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‘The Truth About Being in Business With Your Spouse’

PART 3: Happily Ever After?

By Eve Dawes

In Parts 1 and 2 you met 18 couples who shared why and how they decided to go into business together, along with their business concepts, and perceived risks and rewards. In Part 2 they shared how they put their ideas into action. In Part 3 they share how their business looks today, what’s working and what’s not, what the future of their business looks like, and their advice for other couples considering or already in business together.

Writing this was as much therapy for me, as I hope it is helpful to others. As I read each couples responses, I sat going “yes, yes, so true, I’m right there with you!” or “That’s such a great way to look at it”. I’d get so excited and want to keep sharing everything with my husband. There’s so much to be said for open discussions that help others form realistic expectations while still keeping their dreams alive and showing how special it can be in so many ways. As well as for feeling like others are having very similar experiences and you’re on the right path.

Let’s catch back up with our couples and see where they are today:

  1. Lewis and Eve Dawes. Sorority Specialties. Founded 1996. Married 2008.
Owners of Sorority Specialties.

Eve: It brings a whole new meaning to honoring your wedding vows ‘for better or for worse’.

Today, we do a couple of things together such as sales and keeping an eye on trends, but for the most part we have seperate roles. I do the social media and proof emails and Lewis does the bulk of the day-to-day running of the company since it’s his full-time job.

Although we work from home, we work in separate offices so we don’t get distracted. We’ve given up trying to keep ‘normal-ish’ hours whatever that means (but do make weekly date night a priority). We used to say ‘his’ company but after 10 years in business together it’s become ‘ours’ and is our baby we are nurturing together. Take notice of the language you’re using with your partner, we can all be sensitive. I used to say ‘sacrifice’ which didn’t do either of us any good. Now I say “chose”, as it was a decision that was the best for both of us.

We still bicker; nothing’s going to change the fact that women are from Venus and men are from Mars, what I see as shouting, he sees as being animated. What he sees as me being sensitive is me just having a, dare I say it, woman’s perspective and emotions. The skill comes into being able to understand that that emotion isn’t always directed at us but a way of venting and to switch work mode on and off. We may be frustrated at each other from a work conversation but have to be able to let it go really quickly because the next sentence could be totally un work-related; it switches back and forth that quickly. I find focusing on all of his strengths, morals, kindness, and all of the qualities I fell in love with him for and knowing you have to be a little tough in business keeps my respect and love for him when I’m frustrated with how we are working together.

We both have different strengths, which makes allocating tasks easy and has never been something we’ve had to divide up or fight over. I’m good with grammar, language and networking and he’s the numbers man. We are both creative. There are times when after nearly 10 years of working together I still don’t understand why he’s asking if it’s ‘their’ or ‘there’, in the same way I’m sure I frustrate him when it comes to numbers when it seems just as obvious to him as black is black and white is white.

It will test your patience. It will test your love. It will highlight each other’s weaknesses but it will also highlight your strengths. I have so much respect for my husband’s mind, he is very astute, determined and mathematically inclined. I notice and love these things about him that I might not otherwise have been so aware of it we weren’t working together.

We get to plan our future together and making sure the business is a success means we are constantly checking in with one another and keeping ‘our’ future on the same path, growing together and not apart. However, there is no ‘off’ button. Having a company together becomes 24/7. We’re always discussing our day, conversations, future and schedules at breakfast, in the car, at dinner; it becomes ‘the’ topic. Which is why it’s so important to find outside interests so it doesn’t become all consuming and to keep your own identity. I’ve found doing charity work, writing my blog Fitness by Eve, creating video content for Faviana’s Glam & Gowns, workouts, travel, and having a busy social life all help towards keeping that balance.

When you do anything challenging as a couple you get to experience comradery, team building, a sense of accomplishment, share triumphs and losses. Our diversity is a great asset, and trust, cooperation and effective communication are the key to our success. When you’re both emotionally and financially invested in something, it’s in both of your best interests to make it work, so even when you have a conflict over something, it’s reassuring to know it’s because you’re both trying to make it work and succeed, it’s not about what’s best for me but what’s best for us.

