Your mate is your best friend, so why not go into business together? Some say its a terrible idea for couples to work together; others say its a brilliant idea. But if you do become an entrepreneurial couple, there are things to do to avoid strife and stress in your relationship and business.
When I told friends and co-workers that my wife and I were starting a business together, reactions ranged from that is great to I could never go into business with my spouse, says Juan Pena, who launched Happy Couples Academy with his wife, Stephanie Maria. One friend even took me out to lunch and warned me against the folly of working with my wife. I left that lunch wondering if I was dooming my marriage by starting this business with my wife.
But that didnt stop Juan and Stephanie. And it shouldnt stop you and your mate either. Here are a few tips on how to work peacefully and effectively with your business partner and spouse.
Tips on working with your spouse in business
–Be on the same page: Make sure you have the same vision for the company and agree on the way to get it there–and how this all fits into your vision for your relationship. Create a shared vision about the meaning of your business. One of the important ways that marriage is different than other relationships is the level of commitment married couples show towards supporting each others individual and shared dreams. Working on a business together with your spouse should be about more than making moneyalthough that is an important part of it as well, notes Juan. A business should be part of the larger vision and shared dreams you have as a couple. How does your business support that larger vision and shared dreams you have as a couple? How does your business help you to express yourselves and actualize your potential as individuals and a couple? How does it allow you to serve others and manifest your values as individuals and a couple? What is the biggest mistake couples make in business together?
–Lean on your mate: Turn towards your spouse; not against or away. The building blocks of all relationships, including marriage and business, are the social and emotional bids we make towards each other. A bid can include small talk, questions, comments, a look, a gesture, pretty much any form of communication we initiate towards our spouse can be considered a bid. There are three possible outcomes for each bid we make. First, our spouse can turn towards the bid which includes some form of supportive,encouraging, or empathetic response. Second, our spouse can turn away the bid which includes ignoring or not noticing the bid. Lastly, our spouse can turn against the bid which includes a non-supportive, discouraging, or non-empathetic response (e.g. criticism, contempt), says Juan.
–Work in gratitude: Cultivate the habit of fondness and gratitude for your spouse. The way our brains evolve makes them like velcro when it comes to brooding about potential threats and like teflon for when it comes to noticing regular occurring positive actions, shares Juan. In other words, we often take each other for granted and stop noticing the positive things we do for each other. We do a much better job at noticing the negative things that happen…The good news is that gratitude is a habit of the mind that we can consciously cultivate. For example, practice acknowledging and expressing gratitude for all the things your spouse does–even if it is part of their chores or work responsibilities. Let them know how much you appreciate their making that phone call or what a good job you think they did at a meeting.
–Do the paperwork. This will be a business venture so you need to treat it as such. Especially with your spouse, its easy to go with a verbal agreement to start the business, explains Troy Hazard, author of Future-Proofing Your Business. But its important to create a partnership agreement and document ownership percentages, rules for buyout and how the business would continue should one mate want to leave the business.
–Talk it out: Figure out how you will handle business disagreements and the like. When we started our business together we discussed the potential negative effect having a business can have on our marriage and vis verse the potential negative effect that being married can have on our business. To avoid the first outcome (business having a negative effect on marriage), we try our best. We also agreed that our marriage is more important than our business and if we found that we could not make the two things work together, we would focus on protecting our marriage even if it meant not working together any longer or changing work roles, explains Pena.
–Be transparent: Be respectful of your mates role and responsibilities in the business. To avoid the second outcome (marriage having a negative effect on business), we agreed that we would be open to each others influence when making decisions, but that we also would respect the roles and responsibilities we had in our business, says Pena. This can get a bit messy when you both hold different roles so it is especially important to be clear about different roles that may be at play at different times. For example, we co-facilitate workshops and coaching we do with clients. In this capacity we take an equal share of the time when presenting the material and interacting with clients. I am in charge of creating the content for the website. While I am open to Stephanies influence it is ultimately my decision what content gets included. Stephanie is in charge of the look of the website. While I have input, it is her decision what colors or images we end up using. In other words, you have to be clear about the roles and responsibilities you each have.
–Do daily check ins. Make sure you are both ready to tackle the issues of the day. In a start-up, so much happens in a day. Check in for five minutes every morning or night with an update of the day and the progress of key issues you are dealing with. You’ll be surprised how this takes the pressure off the relationship, offers Hazard.
–Dont put it all on the line: Your marriage should never depend on the success of the business. If the business fails, dont blame one another. Take a positive look at the lessons learned.
–Dont underestimate the journey. Being in business is not easy, otherwise everyone would be entrepreneurs. Remember, the road may be rocky and long. It will always take longer, cost more, be more of a risk, and be much harder than you think. Announce that to your mate before the journey starts and there won’t be any surprises during the journey, advises Hazard.