The Truth About Being in Business With Your Spouse
PART 2: Taking the Leap
In Part 1, 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.
What happened next for these couples? In Part 2 they share how they put their ideas into action. How they got started, how they allocated jobs, the problems faced, how they dealt with the problems, and the benefits.
Read on to find out how they did it.
Back to Them:
1. Lewis and Eve Dawes. Sorority Specialties. Founded 1996. Married 2008.
Sorority Specialties sells licensed sorority merchandise to selected national sororities.
Eve: My husband and I never intended to work full-time together. The plan was for me to travel with him during the fall sale season only, so I could help and so we could be together and not apart for so long. I took a job and everything was going great until the logistics came to me needing to take 9 weeks off in the fall, plus 2 weeks for summer vacation and another 2 in the winter. It wasn’t something that was going to work out. After trying working for another company part-time, it still wasn’t reasonable to expect them to allow me 13–14 weeks off a year and in hindsight, for me to expect any company to be able to accommodate, however flexible or part-time the position seemed.
This led to the evolution of how much time we spent working together and my role in the company. Originally, I was just helping with sales but my increased involvement came about organically both from needing something more full-time since I couldn’t work for another employer, other companies charging exorbitant fees and doing a less competent job than I could, and what both of our strengths are. Luckily we have very different strengths, which made dividing tasks easy.
Because my role in our company still isn’t full-time and I have other interests, I’ve utilized my different qualifications and experience to carve out a niche for myself in the fitness industry that works with our hours and my interests. It’s not enough to be surviving, or just about making money; it’s about happiness, a healthy relationship and thriving. What can we each bring to the relationship?
We work separately on a day-to-day basis on different aspects of the company but one of the biggest challenges was communication. We communicate constantly throughout the day; whether that’s emails, texts, or yelling across the house at each other because obviously walking to the other person is too much work it! We always know what the other person is doing; understand why, what the goal is and what the plan of action is. Which is changing constantly as you have to be flexible with your business model as the landscape is constantly changing and you have to be able to quickly shift with it. That still doesn’t mean we’re always on the same page! While I’m more emotional and get upset when I feel that he’s shouting at me, he sees it as him being animated. Men and women definitely have different ways of expressing themselves and we both go on the defensive. While it’s important to bring up issues and feeling at the time it’s also imperative that you let it go. Let me say that again. LET IT GO! To be honest, this is a work in progress for me.
Lewis: I knew and realized that we would need to work together for a multitude of reasons even though that wasn’t something that I was super keen on doing based on my last marriage. But I know us working together meant we would be able to spend much more time together as I travel for work 4–5 months a year, the company could make more money (both in the fact that we could do more sales and we could pay her to do things that needed to be done vs paying someone else). I also learned that we were very complimentary with our strengths and weaknesses, what I was good with she was less so and vice versa which turned out to work very well for us.
From my prior experience working with my significant other I knew that we needed to have other things in our lives and to not work on the same things and that be the only thing we both did or there was a good chance it wouldn’t work out. As much as we needed to work together it was important that she also able to follow her other passions, both for work and in her personal life. So we worked on finding a way to work together, seeing what worked for her (which many times wasn’t what worked for me). It became apparent very fast that even though we were both speaking English (though I spoke American and she spoke English which would be a separate article/book) that we were seeing, hearing and interpreting the same thing totally differently. This took us a while to figure out (it’s something that we are still figuring out) and in the process we got into many fights and upset each other frequently. I haven’t personally read the book ‘Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus’, but I know what it’s about and it’s so true. Being in business together takes habits, traits, annoyances that are in your personal life and multiplies it by a big factor (this is both for the good and bad).
2. BJ and Bethany Nickol. All American Clothing Co. Founded 2002.
BJ: We hired Bethany when we were pregnant with our first child. Although it would be a pay cut, we figured we would be saving on gas since she wouldn’t have to drive as far AND we could bring the baby to work saving the cost of a babysitter. It honestly didn’t take much thought to make this leap, it felt like the right thing to do for our family from the start.
Bethany: When we started working together, I was several months pregnant. Financially, it was difficult because I took a pretty big pay cut to start working at All American Clothing & we didn’t have company insurance at the time, so we had COBRA. Money was tight for a very long time, but it never seemed to matter to us. We just knew we would be OK. I don’t remember ever fighting about money & I think that is important.
3. Fabiola and Simon Hesslein. Tryon Entertainment. Founded 2009.
Tryon Entertainment creates custom entertainment experiences for special events.