Just as our personal and working relationship has evolved over the last 10 years, I’m sure it will continue to do so to ensure mutual happiness and the future of our company.

Him: Working with your significant other is different than just being with them. No matter how long you’ve been with them and how well/perfect that has been/gone it doesn’t mean that you will be able to work together. It’s almost like starting dating; you have to learn about the person all over again. It will take work, be frustrating and it may not always be a great idea to work together. That’s OK, it doesn’t mean you love the person less or you shouldn’t still be together.

Know that it will be work and most likely harder work than your relationship is/was before. You will wonder how/why something that is so obvious to you isn’t to them. Always go back to why you are with that person to start with. If you’re the man, know that she will not be able to 100% separate business from pleasure (men and women are just wired differently), if you’re the woman, realize that he doesn’t mean it personally, he’s not that cold, he’s just separating work and personal things and he can do it on a dime.

Things that don’t affect you will effect her and vise versa. Remember she is your partner not your employee, so you can’t talk to her like an employee. Know that this happens to most couples that work together, it’s normal. Just like in your personal life you have to work at being in business with your partner and if it’s not working out it’s not worth sacrificing your relationship for. Sometimes it’s a square peg and it’s not supposed to fit in a round hole and that’s OK. If you keep trying to put it in something will break. But if it works out, it will make your relationship even stronger and you and your company will be a force to be reckoned with!

2. BJ & Bethany Nickol. All American Clothing Co. Founded 2002.

BJ & Bethany Nickol

BJ: Like many households these days we depend on two incomes, so this business has to work or we are both out of a job. Due to the pressure/stress from the above, maintaining a good relationship can be tough, especially if you have two very opinionated people with different visions for the company.

Benefits: Spending time with your best friend, working on and growing something together. Flexibility: If there are any personal issues that need to be attended to (kids, home, etc) both of us have the ability to leave work or re-arrange our schedules as needed. I trust her more than anyone, if I need to be away from the business for any reason, I know things will be fine.

The biggest tip I can offer any couple thinking about getting into business together is that you absolutely have to communicate and respect each other. While planning you need to know what each person’s strengths/weaknesses are, and establish roles/responsibilities that compliment each other. My strengths were in digital (art/programming), marketing and management; while Bethany’s were in organization, processes, and customer service. Our roles were pretty easy to define. There are going to be bumps in the road but as long as roles/responsibilities are set and each person will listen to and respect each others opinions it can be a very satisfying and enjoyable experience.

Work is a part of life and I can’t imagine doing this thing called life without my best friend beside me every step of the way.

Bethany: Starting out, and even now, I do the jobs that BJ just doesn’t have time to do. I think it works out well. That is why I was hired to begin with. He was working another job & needed someone to do the customer service & order processing. We have since hired others to do that part of the job so that I can take on other tasks that BJ needs help with. It has been really exciting watching the company grow as much as it has.

BJ is a very laid back, calm, relaxed person & that tends to calm me. He has a gentle delivery when telling people what needs to be done. I have never felt like he was “telling me what to do”. I think most of the employees feel that way. Going into it, I knew that he was my boss. I never wanted to be in control or make the “big decisions”. I was just there to do what he needed me to do. I think that makes a big difference when working with your spouse. There has never been a fight for control & no one is right or wrong. He asks me for my input, but I know that even then it is his decision.

I honestly love working with my husband. I love seeing him any time I want. We are both a little goofy, so we are always making faces at each other when we pass in the hall or joking around. We don’t go home & complain about things that happened in our day because we can discuss them at work, then go home & just relax together with the kids.

We know that it isn’t for everyone, but works for us. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

3. Fabiola (co-founder/CEO/President) and Simon Hesslein Cofounder/Vice President. Tryon Entertainment. Founded 2009.

Fabiola & Simon

The benefits of working together are: a) having peace of mind that you’re in business with someone you can trust; b) learning to appreciate each other’s talents as an entrepreneur and c) continuously bouncing ideas off each other day and night, which could also pose a problem when trying to achieve work-life balance.

Our suggestion is for each of you to envision what your work-life balance should look like (whenever it’s together or individually) and schedule activities that force you to commit. This way, you’re both always at your best when at work and at home.

