How often have you toyed with the idea of going into business with your partner? When considering the challenges of starting a new business, you want to surround yourself with people who will share your vision and provide a comforting degree of trust. Because of this, many entrepreneurs turn to their spouse. Though the number has likely increased, in 2007, the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners reported there were 1.4 million firms “jointly owned and equally operated by a husband and wife.”
While the organizational chart for your new business venture may appear standard, the fact that a member of the executive board has seen you naked presents a unique set of challenges and rewards. How can husbands and wives go into business together and still like each other? It’s something that my husband, Jeff, and I are managing carefully. Here are four guidelines that work for us.
1. Recognize the difference between business and personal mode.
Once you acknowledge that a startup business is going to dominate the majority of your time, your business will settle into a pattern. This is the time to establish boundaries that honor both a business and personal arena.
Once those two worlds emerge, it’s up to you and your partner to respect them. My husband and I might be in a heated discussion about something I bought that I didn’t run through the “finance department” -- then our favorite show comes on, and we move into “married” mode. As difficult as it is, you have to make the mental switch.
2. Acknowledge that business and personal conversations are going to spill into each other.
Things happen. The office manager runs off to Vegas to be an Elvis impersonator, or your teenager returns from soccer camp with a tattoo of Messi on his calf. You’re going to have to discuss it, urgently.
“There are going to be times when a business dilemma makes its way to your dinner table, or when a personal disagreement follows you to the office. These crossovers are hard to prevent completely, but you should both actively try to maintain a line between your work and home lives,” wrote Business Editor Nicole Fallon Taylor.
Admittedly, Jeff and I aren’t very good at this. We can’t always compartmentalize the daily events of our personal or professional lives. But when one of us needs some time and attention on a personal level, we are pretty good about communicating it to each other. And we can also make it work for us. “Ok, let’s discuss business for five minutes so we can expense this dinner,” is commonly heard at our house.
3. Share the housework, or hire it out.
Regardless of whether you’re running a business together, it’s likely that both husband and wife work. Somebody has to mind the store at home, but nobody wants to do it -- and for good reason. Work schedules have never been more stressful, and the distinction between public and private life is blurred with the additional flexibility that many businesses offer.
If you’re just too busy to do the dishes, it might be time to hire some help. I knew it was time when I came home from work to a dirty house and started blaming Jeff for it, when he had been working all day too. While hiring help was expensive, it was cheaper than marriage therapy and worth every penny.
4. Master the bedroom.
When it seems as if the major parts of your day are regimented into to-do lists and schedules, there is one area where time and titles shouldn’t matter. Your bedroom is a refuge from reality, so use it -- a lot.
“Appreciate your unique relationship,” wrote David and Carrie McKeegan, writers and co-founders of Greenback Expat Tax Services. “The entrepreneurial lifestyle can be intense and havingsomeone to share it with help make it more manageable but also rewarding. Sharing your passion for the business with the one you love can be powerful.”
Starting a business with your trusted partner can be an exciting and rewarding experience -- or, not. By establishing clear boundaries, relying on loving trust while treating this endeavor as a serious business, and sharing duties while being generous with private time, you can design an exciting future in entrepreneurship without scrapping a promising future with your spouse.