The Truth About Being in Business With Your Spouse.
Part 1: Contemplation
With the rise of entrepreneurship statistics, it’s not surprising more couples are taking a leap of faith and going into business together.
“The Kauffman startup index found that the rate of new entrepreneurs that started a business in a given month has gone up from 2014, when 280 out of 100,000 adults became business owners, to 2016 when 330 out of 100,000 did (around 550,000 new entrepreneurs every month).” Entrepreneur.com
With the prospect of being able to spend more time together, work on something together and make more money, it seems like a no brainer! Couples often publicly show a perfect enviable exterior but what lies underneath that pristine window dressing. Is it all sunshine and rainbows? I got 18 couples to talk candidly about their experiences and give us their unique perspectives; the good, the bad and the ugly and what ultimately has led to their success.
So many questions need to be asked when contemplating whether it’s right for you. Besides the business plan you need ask:
· Can you separate between work and leisure? The lines get awfully fuzzy; your personal life can revolve around your business 24/7 and conversations planning for the future.
· Can you separate emotion and not bring those feelings into your personal relationship?
· Who is going to do what?
Confiding in others in a similar position, several things became clear. Just because you’re compatible in a loving relationship, doesn’t mean you’re going to be compatible in working relationship. While it can unleash your potential, it can also unleash the beast and put you together more than you want to be. Yes, there can always be too much of a good thing!
The working relationship is often not what they expected it to be, they realized how different men and women are, wondered if it got better and if they were the only ones struggling. In marriage you’re committing to a life together, being in business together takes it a step further and comes with its own set of problems, risks, and rewards.
The couples I interviewed run successful companies; representing a wide demographic of industries, years operating and years married. Over the next 3 articles they share their experiences and advice from both perspectives; from contemplation, to action, to their current situation. It’s a fascinating and complex relationship, with many nuances that’s different for everyone but a few things remain constant for all of them. Read on to find out what that is.
In Part 1 we look closer at at how and why they got started in business together, their fears, hopes and expectations. Read all of them or skip ahead to the couple that most closely relates to you.
Meet our 18 couples:
1. Lewis & Eve Dawes. Sorority Specialties. Founded 1996.
Sorority Specialties sells licensed sorority merchandise to selected national sororities.
Eve: When I first met my husband-to-be, I had no idea that we’d even have any kind of a relationship together, little own end up dating, marrying and going into business together.
Dating long-distance meant we actually had the opportunity to talk and get to know each other; our goals, aspirations and future plans and see if they worked in alignment with each other without taking away from one another. It also set the tone for the relationship for honest, open communication, which is rule number one, in both personal and business relationships.
Before marrying, one of the biggest discussions was where we would live. I was living in England and he in California. He owned a business that only exists in the USA, so moving it to England wasn’t an option. On paper, it made complete sense for me to move to the USA as the end result would be of greater benefit to us both but it was emotionally difficult as I loved my career and family.
I’m definitely guilty of thinking about what I’d sacrificed rather than what I was gaining; this can sew an ugly seed of resentment if you let it fester. Rather than dwelling on the past, I had to hold myself accountable for my decisions. Keep your eyes on your love, your now and your future, not your past.
Him: I’d been married before I met Eve. I was in business with my ex-wife and we worked 100% together with that being our only business and source of income. My first marriage ended in divorce so I wanted to ensure I’d learned from my mistakes. I felt that working with your significant other wasn’t a great idea because not everyone can separate business and personal lives. When you both do the same thing you don’t have the “everyday” stuff to talk about. This leads to you talking about business all the time which isn’t good for a healthy relationship.
When I met Eve and eventually proposed, I knew that she was giving up a lot; her dream job as a dancer, her family and friends, etc. I knew that I would have to make certain sacrifices as she had made so many for us to work.
2. BJ & Bethany Nickol. All American Clothing Co. Founded 2002.
“Our mission is to support USA families and jobs by producing high-quality clothing, in the USA, at an affordable price.”
The reason Bethany and I are able to work and live together without losing our minds or damaging our relationship is due to how our relationship started. We were close friends for a couple years before we even started dating, helping each other through broken relationships, and being goofy and happy together. There was never any pressure to try and be someone else or try to impress each other. We have a deep bond, love and respect for each other.
