Recently in a podcast interview, I was asked a question that took me off guard.
Steve, do you recommend working together on a business with your spouse or significant other?
Here’s the thing. Starting and running a successful business is enough of a challenge as is. But when you add working with your spouse into the mix, you potentially have a recipe for disaster.
Now at first glance, starting a business with your significant other might appear like the ideal situation.
After all, you have the rare opportunity to work with someone whom you implicitly trust. You know their strengths, their weaknesses and that their interests are directly inline with your own.
The rewards can be great but when things go wrong, you can potentially ruin both your marriage and your business. Even though my wife and I get along really well, working with her on the business has been extremely challenging.
For example, my wife and I never used to fight at all before we launched our online store. Never!
But over the past 8 years, we’ve had some pretty bad, mentally draining fights. And the sad part is that we kept fighting all the time until we finally figured out a strategy on how to work together effectively.
(I shut up and started agreeing with whatever she said)
Anyway, if you are even remotely thinking about working together with your significant other or even someone who you live with, here are some tips that worked for us.
We Divided Up The Responsibilities
One of our biggest problems early on was that we both tried to do everything ourselves and constantly clashed over key decisions. For example, my wife and I constantly argued about what products to carry and what look and feel we wanted for the store.
Did we want to appear sophisticated or casual and fun? Did we want to start off with only a limited product selection or did we want to open our business with a comprehensive array of items? What were our customer support policies? How quickly did we want to launch the store?
We kept stepping on each others toes and even worked on redundant tasks in the beginning since we each had our own ideals of how we wanted the business to be run. Ultimately, after a bunch of fights, we decided that it was best to divide up the decision making power and responsibilities.
Each person would have full control in their given domain but suggestions would be taken into consideration.
Since weddings were my wife’s passion, I reluctantly agreed that she should be in charge of determining what products to carry and the general look and feel of the store. She had a finance background too so it also made sense for her to handle all of the numbers.
Having a technical background, I was in charge of creating the website and implementing all of the logistics pertaining to the customer experience.
I had final say in most of the web design decisions and PPC marketing campaigns. My wife focused on working with vendors and deciding which products to sell. We still had our share of arguments, but we managed to defer decision making responsibility to whomever was in charge of their respective area.
We Set Aside Separate Workspaces
No only did my wife and I clash over decision making, but we also physically got in each other’s way around the office. In the beginning, we only devoted a single room to the business. The logistics behind this decision was that we thought being in the same room would foster communication and facilitate open discussion and productivity. Yeah right!
The problem was that the space was so small that the only thing we fostered was arguments. Our respective work spaces were so tight that we literally ran into each other on a constant basis. This caused unnecessary frustration because we both felt extremely claustrophobic.
I remember one particular fight where I accidentally rolled back in my chair and ran over some important documents that were on the floor behind me. The documents weren’t ruined but they did have a feint wheel tread imprinted on them where I had backed my chair.
My wife got really pissed off because she felt the documents were now too dirty to send out. I was mad because she shouldn’t have been putting such important papers on the floor directly behind my chair. Anyways, you get the picture. In the end, we decided to set aside separate work areas for each other (This is a euphemism for I got kicked out of the office).
We Set Aside Time To Just Hang Out
It’s very easy to get caught up in your business and forget about everything else. Simple questions like “How are you feeling today” or “How was your day?” were forgotten and replaced with “Did you ship out the order to the customer on time?”, “Did you contact the vendors?”, “Did you remember to buy the packaging materials?”.
We were so obsessed with the business at one point that I had absolutely no idea what was going on in my wife’s life for a period of several weeks.
The last straw broke when I completely forgot about a dinner appointment that my wife and I had planned with a good friend of hers that she really wanted me to meet. At that point, I realized that we needed to cut back on the business and focus more on our relationship and marriage again.
We came up with a schedule where we dedicated time slots just to hang out. No talk of the business was allowed and we tried to plan activities that were interactive and fun. Setting aside this time also provided the necessary stress relief required to recharge our batteries and renew our spirits. My wife turned into a wife again and not a coworker.
We Listened To Each Other
One of our biggest problems in the beginning was that we were both too opinionated about certain aspects of the business. There was my way of doing things and her way of doing things and no in between. When we discussed our plans of action with each other, we didn’t really listen. What made things worse was the fact that we knew how to push each other’s buttons all too well.
“I would like to organize our inventory this way.”
“I don’t think that your way is the most efficient way. Why don’t we try …blah…blah”
“Can I just do things my way? This is how I want to handle our inventory ok?
“Ok fine. Are you going to organize them as well as you organize your desk? Can you even see your desk under that pile of junk? When was the last time you were able to maintain any sort of organization?”
“Last time I checked, I organized our wedding, but you’re right, perhaps that was a big mistake”
In any case, once things started getting out of control, we sat down and had a long talk. And the outcome of our discussion was that we agreed to make an active effort to not interrupt each other and pay more attention.
Its amazing how well two people can get along by just listening. Amazing…
We Came Up With A Child Care Strategy
Just when things related to the business started getting under control, our new born daughter turned our world completely upside down. We could no longer devote the same amount of time to the business and we had to constantly cater to her every whim. This was probably the most challenging time for our business because we were first time parents and had absolutely no clue.
To get around the demanding needs of our daughter, my wife and I took turns taking care of her while the other person worked on the business. We also hired babysitters and enlisted friends and family to help us out as well. All of this turmoil could have been avoided had we planned ahead.
Frantically trying to find child care right at the moment when you need it is very stressful. If you are expecting a child or have children of your own, make sure you plan ahead, work out a schedule and hire the necessary help way in advance.
We Always Forgave Each Other
Sometimes inappropriate things are said in the heat of an argument and it’s important to give each other the benefit of the doubt and forgive. Wait till you both have cooled down and then talk about it.
Over time, my wife and I have become masters of forgiveness and I think that this has made our relationship even stronger. Ironically, my wife got mad at me for writing this blog entry because I didn’t consult her before posting it up. However, I’m sure everything will be all good once I point out this last paragraph to her.
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- How To Start a Business While Throwing Up (A Satire)
- 4 Tips on How To Deal With Irate Customers
- My Yearly Report: Online Store Profits Up 28% Year Over Year