Make sure you both agree on the vision and big picture for your business. Communicate if you ever start to see things differently to ensure the business is on track to success and the relationship stays in tact.

4. Rich & Mickey Swortzel. New Eagle Consulting. Founded 2008

The benefit of a growing company is while we work in the same company, we don’t work together daily. We have enough individual responsibilities that keep us out of each others’ “space”. We are much like any other couple coming home and asking how their day was and not always having any idea of what the other person did! However, unlike couples that don’t work together, we do have the background and deeper understanding of what the other person is working on, which can bring greater empathy and support. For us, we can’t imagine working with any other partner!

Advice to other couples:

Rich: Make sure your marriage is strong before starting a business. If there are cracks in that foundation, there’s nothing to build upon. Don’t sacrifice your marriage for the business; there will be times when it feels like you have to choose; always choose your spouse.

Mickey: Get a support system outside your spouse. As an owner, you’re everyone’s boss and it can be hard to make connections in the business like most people have at work. Therefore, you have to find a peer group that can help support you. Because you work with your spouse, you need external places to vent and get 3rd party input to keep you in the proper perspective.

5. Alicia & Luci. Founded 2017.

Alicia & Luci

Fast forward and guess what we are still alive, and it is not easy, so anyone who makes seem like it is are quite frankly lying because the key to it all is RESPECT and working as a partnership, taking pride out of the picture and knowing you are only stronger together like any partnership because two minds are better than one and so forth. Just five minutes ago we bickered about who will write this response since our busy season just started. Another reminder is your relationship comes first not your business. Your love, your bond, your friendship and your union are FIRST.

As both females and fire signs let’s just say when we disagree we are ready for a debate but then again, we strongly have to remind ourselves what is the desired outcome, why did we start this and overall, it’s really not that serious which color tissue paper goes in the package because love conquers all and we have noticed our imperfections is what ends us and the loves we give in our products our customers enjoy it.

6. John K. Ross IV and Lisa B. Shoalmire. Ross & Shoalmire and Aging Insight. Founded 2005. Married 2011.

John K. Ross IV and Lisa B. Shoalmire

It’s commonly stated that most marriages end in divorce over money issues. This is also the same reason most businesses fail, particularly partnerships. If a couple currently argues about finances, they should definitely not consider being in business together. But beyond that, you have to REALLY like the other person. So much so that after years of being with them you are still disappointed when you are not together. As mentioned earlier, we were not married when we started the company and by the time we married in 2011 had been in business for several years. We knew each other’s philosophies regarding money, spending habits, risk tolerance, etc. From the first day I woke up excited about the business but equally excited because Lisa was going to be there. I still have that same feeling even though when I wake up she is lying next to me.

As mentioned before, we started with nothing. We are now one of the largest boutique law firms in the south that specializes in the legal needs of seniors and people with disabilities. Early on Lisa and I celebrated the first month we made $1,000.00 and are now a multi-million dollar per year business. Our firm has grown to multiple offices, we publish a magazine, host a radio and TV program under the brand Aging Insight and are expanding into things like podcasting. The future looks great. Right now the biggest downside to our continued growth is that Lisa and I can work a full day in the same office and barely catch a glance of one another because we are so busy.

7. Stephen & Leanne Troy Co-owner and VP of Aerofund Financial. Founded 1987. Married 33 years.

Stephen & Leanne Troy

Interestingly we both fell into our job rolls; just gravitated from each of our strengths. Leanne does most daily operations and I do more of the accounting, finance, sales and strategy. I have always been the CEO and I would have the final word big picture decisions. Leanne is good with people and operations. Should a difference in either of these clash, I was to have the final say as CEO. (As referenced back to the missing 5 years in Parts 1 & 2). In the end, it’s about respecting each other’s abilities and recognizing what you are good at and what you are not as good at.

We have been very successful both at work and at home. If you ask our friends they will tell you we have one of the most admired marriages they know of. We are together so much people can only say it’s the team of Steve and Leanne. Let’s invite Steve and Leanne. They know one will most likely not come without the other.