I’m not sure what made us decide to start working together. BJ & his dad started the company but they were also working in insurance. My previous job was stressful & the drive was far which I think played a part in the decision.
3. Fabiola (co-founder/CEO/President) and Simon Hesslein Cofounder/Vice President. Tryon Entertainment. Founded 2009.
Tryon Entertainment creates custom entertainment experiences for special events.
We were introduced by a record label executive that encouraged us to collaborate when Simon was predominantly a music producer and I a singer and songwriter. A romantic relationship soon developed before ultimately tying the knot. Interestingly, we actually worked on a mutual project several years before and were in each other’s presence without ever meeting.
Around the 2008 financial crisis, we saw a void in live entertainment. With our own capital, we launched our business. Our ideas were refreshing and took on a life of their own rapidly. We’ve been fearless in building our foundation as a married couple and business partners ever since.
4. Rich & Mickey Swortzel. New Eagle Consulting. Founded 2008.
Specializing in mechatronic controls, specialized engineering services, software tools and supply chain offerings.
We were introduced by a mutual friend a couple of years out of college and realized we grew up a mile from each other. Once we met in our mid-20’s our mutual friends and life experiences gave us shared experiences and values that made falling in love with each other easy!
Four years in to our marriage we relocated for Rich’s job. Mickey had been in both banking and medical industries and the move led her to Univ. of Michigan Hospitals.
Rich: I was never satisfied in my career path at a large company. I had a wider breadth of skills and interests than I was able to pursue so the idea of starting a company was always of interest. After moving, I quickly realized the career path didn’t look anymore attractive. We were in our early 30’s, no kids and Mickey was working full time, so we had the financial cushion for me to try something different. The problem was the company I was working for. It was having a rough time financially which presented the opportunity to start my own consulting business. I became a sales rep for a couple of companies and an entrepreneur.
Mickey: When Rich poised the idea of starting his own business it was terrifying. This was never my goal, so more out of a need for control, I became the bookkeeper. My Business education was helpful but running a business was way out of my comfort zone. I read books, talked to our economic development team and made a lot of errors over the first 3 years as we grew from a one person consulting company to a business with 30 employees in two locations.
5. Alicia & Luci. 2Peasinapothecary.com. Founded 2017.
An online vintage inspired apothecary. Married 1 year.
We knew each other for about 3 years and were pen pals for over a year (yes we are old fashioned). In the beginning, like everything that involves more than one person, nothing will be peaches and cream. It was hard because personalities and experience were the complete opposite in a business setting. Although we are both creatives, Luci was all creative and I was the business Nazi. In a marriage you work on your relationship as a partnership but in a business, you’re involved in a different type of growth involving external factors (products, services and customers).
Taking the leap of faith wasn’t about the confidence in our products it was the idea of surviving this without killing each other, making our customers happy and pretending hard to bite our tongue when needed. Luci had lots of experience in Herbology and a niche with art. Nevertheless, we had expectations for the process and then realized it wasn’t going to happen. Our unicorn day dreams vanished and we looked at each other and said “I’ve got you baby.” We really needed to use each other strengths when we hit bumps on the road. 101 working together: use each other’s strengths.
6. John K. Ross IV and Lisa B. Shoalmire. Ross & Shoalmire and Aging Insight. Founded 2005. Married June 2011.
Ross & Shoalmire’s estate and family wealth planning practice. Aging Insight magazine provides essential health, housing, financial and legal information to seniors.
Being married to my business partner is absolutely the best thing. Being able to share in our mutually achieved successes and struggle through the failures, all the while relying on one another for guidance, support and inspiration. Our business is our baby, we have raised it together which has in turn brought us closer than most couples I know. Of course having everything tied together means that she and I succeed or fail together which is scary at times but since we’re doing it together, we can forge ahead despite the risk. That bonds us more than anything could.
Lisa and I worked together at a law firm but developed a vision of a specialized practice that catered to the needs of retirees. Particularly we wanted to turn the business of legal services upside down with creative marketing and a business expansion strategy different from the typical law firm model. Our then employer was stuck in a traditional mindset that we felt was a dead end, so we struck out on our own in 2005. It was a big deal as we were both broke and without enough savings to cover living expenses for the first month.
