My husband and I are close. Very close. We sit a few feet away while we work. If we both reach out our hands we can high-five each other.
Lots of people, when they realize we work and live together, say something like, “I could never work with my partner.” To me, there’s no one I’d rather work with. But it’s not all high-fives and afternoon lunch dates. We have to work. We have to solve problems. We have to communicate well, and often.
Here are some tips I’ve brainstormed and/or learned the hard way to help other couples who are also business partners.
1. Have clear work hours.
I don’t mean you have to work the same hours every day. Flexibility is a perk of owning your own business. I mean you should set boundaries between your work life and your everything-else life. When I first joined Mark (my husband) fulltime, he was so excited to have me working with him that he wanted to talk business always. Lying next to each other in bed, me halfway in lala-land, he’d tell me a task he wanted me to remember and complete. We quickly learned that sleepy-time wasn’t work time. After several times of saying, “Not now. Write it down and tell me tomorrow, or email it to me from your phone,” he finally got it. Separation is important.
2. Don’t take things personally.
I’m a designer for our website and app development company. Mark is the engineer. We are the only two people running this thing, and we think that’s pretty cool. Sometimes I’ll do a mockup that is really fun, really fresh, and totally awesome. (Or, at least I think it’s all those things.) Then I’ll call Mark over to my desk for feedback. Silence. Crickets. Me, crumbling because he doesn’t like my work, then me, raging because he doesn’t like my work. But then I step back and remember that the reason we make a great team is because we bring very different backgrounds to the table. I’m all design; he’s all function. Then we meet in the middle and dance.
When your partner doesn’t agree with your work or is critical of something, it in no way affects your relationship. It doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t love you. Those things are totally and completely separate, so keep your emotions in check. If a random coworker gave you the same constructive criticism, how would you react?
3. Be honest.
This should already be happening with your partner, right? Of course you love your partner, but you don’t have to love everything he or she does. This tip is the flip-side of the previous tip. Don’t be a Yes Man or Woman when you really need to say, “No, this needs more work.” To create the best business you can, you have to say “no” a lot before you say “yes.” Saying yes to please your partner won’t benefit your clients or your business in the long run. Be honest with your feedback, and always be constructive and kind.
4. Discuss your goals.
Do you and your partner share the same goals for your business? If not, that’s okay. The important thing is that you talk about your goals. This can help avoid misunderstandings. Do you want to hire employees in the future? Do you want to rent office space in the future? Do you want to travel or be a local business? Do both of you want to stay with the business long term, or are you just riding a wave? Do you want to do more, create more, offer more?
There is no wrong answer as long as you share your ideas with your partner.
5. Define your roles.
Mark and I wear many hats for Red Room Software. We have to. We’re only two people, and there are lots of things to do. We handle the books, do some light marketing, look for new clients, and design and develop for existing clients. We are our own assistants, we handle our own schedules. We deal with taxes and government forms. If your business is as small as ours, you may feel like you’re doing everything, because you are. Separating some of these tasks and defining your roles will help streamline things a bit. Decide what your strengths are, and make these tasks yours. Mark is an excellent programmer, while I only know a minimal amount of HTML. While Mark codes, I try to answer emails and keep up client communications when I’m not designing.
Understanding your roles in your business will help keep your business life separate from your love life.
6. Pow-wow often.
Things change. Your business will shift and grow. Talk to your partner often about what’s working and what’s not, and don’t be afraid to make changes. Are you feeling satisfied creatively? Are you happy with the designated roles? Do you want more? Discuss these things and more, and keep the lines of communication open, always, unless of course you’re working and have set specific boundaries. Decide how you want to pow-wow. Mark and I have morning meetings — not every morning, but when we have several things to discuss. We go over current clients, prospective clients, our schedules, and our goals. The meetings keep things moving forward, and they keep us better informed of each other’s tasks.
It’s hard work to be lovers and business partners, but it’s also a lot of fun. Our successes seem quadrupled because we can share them.
Are there any other couples out there running businesses together? What have you learned, and what has challenged or energized you? I want to hear your story!