Never have I ever directly told a coworker of mine that they are annoying until I went into business with my spouse. I have also never jumped up and down for joy in my living room with a coworker until I went into business with Natalie. Our previous blogs on couple-owned businesses talked about retirement planning and health insurance options. These are very important financial planning areas when owning a small business, but we also can’t forget about the personal and emotional aspects of owning a business with your spouse (like name calling and overly enthusiastic celebrations). In this blog, we will discuss ways to maintain a healthy relationship and business when working with your spouse.
COUPLES IN BUSINESS TODAY
According to Harvard Business Review, it’s estimated that 3 million small businesses in the United States are couple owned, with that number likely increasing as many chart the path toward entrepreneurship.
The Institute for the Study of Labor researched why couples go into business together. A study sample consisting of 1,069 Danish couples that established a joint business venture between 2001 - 2010 started their business because one spouse had limited outside opportunities in the labor market. The research found that starting a business together led to significant income gains for both spouses. Research shared that starting a business together is a great investment into human capital for both spouses and also reduces income inequality within the household.
The study also found that couples that open businesses together are no more or less happy than other couples. Many people tend to perceive owning a business with your spouse with unhappiness and marriage complications. I can’t tell you how many times people have said to us, “I could never go into business with my spouse!” However, couple owned business owners are not any more or less likely to separate, divorce, or have children than couples not in business together. Owning a business with your spouse is difficult, and sure it may add a layer of complexity to your relationship, but we all deal with issues that affect us personally with or without owning a business together.
Owning a business with your spouse is becoming more and more popular, especially with high profiled success stories paving the way (thank you, Chip and Joanna). Managing conflict and effective communication are crucial in maintaining your work and personal life. So, we created a list of several areas to maintain a healthy personal and business relationship with your partner.
You are in business with the one person in life that understands you the most out of anyone in this world, but don’t assume that he or she can read your mind. Communicating is so crucial with your partner, whether it’s coordinating a business meeting or coordinating a personal dinner with friends. It’s not likely that you and your partner have worked together before taking the leap into owning a business. Many of us act differently in a work environment versus our home. Understanding how we communicate and process our thoughts is critical. One may internally process thoughts (me) while the other may process thoughts externally (Natalie). Couple-owned business partners need to understand how each partner communicates and respect each person’s individual qualities and characteristics. For us, we didn’t realize the value of communicating our communicating style until we reached a breaking point! Therefore, don’t just focus on the act of communicating, but also how you communicate.
Being transparent about work and our personal lives encourages healthy growth all around. As a couple-owned business you need to understand when to put your ‘work hat’ on and your ‘personal hat’ on. We need feedback on how we handle work situations and ways to improve our business. The person giving you your feedback is also the person you share a bed with at night. There will be times the feedback hurts each others’ feelings, or you’re pushed too far one way and it affects you personally. Understanding this balance is crucial (and forever evolving). We preface this fine line by directly asking each other for feedback. We may also want to provide feedback without being asked to give it. In that situation, we simply ask, “I have some feedback for you, are you open to hearing it?” The ability to be transparent with feedback, feelings, and state of mind has been essential for our progression personally and professionally.
ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES
You’ve heard this a 1,000 times, but it is so important to delegate. As business owners, you naturally start off doing everything. Assuming most of you haven’t worked with your spouse before, you do not know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The truth is, you won’t know each other’s strengths and weaknesses until you begin working together. We had heard to define our roles and responsibilities when starting our business, and so we did. Well, several months later those roles and responsibilities have completely shifted because we discovered what each other enjoys working on, who is talented where, and how to equally take on tasks neither of us want to do! Delegating roles and responsibilities also means respecting each other’s skill set. If you are not in charge of a specific area or project, then you need to respect your spouse’s boundary and trust he or she will complete the task at hand.
It’s no secret, balancing work and your personal life is going to be very important and equally difficult. As a couple-owned business you may want to set parameters when it’s time to talk about business and when it’s not. This may mean setting a time when you stop talking about the business, or setting aside one day a week to dedicate time for a personal hobby the two of you share. You will also experience days where one spouse could work until midnight and the other needs a break from it all. Communicate this so your individual needs are still being met. Creating a work/life balance will be unique to the two of you. Ignoring this factor will eventually lead to things spiraling out of control. It’s up to you two, and you two only, to prioritize this.
We asked our friends, Crystal and Jim who own and operate Trail Creek Coffee Roasters together how they make it all work and Crystal responded, “The best way to make sure that our relationship doesn't always get the ‘leftovers’ is to make each moment count. [We] work toward being intentionally present with the times we have together, whether that is cooking dinner, parenting our wild and loving boys, or managing the coffee cart. It's definitely something that is a continual work in progress as we learn more each day.” Read more about their experience here.
From day one, we have agreed that our relationship comes first. Having a contingency plan is very important. Creating this plan does not mean you're setting yourself up for failure, it means your relationship is being set up for success regardless of how the business performs. A contingency plan allows the two of you to always go back to what you agreed upon in the beginning. Creating a plan is powerful and we’re all about it. After all, you're reading a blog from two financial planners.
Owning a business together is exciting and an adventure in itself. You need to be honest with your partner and yourself if this is something you are ready to do. Understanding that it’s not always picture perfect is important. It’s real and you are going to sacrifice a lot to live out your dream together. However, if you can make it work, you’ll learn more about your spouse than you ever thought possible all while living the life you always wanted for each other. I hope these tips give you guidance and confidence to start a venture with your partner. If you’ve already made the plunge, then use this as a check in with the health of your personal and business relationship together.
As always, we specialize in helping couples with their financial lives. If you and your partner are interested in starting a couple-owned business together we would love to help consult on the personal and business side of making it work.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not a recommendation of Fyooz Financial Planning, Natalie Slagle CFP®, or Daniel Slagle CFP®. Past performance may not be indicative of future results and may have been impacted by events and economic conditions that will not prevail in the future. Therefore, it should not be assumed that future performance of any specific security, investment product or investment strategy referenced in the article, either directly or indirectly, will be profitable or equal to the corresponding indicated performance level(s). No portion of the article shall be construed as a solicitation to buy or sell any specific security or investment product or to engage in any particular investment or financial planning strategy. Any reference to a market index is included for illustrative purposes only, as it is not possible to directly invest in an index. Indices are unmanaged, hypothetical vehicles that serve as market indicators and do not account for the deduction of management fees or transaction costs generally associated with investable products, which otherwise have the effect of reducing the performance of an actual investment portfolio.