7. Stephen Troy, President and Owner. Leanne Troy Co-owner and VP of Aerofund Financial. Founded 1987. Married 33 years.
Aerofund Financial provides invoice factoring and quality service.
Steve: My wife Leanne and I have worked together pretty much our entire married life. For the most part it has been a very successful partnership but disagreements in business can sink a marriage. It’s like putting all your eggs in one basket. If one area suffers all areas suffer. Disagreements can start as family arguments and escalate at the office; you never escape work. Should one want to decompress at home and the other can’t, stress can build again. However, the benefits can be enormous. You have a loyal partner that you can trust and you typically have the same goals.
We are both Type A personalities, want to get things done and had the same personal goals. I was the driver and visionary but we lacked funds, so working together we were cheap, talented, hardworking and loyal; a big benefit to a start-up. We worked together for one salary. To this day, Leanne doesn’t take her own salary. We took the leap to start our business (which was my idea) by taking a mortgage out on our home. I can’t say there were any fears, we were confident in our abilities and thought we were aware of our strengths and weaknesses. One has to be confident to start any business. This doesn’t mean you have to be stupid or unprepared.
In the beginning Leanne continued working and just assisted me but soon it became evident that our new company needed her strengths and talents. We started making money, rented a cottage in our backyard and decided to take a risk and have her quit her job and jump in full time helping grow the business.
8. Aaron & Jessica Freeman. Easy Peasy Studio. Founded in 2017. Married 5.5 years.
“Let video drive your business, instead of driving you crazy”.
Jess: I feel like we have been co-workers for most of our marriage. I’m an entrepreneur and while my business is totally mine, I ask Aaron for input. He’s a huge supporter of my business, and my go-to IT and production resource! When we came up with the idea for our video and podcast editing company I wasn’t too nervous because we’ve “collaborated” before. One issue is that we work from our home office, so it’s hard to separate work from “life” sometimes.
Aaron: Since I know Jessica is already a successful business owner, I wasn’t too nervous about starting another business. She’s great at keeping us organized, on track with projects and there was a need in the industry, so it made sense to at least try. It’s helpful because I have a designer on-hand if we need graphics. I was nervous about what it would be like to co-own a business, since our previous experience was with Jessica’s own business, where she had final say.
9. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Bregman and Sasha Bracha Bregman. Founders of Elite & Discreet Matchmaking Service. Formed 2016.
Rabbi Bregman has been working on matchmaking for 16 years and Sasha for 8.
We love working together! Since we’re super close with one another, it gives us yet another way to share our lives and spend time together and with our baby. Instead of being in a position where we spend our days apart and then only share what’s happening in our lives when we get together late at night, we are in a position to share experiences, in real time.
We both were involved in matchmaking even before we met, so for us, it’s a natural fit! It’s a fun, creative way for us to leverage our love of people and vast networks of contacts to help people find love.
10. Tomer Yogev & Monika Black. TandemSpring Executive Coaching Firm. Founded 2010. Married 2010.
Working together has been fun, exciting, a bit crazy and super rewarding. We enjoy being partners in life and business. The scary part is navigating any unresolved fights at home that carry into work the next morning. The upside is that we can choose to not go into the office and spend more time until we work it out.
It has become incredibly important for both of us to learn to keep toxicity and toxic people out of our lives to protect ourselves as a couple and as a business. We recently wrote a book together and while there were moments that brought us to a grinding halt we truly learned from each other and have a better business relationship and partnership as a result. We often joke that the real success of writing the book is not how many copies we sell but the fact that we still love each other after writing it.
Back when we were still dating we went skydiving. We were thinking about running a business together at the time, but hadn’t figured it out. While skydiving we were so impressed with the instructors who strapped you in, encouraged you and when the time was right, jumped with you. We left thinking that was how we wanted people to feel when the worked with us. That they were with an expert who they could trust and when the time was right would give them that shove they need. So, we called the business TandemSpring and we never looked back.
