't get out too soon." Perhaps you believe that you can salvage a poor situation if you land the right market for your product.
 
To correctly address your concerns, we need to separate the two issues: 1) whether there is a market for your product; and 2) whether you should be in partnership with your friend. If you don't view those issues separately, you'll decide to partner or not to partner with your friend for the wrong reasons.
 
You said that you and your friend embarked on this venture on a whim. That's not uncommon. When researching for my book, Let's Get Into Business Together, Eight Secrets for Successful Business Partnering, I found plenty of friends who started a business together after a few beers, or a brainstorm over coffee. It's the equivalent of waking up married after getting drunk on a date. After an enthusiastic connection, you charge forward into business without a clear plan or committed understanding between you and your partner.
 
You can spend time researching the market and formulating a strategy for selling your product. You could discover a way to reduce your labor time for each piece, or to sell them for a price worthy of your labor. It is very likely that you could create a profitable business from this product if you are willing to invest some serious energy into your start-up. However, here's why I don't think that this venture is for you:
 
1) You have concerns from the very beginning about investing capital in your business, and skepticism about whether there is a market. It's very difficult to succeed in any business, but usually you need at least two things from the beginning: the willingness to invest some time and money, and a fervent, passionate belief that the world needs your product. I sense both of these lacking for you.
 
2) I don't believe that you will partner well with your current partner. It troubles me that you had a financial misunderstanding so early in your partnership, but these things happen in new partnerships. What troubles me even more is the fact that after reaffirming your boundaries following the first mishap, your partner continues to spend beyond your agreed-upon budget. If she is unable to respect and abide by your constraints, with
only a few hundred dollars invested in this venture, that doesn't bode well for sharing financial control with her once you are running a business together. You are fighting over money already, and you haven't made any!
 
I don't place all of the blame for your faulty communication on your partner, however. I question your agreement to repay your friend for her continued overspending beyond your articulated limits. The first time the misunderstanding occurred, maybe it made sense to repay her. But if you really made it clear that overspending was unacceptable to you, you should have refused to repay her for new expenditures that you didn't pre-approve.
 
Your continued willingness to pay your partner more than you are comfortable with tells me that this partnership is bad news for you. She will likely continue to overspend, and you will likely continue to spend more than you can handle and then resent her for it. You share the same problem as she does -- you are both unable to abide by a commitment to a limit. She doesn't stick with her commitments to you, and you aren't strong enough to resist breaking your own commitment to yourself. Since it appears to be difficult for you to stand your ground, you need to be partnered with someone who will respect your limits, or to not partner at all.
 
If you value this friendship, and you want to retain your sanity, I would end the partnership now. Do so without attacking or blaming; rather, tell her that you can see that your money management styles conflict, and that you value her friendship enough that you no longer wish to pursue a business opportunity with her. Appreciate that her overspending was a well-intentioned effort on her part to make a success of this business. If you have already promised to do so, pay off your debt to her, and then the next time you get together for lunch, go dutch!
 
Azriela

 

 
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