Fabiola: Launching a business as husband and wife was an exciting adventure to embark on from the start. There were no thoughts on how it could affect our marriage. We just rolled with it head on because it felt natural building something based on our combined talents.
4. Rich & Mickey Swortzel. New Eagle Consulting. Founded 2008
Both: We had a lot of challenges those first 3 years. We had confidence in each other as a married couple, but we didn’t trust each other when it came to business and because we saw the world very differently (finances vs. sales), we struggled with the same things large corporate departments battle with around the world. Only it was in our kitchen, and it was with the person we loved the most. So we had to learn how to disconnect our personal and professional lives which wasn’t easy but very necessary. For us that didn’t mean not talking about business certain places but rather being able to understand that she is mad at me because of the customer decision I made, not because I’m a bad husband. Over 3 years, we consistently worked through company growth and learned to trust each other’s strengths and bolster each other’s weaknesses. That led to greater autonomy of roles and because of our educational and employment backgrounds, we provided complimentary skill sets to the business.
The opportunity to sell that business came 3 years and 1 child later and we had an offer we couldn’t refuse.
Fast-forward 5 years, it’s 2008, the economy is in the tank, Rich loses his job due to a merger and we are at another crossroads. We know how hard business ownership is but we also know we can do it together. So in 2008, we start another business, New Eagle Consulting. Once again we have migrated to our finance/operation (Mickey), Sales/Technical Lead (Rich) roles. Unlike the first go round, we have a lot of confidence in each other’s skills and judgement, so just like the first time when the marriage foundation gave us the springboard to business growth, this time the marriage and the business experience has helped us from repeating past mistakes. We understand better how the other thinks, what he/she needs and how to augment their weaknesses.
5. Alicia and Luci. 2Peasinapothecary.com. Founded 2017.
One of us is an entrepreneur with clients and contracts and Luci had a full-time job when we first started, talk about totally different planets, right? Juggling laundry, date night, shipping boxes and occasional traveling for pop ups. However, if we could see each other’s world, we could see that there was a possible way to make this happen. When you’re a couple and don’t get along about something trust me there will be plenty of arguments and the hard part is that your business is home, so you don’t just leave work and go home it’s all together like an all-inclusive package of entrepreneurship including your boss.
We started with two laptop computers purchased on credit, a small table and personal credit lines to cover our personal expenses. Essentially, we risked it all but we truly believed in what we were doing and knew we could lean on each other.
We were not a couple at that time but close enough friends that we knew each other’s personalities. What we each knew was that we had different personalities that made each of us excel in certain areas but limited us in others. However, in each case, where one of us was weak, the other out-performed. In business it’s rare to have a single person that has all the traits necessary to be successful but together we knew (1) our respective strengths would complement the other’s weaknesses and (2) we each shared a lack of ego that allowed the other to succeed without jealousy. Fifteen years later we’ve continued in much the same way. Lisa’s conservative nature balances my high risk tolerance, her attention to detail balances my laisse faire attitude. We never really assigned each other particular jobs or roles but each knew what we were good at and took off in that direction but that only worked because we had total confidence in each other to pick up where one left off.
Strangely, at home, since we are both involved in the same work environment there is less likelihood that you have to explain your day. For me being with my wife at the office brings us closer. We work, live, travel, and play together. Things are not always perfect, there are hiccups, but we have learned to make it work. But, we will admit, couples working together may not be for everyone.
We’ve been together 24/7 from the day we were married and that has been the norm except for a 5 year span (midway into the business) where we had a blow up and Leanne left the business. As our company grew there was a direction change that some of our employees and I wanted to accomplish. Leanne and I had a difference of opinion and as CEO my opinion won out. Leanne felt I sided with our employees against her and felt a sense of betrayal. The employees started playing us against each other (similar to kids of a divorce.) That put a strain on the business and our relationship. Leanne quit. Feelings were so sore she contemplated divorce. In the end loyalty, love, and respect were built back. We worked through what had transpired and learned a lot about ourselves and how we wanted to see the future of the company run. It took therapy for us both and after 5 years, she eventually returned to the business. That was 15 years ago. That learning experience only made our relationship stronger. We chose to make it work. I believe respecting each other and being open to discussing differences has helped. We also set better boundaries. We were no longer a start-up company where we needed to shoot from the hip to make the business successful. AeroFund had developed into a mature company and setting the boundaries definitely helped.