11. Steve & Jennifer Devlin Waller. Celtic Complexion Luxury Artisan Skincare. Founded 2013. Married in 2014.
Steve: I was a partner in my own business when Jennifer and I got together. I officially joined her business after I sold my share of my own business to my other partners. The business disagreements spill over into our personal life and vice versa. That takes time to navigate and we’re still working on it. The benefits are that I get to sleep with the boss, lol.
Jen: A challenge I faced was how to teach a grown man the ins and outs of a cosmetic business! It’s not exactly what every mans dream. Our business relies on heavy social media and he’s not very enthusiastic about wanting to be in front of the camera. One time I had him describe our moisturizer in a video and he said it was very greasy! Greasy?! “It’s emollient!” Without a doubt, the very best thing about being in business with him is that we can share the accolades together. He is my biggest fan so it makes me want to strive for more; he is encouraging without being competitive.
12. Kenyon and Eryn Phillips. MRMRS CREATIVE, LTD. Founded 2017. Married in 2016.
Working together wasn’t something we set out to do, it just sort of happened. We started working together on theatrical rock shows with Eryn doing the costumes and art direction, and Kenyon writing the music and the scripts and performing with his band. Then there were all these other aspects that we’d end up working on together (marketing and advertising). Because we have a shared aesthetic and a lot of the same influences, we found it was really easy to put together things. These ended up being the same skills that we use to put together print, email and social media campaigns for clients. We’ve always enjoyed working together, so there hasn’t been a lot of fear around our working relationship. We know what we can expect from each other, and we trust each other implicitly.
13. Linda and Paul Higdon. Global Heart Journeys. Founded 2015. Married 20 years.
Women’s Journey to Kenya Filmmaker, Beauty in the Unexpected.
Linda: We are aging baby boomers who have a privileged life. We leveraged our time and resources over 15 years ago to work with women and children in Kenya. It started through one global friendship and led to the launch of a children’s welfare operation. That deep common bond and conviction is the glue to everything!
We made the decision early on that our tour was a woman led. I would take the lead as President, host and market the tours. Paul would take the role of financial manager, investor and logistics partner; a natural division of labor. Assigning titles and roles was key from the beginning. However, we have to remind one another about how decision-making goes in each role and communicate.
A risk was that Paul’s powerful business acumen would cause me to lose the fluid, creativity necessary to continually shape the business; an ungrounded fear. Nothing (except me) can prevent the heart of creativity. Ultimately, the distinct roles honors both genders, has helped us move the business forward and eased tension or uncertainties in both our marriage and business.
“Spread the love”. So many people were interested and it was time to create a venue to invite others in. My biggest fear was wondering if the verbal agreements that Paul and I made about how we would be when our travelers were with us would actually work.
Paul: We launched in my final year before retirement. We had been working in Africa (especially Kenya) and wanted to do something creative and unique. Of course, with a de novo business there’s always the risk that it will not take off, we had tried another venture several years before that did not get traction. The concept of a womens journey to Kenya, working with many Kenyans we have known for years had great appeal. Also, I had no intention of sitting on my biscuit and watching it grow, and I hate golf. There are just too many fascinating parts of the world and we were going to go for it.
14. William and Tasha Kornegay Oscar William Gourmet Cotton Candy. Founded 2013.
Started to raise funds for HIV Awareness.
We took a risk because we could have spoiled our marriage. Being able to separate your marriage and emotions can be difficult. There were a couple times when it was hard for me to accept constructive criticism from William; a straight shooter, very matter of fact; his messages can come off strong. Being able to not let things like that carry into your marital relationship is key. Nevertheless, at the end of the day you get to work with your best friend.
We have been together for almost two decades, so we didn’t foresee any difficulties, our expectations or lack of were all over the place. We assumed working together would be similar to our marriage. We learned quickly that our roles and expectations were different in a business relationship. We decided to do it because we both are risk takers and entrepreneurs at heart. We knew that if we were doing something for the benefit of others God would guide us and see us through.
15. Brian and Melanie Boggs. Brian Boggs Chairmakers, Inc. Latest version has been in existence since 2011. Married 10 years.
