The switch from employee to boss isn’t always an easy – and neither is working with your spouse. Here are some insights shared by business owners Molly and Jordan Kirk, who co-own a commercial refrigeration and air conditioning business in Perth.

Molly and her husband Jordan worked for a refrigeration company and later bought out the business under the name The Refrigeration Co. While Jordan was highly experienced in commercial refrigeration and Molly had a solid background in administration, they learned there was much more to running their own business and turned to the SBDC for support. Here is their story.

A speedy transition

According to Molly, things moved quickly once they first launched their business. “We started as the Refrigeration Co about 18 months ago and then bought out another company which meant we went from zero to 100 really quickly,” she says. “It is challenging and rewarding. Some of the moments where you look back and think ‘Wow, I thought I would never get through that.’ It’s really quite encouraging.”

Get the support you need

According to Molly, before they came across the SBDC’s services, she and her husband found the world of business could be daunting.

“We didn’t have much guidance – it was a whole new world for us,” she says. “You go online and google something and there’s thousands of answers for different things so it’s a bit of a minefield trying to wade your way through it.”

“I was googling one night and somehow ended up on the SBDC website. While I was on there reading, there was a little chat box that popped up on the bottom and it said ‘Would you like some help?’ and I said ‘Yes please!” Then they put us in touch with our adviser who turned out to be somebody with a lot of experience in the same industry doing the exact same thing – so it was a bit of a goosebump moment.”

It's a continual process of learning

Molly and Jordan started with general advice through our SBDC business advisory service and found there was much more they could learn.

“At the beginning we had mentioned we were going to buy out another business, and there were different things we weren’t sure of. After that it was financial support, learning these are the kinds of reports you should run to have a look what’s going on.”

The challenges of living and working together

While it’s often the case that a married couple go into business together, a business partnership can bring a whole new set of challenges to a relationship, as Molly and Jordan found.

“When we went in for one of our meetings with our adviser, it kind of stuck with me that obviously we are together 24/7,” says Molly. “You basically need to figure out who wears which hats. You’re managing this side and you’re managing that side – and try not to switch over.”

“Keep your own hat on. You have to wear more than one when you’re running your own business. It’s just about who is wearing which one. I had to wear 500 new ones which I’ve never worn before!”

Jordan adds that trying to remain calm is also helpful, in every aspect of business. “Don’t fly off the handle when something goes wrong. Something is always going to go wrong and the way you deal with it is what makes you the person you are.”

Taking on new roles can be challenging

Jordan has found it helpful to have a great team. “We try to treat this place like it’s a big family and look after everyone as much as we can,” he says.

“Learning to become the boss is hard sometimes when you come from a trade-based background where you’ve always been mates with everyone you work with. Becoming a leader-figure has been a bit difficult sometimes but we’re slowly getting there.”

Every business is different

Molly notes that what works for your business sometimes isn’t the same for others. “You have to figure it out for yourself. Most of the time I research solutions myself but it’s good to have the SBDC to ring and ask ‘Is this right?’”

“The first time running a business can be difficult, so I’ve been able to call up the SBDC when I’ve delved down some new path that I haven’t been before, and I’ve found some resources and I don’t know what I’m doing and it’s good to have that point of call. Using the SBDC is a bit of a no-brainer, considering it’s free. It’s a big help.”

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Small business stories
17 October 2022