By Josh Patrick
Your best planning is perhaps closer than you think: Ask your spouse. It’s not hard, but asking does take courage and a willingness to hear a sometimes brutal truth.
You’ll get the truth. Almost no one will tell you the complete truth about a business idea, let alone the brutally frank kind. Your employees are afraid you’ll fire them. Ditto your professional advisers. Your business peers probably don’t care enough to disagree with you.
Maybe one source besides your spouse will tell you the truth: a peer-to-peer business group (and then only if the group is any good). A surprising amount of the time, it’s up to your spouse to tell you the truth.
This becomes especially true if you’re thinking about leaving your business. Everyone else who’s a stakeholder will give an opinion on this subject that might not necessarily be in your best interest. Most will tell you that your leaving is a terrible idea: Your employees will instantly fear losing a job; your suppliers will worry that the new owner won’t buy from them; and your advisers know that once you sell, you won’t be a client anymore.
The tough questions. Really, how many people actually take you to task for your really dumb ideas? If you’re like most business owners, you have a tough skin that helps you get through the day. And your spouse is probably one of the few who can pierce that exterior to ask tough questions.
Also, your spouse won’t let you off the hook. At times it’s uncomfortable, and it’s almost always valuable, at least in terms of business advice.
What makes this idea good? I come home with what I know is a great idea and I tell my wife, Suzanne. She then often gives me one of those are-you-out-of-your-mind looks and says, “So what’s so good about it?”
Ever had that exchange with your spouse? If so, you know how valuable this feedback can be, though you probably hate to hear it.
Make sure your spouse understands. Lots of times –– and I do mean lots –– I come up with an idea that I think is brilliant. My co-workers listen silently, which of course I take to mean a testimony to the idea’s brilliance. When I try to explain it to Suzanne, though, she often looks at me with a total lack of understanding.
It’s not her fault; it’s mine. I didn’t think the issue through enough to explain it to anyone else. More important, if you can’t explain your idea so he or she understands, you probably don’t understand it, either.
Your spouse helps check your premises. When you think about selling your business, talk it over with your spouse. Explain why you think it’s a good idea, and invite your wife or husband to poke holes in your theories. If your spouse breaks out laughing, check your premises.
Your spouse is your best partner not just for life, but for planning, too. When you first tackle the biggest questions, you want bounce your ideas off a very tough audience.
Josh Patrick is a founding principal of Stage 2 Planning Partners in South Burlington, Vt. He contributes to the New York Times You’re the Boss blog and works with owners of privately held businesses.