Have fun. Take time for yourselves. Leanne and I have always had a weekly date night and we travel together away from business. We are lucky we love to do the same things. Oh one more thing. Don’t compromise. Even when we looked for a dog. We both wanted different dogs so we bought one of each. Compromise isn’t necessarily always good in business. My wife wants the best for me and I want the best for her. I think once again respecting each other’s strength and feelings and knowing and respecting boundaries has worked wonders for us. Remembering that you both are in it together and want the same results…Success for the business is a common goal.

We are getting up in years. I am 64 my wife 67. We should be retired now or close to it. But we enjoy what we do and we love a challenge. We have even just started a brand new division for our business, Aeropay Express building it from scratch. It’s very exciting. We felt the business needed to stay current and relevant and this new division is providing a new challenge. What does the future look like? Fun and Exciting.

8. Aaron & Jessica Freeman. Easy Peasy Studio. Founded in 2017. Married 5.5 years.

Virginia Ashley Photography

“Let video drive your business, instead of driving you crazy”.

Jess: I highly recommend outlining what each person is going to be responsible for, and also having “team” meetings. In the beginning, it might need to be each week, or just once a month. This is a good way for us to sit down and have a dedicated conversation about client work, processes, and just seeing how each person is doing with everything.

We hope that it continues to be a successful business but don’t have plans for a big expansion quite yet. A healthy work/life balance is importance to us, and we both work full-time in addition to running this joint business. We like the current setup and sharing the workload evenly!

9. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Bregman and Sasha Bracha Bregman. Founders of Elite & Discreet Matchmaking Service.

Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Bregman and Sasha Bracha Bregman

If there would be a “risk,” I would say that couples that work together are not able to simply sweep a disagreement under the rug and escape to work, without resolving it. If a husband or wife feel friction towards one another on a given day, it’s very difficult to isolate and compartmentalize those feelings, and decide you’ll deal with it later. Instead, couples that work together probably have to confront something and make peace in order for the workday to proceed productively and harmoniously.

The success of working together with your spouse will be an experience that reflects the overall health of your relationship. In other words, if you are both regularly arguing and have discord, then running a business together will simply add new items to argue about! On the other hand, if you have stellar communication and are adept at working through rough-spots, then your joint enterprise will simply be another way for you to connect beautifully with one another.

What does your future in business look like? The future looks very bright! This year, we’ll be launching our own matchmaking-related show together, as well as a podcast. We’re also in the early stages of co-authoring a book sharing our best insights on Love, Dating, and Relationships.

10. Tomer Yogev & Monika Black. TandemSpring Executive Coaching Firm. Founded 2010.

Tomer Yogev and Monika Black

Having a successful marriage and having a successful business relationship is all about communication. So, if you’re doing both with the same person, then communication is that much more important. It may feel like too much talking or rehashing of old stuff, but without the separation that most couples have (by being at different workplaces) it is so incredibly necessary for the success of your relationship and business.

In our work we often say “conflict is a conversation waiting to happen.” You really have to live and breathe that in. If you can master the art of turning conflict into deep conversations and true understanding of your loved one then the challenges of working with your significant other become opportunities for learning and growth.

2017 was a productive year for us. We were not certain what was going to happen to our business with the country in such disarray, but more and more people are ready to engage in coaching now, more than in previous years. So, we just finished the book, workbook, blogs, etc. so that we could have all of the right tools to support people and now we are just out there doing, walking the talk, and really trying to help people achieve a higher level of authentic leadership.

11. Steve & Jen Jennifer Devlin Waller. Celtic Complexion Luxury Artisan Skincare. Founded 2013. Married in 2014.

Steve and Jen Jennifer Devlin Waller

Steve: Make sure you know your partner’s strengths and weaknesses VERY well because if you can’t tolerate their weaknesses in a marriage, you most certainly won’t be able to tolerate it in a work situation. For example, if your spouse isn’t good at money management or time management in your relationship, they won’t all of the sudden get good at it in a business. Also, you must create time and space to be a couple. When you work together, it can easily take over your life so jointly decide how work life and home life will be divided. You can easily resent the other person if all they want to talk about is work 24/7.

