Q: I run a small cafe with my partner and we find it very difficult to spend time together outside of work. We also have two young children, who take up all of our spare time.
We only talk about the business during the small windows of free time that we do have. What's the solution?
A: You have a hazy view of your priorities, so please let me help.
Fifteen years from now, you will, hopefully, have two well-adjusted children and an even stronger marriage. These are aspirations that are almost entirely in your own hands. I'm sure that you also imagine an exciting future for the business, with the cafe getting much busier and, perhaps, leading to a chain of many more. This sort of business success needs lots more luck and can be thwarted by events that you can't control.
I feel that your family comes first. You probably think that you need a successful business to support your growing family, but in my experience, it can work the other way round, which is why I think that your number one priority is your home and children.
The business comes an important, but comfortable, runner up.
Together you have two major projects: the cafe and your family.
Be clear who's the chief executive at home and who's the top dog at work. I get the impression that you're a great team who enjoy working together.
It's a difficult juggling act. Whenever I meet people in your position, I'm amazed at the energy they have, with the ability to fit 25 hours into a day.
I've never had your kind of dilemma. My late wife Alex never worked in our business, apart from a bizarre spell as a shop assistant just before we got married. She became a full-time mother, but, when she became a foster carer, her job was busier than mine. We were lucky - every year, we were able to have at least one holiday together, without any children. I can now see that those times away made a massive difference.
If you can trust a colleague to run the cafe and find a friend or friendly relative to care for your children, take advantage with a clear conscience. It's an important thing to do for your marriage, your children and the business.
Q: Staff keep nicking stationery to help with their kid's homework and other personal needs. Is there any common sense way I can police this? I'm generally relaxed about it, but don't want it to become an expensive problem, or create the wrong office culture.
A: If this is your biggest worry, you must have an amazingly trouble-free business. Instead of installing hidden cameras and carrying out a weekly stock take of the stationery cupboard, encourage your colleagues to pick up plenty of paper and biros, which might inspire their kids to spend a bit of worthwhile time away from their smartphones.
To make the point, set up a "help yourself" table, full of your giveaways. Everything on the table is free to take home (such as the shampoo, conditioner and mouthwash in a hotel bedroom), but everything else (the bathrobe, for example) remains company property.
This generous gesture should be appreciated by your colleagues, who in turn will respect where to draw the line. But a word of warning: some accountants and tax inspectors may turn into Scrooge by looking at the possible benefit-in-kind.
About 20 years ago, I abandoned a popular video movie exchange library at our office, because someone insisted on charging tax of £5 a film, to reflect the benefit every time that a video was borrowed from the library.
Don't worry about the extra cost of paper; the notepads taken home will, almost certainly, be put to a better use than those used for doodling around the boardroom table.
By chance, you've actually found a perk that benefits your colleagues' kids. Instead of trying to stop this petty pilfering, encourage it; it makes a lot of business sense to do things that benefit your employees' families.