7. Stephen and Leanne Troy. Aerofund Financial. Founded 1987. Married 33 years.
Steve: For the most part it has been a very successful partnership and worked very well. We did however have a 5 year span (midway into the business) where we had a large blow up and Leanne left the business. I will explain that later. For me being with my wife at the office brings us closer. We’ve been together 24/7 from the day we were married and that has been the norm except for that 5 years I mentioned before. We work together, live together, travel together, and play together. Things are not always rosy and perfect, there are hiccups, but we have learned to make it work. But, we will admit, couples working together may not be for everyone.
Now for the problems and the missing 5 years. As our company grew there was a direction change that some of our employees and I wanted to accomplish. Leanne and I had a difference of opinion and my opinion won out. I was CEO. Leanne felt I sided with our employees against her. In siding with the employees against my wife, she felt a sense of betrayal. The employees started playing us against each other, (similar to kids of a divorce.) That put a strain on the business and our relationship. Leanne quit. Feelings were so sore she contemplated divorce. In the end Loyalty, Love, and Respect were built back. We worked through what had transpired and learned a lot about ourselves and how we wanted to see the future of the company run.
It took therapy for us both and after 5 years, she eventually returned to the business. That was 15 years ago. That learning experience only made our relationship stronger. We chose to make it work. I believe respecting each other and being open to discussing differences has helped. We also set better boundaries. We were no longer a start-up company where we needed to shoot from the hip to make the business successful. AeroFund had developed into a mature company and setting the boundaries definitely helped.
8. Aaron and Jessica Freeman. Easy Peasy Studio. Founded in 2017. Married 5.5 years.
Aaron: Jessica created the website, and put the word out to her online communities, and we got clients right away. We decided that Jessica would be in charge of client onboarding and communication, and I would be in charge of the editing (for the most part). This setup has worked pretty well for us so far; we’ve had a few hiccups, but we knew it might not be perfect right out of the gate. The only other problem we’ve had is sharing the computer, because Jessica edits her own videos but then I also need the computer to edit client videos.
9. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Bregman and Sasha Bracha Bregman. Founders of Elite & Discreet Matchmaking Service.
I would say that overall, in terms of daily operation, we allocate jobs equally. We are both equally responsible for advocating for our clients and introducing them to high-quality men or women that fit what they’re looking for.
The only real difference between us, in terms of how we service our clients, is that Sasha Bracha also is a Professional Image Consultant. She is a brilliant talent when it comes to advising our clients on their social media profiles and tweaking their appearances, so I definitely leave that up to her, as she’s a pro!
10. Tomer Yogev and Monika Black. TandemSpring Executive Coaching Firm. Founded 2010.
How did you get started? That part wasn’t too difficult for us. We come from opposite but complimentary backgrounds, one has an MBA, the other a PhD in Community Psychology. So, as strengths-based performance coaches we had really compatible strengths and passions. What one of us loves the other tends to hate, or not be so good at. Honestly, it was much harder and took us much longer to figure out how to split the dishwashing duties.
11. Steve and Jen Jennifer Devlin Waller. Celtic Complexion Luxury Artisan Skincare. Founded 2013. Married in 2014.
Steve: I first met my wife in high school. Her first job was working for Estee Lauder at 17 years old. She told me then she wanted her own cosmetic company, so when we reconnected 27 years later I wasn’t surprised that she owned one. She started with less than 10k and taught herself every “job” that she couldn’t afford to hire. This told me a lot about her work ethic and her perseverance, two very important qualities when you are looking to invest in a business. Her dream has never wavered. With that said, I could see where I could improve her productivity because I could see what she couldn’t. We became business partners about a year after we got together and what I didn’t expect was that she is a very tough boss (not the loving sweetheart that I married). That took some getting use to!
Jen: Believe it or not, at first I was reluctant to have him join me in business. This was my baby and if it didn’t work out between us, where would I be? What would it mean to the business that I worked so hard to build? Besides, I wasn’t sure he could keep up with me. For about a year, he just observed and made suggestions (very good suggestions). Slowly, I allowed him to help me and I was able to develop trust that he would adhere to my business standards. It was so nice to be able to breathe. For so long I had been a one-woman show and when he joined my business (officially) it was such a relief because I could then concentrate on what I do best. He elevated me to get to the next level.
12. Kenyon and Eryn Phillips. MRMRSCREATIVE, LTD. Founded 2017.
Married in 2016.