Jen: Create clear-cut roles for each other before you jump in. One of the biggest mistakes we made early on was to try to “correct” each other’s work. We had to compromise and realize that there is more than one way to skin a cat, so as long as the job gets done, it’s ok. Once we were able to honestly evaluate what were each good at, it became much easier to work together. Most importantly, recognize and appreciate each other’s professional accomplishments. Sometimes it’s easy to take for granted your partner’s hard work; so make the effort to notice when they go above and beyond (just as you would an employee).

What does your future in business look like?

Steve: I would love to be bought out by a large corporate entity within five years and be on our next adventure.

Jen: Celtic Complexion is a springboard to other ways I can help women navigate aging. I see a book, leading retreats and being a role model for strong, powerful women who aren’t afraid of getting older.

12. Kenyon & Eryn Phillips. MRMRSCREATIVE, LTD. Founded 2017.
Married in 2016.

Clay Patrick McBride

The biggest risk we can think of is the obvious one; a problem that comes up in your romantic relationship will bleed into your working relationship, ultimately impeding your ability to deliver. There’s also the risk that your romantic relationship will give way entirely to your working relationship, and you “kill the thrill” in the name of work.

Work-life balance can be a challenge. When you love what you do for a living and you’re doing it together as a couple, it’s easy to find yourselves working around the clock, especially when you mostly work from home, like we do. You’ve got to build in downtime somewhere. Another problem: being overly protective or precious about your partner’s work. When a client rejects something that you’ve seen your husband or wife work really hard on, it’s tempting to defend it to the death because you love that person and want to protect them.

Benefits: Sex in the workplace! Since we mostly work from home, we can totally have sex in between deadlines or conference calls or even DURING conference calls if they’re boring enough. Another benefit — constant access. If one of us has an idea at midnight, we can talk about it and even bang it out while the iron is hot.

Communicate! Learn to listen, and listen to learn. Consider the possibility that you may not always be right. Don’t take sh*t personally when your partner doesn’t love something you came up with and don’t claw your client’s eyes out just because they rejected something your partner came up with. Check in with each other frequently. Is this fun? Are we doing better work together than we would be doing separately?

Schedule days and nights off. Don’t burn each other out. Remember, you’re more than business partners — you’re a couple! Love over money, as Prince used to say.

I think our future in business looks like our future as a couple. Bigger. Better. More fun. We’ve picked up a lot of great clients in a very short period of time, so growth will come naturally. We’d like to increase our branded entertainment business, given that most, if not all, entertainment is branded in this day and age. Specifically, we’d like to develop more immersive theatrical experiences, TV and film.

13. Linda & Paul Higdon. Global Heart Journeys. Founded 2015. Married 20 years September 2018.

Linda & Paul Higdon

Linda: My advice is to look at working together with your spouse as a chance to grow up! Any trigger or moment of disagreement is a chance for each to do their own inner work and not blame the other. It is critical to make sure to be disciplined not only about the “to do” lists for the business but be equally disciplined to take “hang out” time or vacation time together to remember the magic. You absolutely must agree when business is discussed or it can bleed into every waking hour together. It is also critical that each partner “calls out” gender differences! Also, be 100% responsible for any differences by letting the other know that you are struggling at that moment, remove yourself, and breathe! A solid practice that keeps healthy boundaries is a must!

2018 is our year! We are creating an all-new PR strategy, expanding social media, and considering taking our model to other countries. In 2017 we submitted my short documentary “Beauty in the Unexpected” to many film festivals. It tells the riveting story of leaving my life as a classical pianist to work with incredible visionary women of Kenya, who mysteriously showed up as spiritual guides to open new worlds. We have won awards and have more festivals in 2018.

Paul: I believe the key is to have clear delineation of roles which each respects and with which each will be satisfied. Although Linda and I discuss virtually every aspect of the business, she generally has the final word, and is responsible for implementation. There have been unanimous rave reviews (no exaggeration) for the tours Linda has led. She has created a brilliant product, which we have delivered with consistent high quality.

14. William & Tasha Kornegay Oscar William Gourmet Cotton Candy. Founded 2013.

William and Tasha Kornegay

Communication is key of course (helps with misunderstandings), learning, and understanding triggers of your business partner(spouse), and lastly know when to go in your corner. We’ve also found engaging in extracurricular activities not related to business has been helpful. Discussing goals together has been very useful. Lastly, acknowledging positive actions- not always the negative ones.

