Partnering with your spouse

Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to be able to provide my services to many different types of businesses. But I think that one of the most interesting, and certainly most challenging, is when the owners are also in a personal relationship together. To be able to achieve this is something quite remarkable. Starting and running a successful business is difficult enough, but when you add working with your partner into the mix there are suddenly many more layers of complication added here that can make it even harder. Having discussed what’s involved with some of my clients, there’ve been times I’ve felt more like a marriage councillor than a bookkeeper, but I’ve also gained some valuable insights into their situation.

Going into a new business requires total commitment and being prepared to devote everything to it. Apart from having the unwavering desire to make your idea work, you also have to truly understand the business you’re getting into and do all the business planning, research, financing and marketing. When you’re also doing this with someone you’re in a relationship with, you not only need to agree on these things and have the same dedication and desire to reach your goal together, but need to manage all the personal stuff that must be kept separate from the business. Working with your spouse not only means dealing with business partnership concerns but many other complex emotional and family issues as well as communication and relationship challenges. On the surface starting a business with your spouse or partner seems like a great idea. It gives you the opportunity to spend time with and work with someone whom you trust more than anyone. You know their strengths and weaknesses and would never question their motives because your personal and professional interests are completely aligned. But dig a little deeper and it’s clear that this arrangement is extremely challenging as it blurs traditional work-life boundaries and mixes business and personal roles. This can potentially create all sorts of unexpected difficulties and stresses. It requires being honest with each other and being prepared to face difficult situations to have any chance of it succeeding.

It’s important to keep personal and business issues separate and this is when the strength of any relationship is truly tested. There are going to be times when a business dilemma or a personal disagreement follows you to work, but you need to actively try and maintain separation between your work and home lives and still be able to have a business meeting without getting overly emotional or distracted from the matter at hand. I think couples in business need to agree that their marriage comes before anything in their business, so they don’t lose perspective when there’s a disagreement in the office. Good communication and listening is the key. When there are arguments, give the other person space. Being able to roll with the punches and support each other through the good and bad times is a crucial component to any business relationship. When it also involves your partner, this is doubly important. Separate your roles and responsibilities. Having different strengths mean you’re better suited to having separate responsibilities. You must have a clear understanding of who is in charge of certain things and to then become experts and excel at different areas of the business. Identify your strengths in the areas of leadership and business. Define the various business roles carefully, and assign the responsibilities according to those strengths. Plan to hire contractors or employees to assist you with your weak areas. It seems to me that having shared goals, a fundamentally strong relationship and a complementary skill set is the key to successfully building and running a business together with your partner.