This may sound boring, but it’s been a smooth ride from the get-go. I think a lot of that comes down to the fact that we’ve always liked and respected each other as people. We’ve both been in relationships before where we loved our partners, but didn’t necessarily like or respect them very much. No matter who you’re working with, you have to like and respect them as people if you’re going to do successful, inspired work together.
When we started, the idea was that Kenyon would handle the words and brand strategy, and Eryn would handle the design and creative direction; that’s pretty much how our partnership works. We’ve noticed, however, that those lines are beginning to blur. Sometimes Eryn will come up with the winning headline, while Kenyon will come up with the winning visual concept. It’s fun when that happens, it’s not like we’re stepping on each other’s toes. We’re a team, so it’s not about ego.
13. Linda and Paul Higdon. Global Heart Journeys. Founded 2015. Married 20 years in September 2018.
Linda: During the first few tours, I had to be very clear about what was working well and not working well with my husband/business partner without casting blame. He is excellent at giving space to me and all the women on the tour but we agreed at the end of each day we would review what went well and didn’t go well. The key: always start with honoring the other and listening, repeating back, listening. It is a rhythm and technique we schedule into the trip and our business back home.
Paul: We took a trip to Kenya about 6 months before our first tour and went step by step through each day of the trip, met with partners, explained their role, mapped out the routes/travel times and activities. Key decisions included that she is the head of this business and that my role is as advisor and head of finance/risk management/legal/logistics. After running business units for many years in my profession, I was delighted to take a back seat and let someone else lead. This division of labor has been critical to the smooth running of the business, plays to our natural strengths, and helps mitigate the typical push/pull in a marriage on who leads: since this is a women’s journey to Kenya, it is only fitting that she should run it.
14. William and Tasha Kornegay. Oscar William Gourmet Cotton Candy. Founded 2013.
We actually started right out the box. There wasn’t a lot of planning. Our son pitched the business idea, and we ran with it! Positions were allocated based on our skills; because William has a background in Marketing, he ran with that piece. Me being the social butterfly, worked on securing potential clients, and events. Using this skill matching technique worked perfect for us. We’ve continued to operate in this manner, and it continues to work nicely for us.
15. Brian and Melanie Boggs. Brian Boggs Chairmakers, Inc. Latest version: 2011. Married 10 years.
Brian: The allocation of jobs was pretty easy for the most part. I was already the artist and engineer of the company. Melanie had a good head for organizing things and running the business. The big decisions are always made through conversations between us with a shared vision for what goals we want to hit in the given year. Holding those goals as the guide for our decision making makes it easier to see what makes sense to do.
The stress of running a business can strain a relationship, so if we are not well grounded our relationship suffers but this is just the stuff of life. The business strains show us what we need to work on in our relationship. As long as this is managed well, running a business together can be a benefit that helps us grow in our self-awareness and strengthen our commitment to each other.
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.
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.
16. Susie & Omar Ramroop. Make life simple ltd. Founded 2015. Married 7 years.
Susie: I’m the Managing director as the one with the business background. Omar initially only played the role of the physical coach, but I realised that the way he supported me as a husband had a role in the business too. If I am over thinking or procrastinating he has full permission to coach me on that. And because I have no shields up for him this works very well.
17. Kate and Jared Addis. Serenity Senior Living. Founded 2017. Married 9 years.
Being in business together has added a totally new dimension to our relationship. We’ve had to learn to separate our business from our marriage, and not mix the two. We have set times when we discuss business related topics and try our best to not bring business disagreements or stresses back to our married life. This is not always easy and takes one being constantly mindful. I don’t think either of us we’re expecting how difficult being in business together could be when we first explored this option; or how much self development it would entail for both of us individually and together. It has been both more challenging, yet more rewarding than I could have ever imagined.
The Experts Weigh In:
18. Elvin and Allison Perez. Relationship Experts. Founded 2016. Married for 3.5 years.
With an online business the main points are setting up your systems, creating your packages and becoming visible in the online space. We allocated jobs by playing to each other’s strengths, which took some time to figure out. We are always adjusting. Honestly, it is still a frequent conversation as we are constantly creating new offers, adding new tasks to the to-do list. The more visible you become online the busier you become, so adding to your team is also a necessary.
Key Points To Making it Work:
- Constant communication is key.
- Remember that you love each other, even if you don’t like each other in the moment.
- Make sure to plan time off; day dates or date nights or schedule off whole weeks/weekends for you both.
I love hearing other people’s experiences so feel free to comment below.
Part 3: ‘Happily Ever After?’ will post next Saturday, February 17th.
Written by Eve Dawes.
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