What does your future in business look like? Just like all things, we are a continual work in progress.

15. Brian & Melanie Boggs. Brian Boggs Chairmakers, Inc. Latest version has been in existence since 201. Married 10 years.

Brian: One problem that is very difficult to manage is setting boundaries and creating time when the business talk is turned off. Looking at all these challenges as growth points rather than daggers has been the key for us. We share the same values and we know and respect one another. We learned how to communicate, negotiate and accommodate. We both have the same amount of heart and soul invested in the success of the biz. We have each other’s backs. Make a commitment to each other and take care of your relationship above all else. Without that the business goals will be for naught.

Melanie: I think of it more as challenges vs. problems. I had to learn his business and the industry (from service to manufacturing). A BIG shift. A challenge and a benefit is that we are always together, so we can talk about the biz until the cows come home. Setting boundaries is a challenge we are still working on.

Brian: We have been growing well annually and see a lot of demand for what we are doing, both from the standpoint of generating a beautiful and rare product to creating meaningful work for those involved in our company.

Melanie: The company is on its most solid ground to date, a place we have been working towards for years. It feels like we can go anywhere from here. We have a team that is completely aligned with us and the company and are excited about coming to work and their opportunities to grow with us.

16. Susie & Omar Ramroop. Make life simple ltd. Founded 2015. Married 7 years.

Susie & Omar Ramroop

Our advice is to be honest about who each of you are and your relationship. Being in business magnifies what is already there…the good stuff and the bad. It’s important to do what you’re both good at, stay out of each other’s way and outsource the rest.

Our future business looks even more aligned. We will have a boutique hotel where we will have tennis weekends based around mental resilience. We will live onsite and it means we get to spend even more time together. I will then use that space to run my personal leadership retreats instead of renting property as I do now.

17. Kate & Jared Addis. Serenity Senior Living. Founded 2017. Married 9 years.

Kate and Jared Addis

The advice I would give for any married couple who is interested in going into business together or who is recently new to being in business together is to keep your marriage separate from your business. You are husband and wife first, business partners second. Also, keep clear expectations of the role and specific tasks each of you will be doing in the business; and set aside time that is for discussing business matters rather than letting it spill over into quality relationship time. We have actually started setting “date nights” where talking about business is strictly off limits. This has helped us make sure we are still focusing on our marriage as well as our business. We have reached a whole new level in our relationship by adding the dimension of business partners, and I look forward to the continued growth this dynamic experience will give us!

The Experts Weigh In:

18. Elvin & Allison Perez, Relationship Experts. Founded 2016. Married for 3.5 years.

Elvin and Allison Perez

Some of the risks include fear of failure and that affecting not just your business, but your relationship as well. It’s doable, but challenging to keep your marriage (personal life) separate from your business (partnership). As well as fear of not having a steady paycheck or insurance.

Problems-the learning curve-figuring out what our strengths are and how to delegate tasks so that we’re maximizing our time together. We work online and work from home so separating work time from personal time is hard. It’s easy to get sucked into working all the time and balance is necessary so that we don’t burn out.

Benefits: we really like each other, we’re best friends and it’s fun to get to work with your best friend every day. We know each other so well that there’s not that office politics bs of trying to figure people out and censoring yourself. We are loving and kind in our approach, but we can also get right to the point.

Our future looks busy; constantly growing, adding more members to our team, expanding our brand and continuing to spread more love one person/couple at a time.

Key Points To Making it Work:

  1. While planning you need to know what each person’s strengths/weaknesses are and establish roles from there.
  2. Agree on your work-life balance and when business is discussed or it can bleed into every waking hour together.
  3. Don’t sacrifice your marriage for the business. There will be times when you it feels like you have to choose; always choose your spouse.
  4. Get a support system outside your spouse. You need external places to vent and get 3rd party input to keep you in the proper perspective.
  5. Don’t take sh*t personally when your partner doesn’t love something you came up, know it’s business and with the businesses best interest it’s being said because of.

If you missed Parts 1 & 2. You can still read them here.