Brian: Before we got married, I hired Melanie’s consulting firm/partnership to help create a strategic plan for my company. That resulted in the clarity that a business partner would be needed. Melanie was ready to let go of her consulting gig and starting a new values-based business sounded like a great next venture to her, so she offered to be my business partner to build and share this new vision. Melanie was a way to create a company to include many of the things she had counseled her clients to build; a natural transition for both of us.
Melanie: It took quite a bit of soul searching to make sure I felt like I could work and live with Brian. I gave myself three weeks to make the decision. Timing was important/perfect. Our backgrounds, experience and expertise complement each other. It was an opportunity to build an organization from the ground up (not one with 50 years of bad habits), using some of the methodologies and theories that I had used in the past.
Would we be able to do what we have set out to accomplish? No capital, big vision, small team. Could I learn the industry fast enough to be an asset? Find the craftsmen needed, train them, most importantly, would we still like each other? The unconscious/unspoken expectations were the challenging ones; where we afforded the opportunity for the most growth, both individually and as a couple.
The expectation that tripped me up the most had to do with money! I went from almost no overhead (my laptop was all I needed) to one that needed tons of equipment, wood, employees and a 10,800 sq ft facility.
16. Susie & Omar Ramroop. Make life simple ltd. Founded 2015. Married 7 years.
Susie: I’m a qualified marketer and mindset coach and Omar is a tennis coach. We are used to very different working environments; he outside me inside. Me working to deadlines him not. Me generating clients and his coming all on a referral basis or through word of mouth. Our weekly meetings are invaluable for me when Omar has a knack of keeping things simple. When you are used to working in corporate roles it’s easy to get convoluted about routes to market but Omar comes from the heart and likes things to be simple.
One of the risks is that we might not get on and that those disagreements might spill over into family life. For us it was different; we are a calm couple who talk a lot. We have really good boundaries and our relationship has got better since we made our working relationship more formal.
We went into business together because I was lonely in my business and felt unsupported, with Omar as a director it feels more fun. He coaches my clients to stretch them physically, and I coach his to do the same mentally. It started off as a long term dream to run tennis retreats together but then I asked why not now? The playful rhetorical question turned into looking at where we both needed support and providing it with an eye on the long term vision.
17. Kate & Jared Addis. Serenity Senior Living. Founded 2017. Married 9 years.
Kate: Many people say chose your business partner wisely as it is like being in a marriage. How does that work when you are already married to one another and chose your spouse as your business partner? One might think that being in business together is like being married, then being married is like being in business together. Not quite so. The dynamics of being in business together are very different than being married. My husband and I have been married for almost 9 years and in business together for a little over 9 months.
The relationship experts weigh in.
18. Elvin & Allison Perez, Relationship Experts. Founded 2016. Married for 3 1/2 years.
Being an entrepreneur is like being on a on a rollercoaster. Being an entrepreneur in a 50/50 partnership with your spouse is like being on a wooden rollercoaster where you’re bouncing into one another in the cart, being pulled in every which way and trying not to hurt your loved one while your body is flailing about. We met at work (I was his boss-scandal!) working together has always been something we’ve done really well. Transitioning from coworkers to being married was much more difficult than we anticipated. We had a very rough first few years together (including loss of jobs, income, selling a house, lyme disease, moving in with my parents for a few months) and through it all we were intentional about growing together instead of growing apart, which ultimately led us to begin our online business.
We knew we liked working together (that’s how we met) but once we started dating we couldn’t work together so Elvin got another job. After a year of not working together we realized how much we missed it. We wanted to be entrepreneurs so it was just a matter of figuring out what we wanted to do together.
We started by seeing a life coach separately, researching different certification programs and deciding we wanted to be location independent so we could travel throughout the year so that’s why we decided to be online only.
There were too many fears to count around money, wealth, our ideas of success vs society’s ideas of success and being equally afraid of failure and success. We decided to do it when we were both miserable at our jobs, sick of working for people and places that didn’t care about us as individuals.
Before you start:
- Know why you are going into biz together
- Set your individual and collective goals.
- Decide how will you know that you have met those goals, feel like that the company is successful and that you want to go further.
- Be clear on what each of your strengths are so you can play to them.
- Start small and grow organically and strategically.
Are you contemplating this, already in business, or know someone thinking about going into business with their other half? Please share with them and feel free to comment below.