My wife and business partner, Juliet Aurora, and I have worked side-by-side for many years.
We believe that for the most part we have done it successfully, but it took having AIS Solutions win Intuit’s Global Firm of the Future contest to have a broader world recognize it.
What we have learned as “couple-preneurs” is that while lasting relationships require a deep commitment, so does running a business together.
If you are going to be able to separate your business from your private life and leave what happens at the office there, you need a workable business protocol.
Here are some of the business and personal strategies we have put into place to make it work for us:
Recognize each other’s strengths and clarify roles that implement them.
Couples are in an enviable position of being able to recognize the strengths of each other. (Honesty is very important at this point J) A new candidate you are considering hiring can tell you they are well-organized and able to multi-task, but when you live with someone who has their spices lined up alphabetically and can cut the grass, kiss a scraped knee and plan an excellent summer vacation all at the same time, you know what they are saying is true.
But knowing what each of you is good at isn’t enough unless you incorporate those strengths into your business strategy. Let the person with the head for numbers do the accounting, let the one with the easy charm and ability to connect handle the sales.
Once you set up the roles, withdraw and resist the urge to micro-manage each other. If you can’t respect that each strength is equally important, you are setting up a road to trouble. Encourage the person with the most skill in a particular area to be the final voice in planning a new direction. Equality is vital when all business partners work together, and never more so than when it is a married couple.
Take the time to ensure the business still works for both partners
There are a multitude of reasons why people go into business and a lot of them are personal as we seek new avenues to find purpose in our work and sustain ourselves.
What starts out as a dream for two people can turn into an obligation for one as the months and years pass, even though the other partner is still ignited by what they are doing.
It is important to gently explore the topic of personal fulfillment through work and the business at least twice a year to make sure each partner is still getting what they need from the business.
Rejection of a joint business should never be considered rejection of a person or a concept. Sometimes it just doesn’t work for one person, and they need to be free to execute a logical exit that protects the interests of the business while allowing them to go where their heart takes them in a new phase of life.
A husband and wife business just cannot work if both parties are not committed to it, just as it cannot work for strangers or friends who decide to hook up to run a company together.
I have often said to Juliet: “If I’m not passionate, then I won’t do it,” and I mean it.
By being frank with each other, you can end the business relationship and avoid the build-up of resentment of feeling of being trapped before it permeates into your personal relationship. Be sure to allow space for that conversation on a regular basis.
Create boundaries about just how much space your business has in your life
The bane of the small business operator is that they go into business sometimes to add flexibility to their lives, and end up working double the hours they did when they worked for somebody else.
Business is a demanding third partner in any relationship and boundaries have to be set to keep it at bay when the occasion warrants it. You cannot live and breathe your business in every waking moment and expect that it will leave you room for other important things in your life.
Many couples make the conscious decision that when they enter the door of their home to end all business talk. I know that it is something we have tried hard to do over the years and most of the time we have been successful.
One technique that worked well for us was to adopt a kind of schedule of business hours, and a time when we were not working and were instead fulfilling the other aspects of our life. We found that by scheduling specific time for meetings to discuss new concepts within the work week kept us from turning Sunday brunch into a business strategy session.
If you fall into the trap about talking shop all evening and even on weekends, it will kill your attempt to have any kind of a life beyond business. If you find yourself falling back into that routine, make sure you schedule social times with friends and family outings that force you to break the cycle before you are dragged back into it.
Find ways to be separate from each other
If you live together and work together, you can overdo the togetherness of a relationship, even if you are both committed to it.
Make an effort to create some private space for you and your partner. One of you may enjoy solitary runs, the other may like to unwind playing the piano or working in the garden.
Whatever your hobbies are, try to build at least one activity that does not involve the other. You need this point of separation to avoid feeling caught in an endless web of togetherness and a loss of a sense of self.
Just because you work together doesn’t mean you have to constantly interact through the day either. Give yourself space to find your own work area that is pleasant and fulfilling to you. You need quiet time to think and uninterrupted time to do. Working side by side and constantly exchanging observations and comments isn’t the way most strangers work because it gets to be cumbersome. Working side by side as a couple leads to the same conclusion.
And finally, I am often asked, “Steve, if you had to pick just one thing, what has been the single most important item to your successful partnership with Juliet?” That is easy, one word, respect. We both respect each other as individuals…not just as business people…not just as husband and wife…but as people. There are many times we don’t agree on things, but I don’t ever remember a time when we didn’t respect each other. That has been the key to our success.
Thank you for reading this post. Until next time take good care.
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