Running a business can be stressful. If your business partner is your spouse, it can get even more challenging. A husband and wife team, Dave and Kathy, ran an event planning company I worked for soon after graduating from college. I always admired them for not only running their business well, but for maintaining a caring, supportive life partnership relationship as well. Here are some things I learned from watching them that can help those who are married and trying to be successful business partners.
- Division of labor
Each partner needs to have his or her own area of responsibility. Dave was in charge of sponsorship sales and event day logistics. Kathy was responsible for managing accounts payable and receivable, human resources and print/t-shirts. She managed the staff that handled registration and Dave managed the operations staff.
This division kept them both busy and played to their individual strengths. They trusted each other to run their ‘side’ of the business and, if necessary, would have a conversation to resolve any differing opinions.
- Have your own work spaces
Dave had an office where he could close the door and get work done and Kathy had her own clear “domain” too. It made it easier to put on their ‘work hats’ when they were at work.
Also, have office space outside of your home if at all possible. Dave had started the business working from home, but when Kathy became a partner in the business, they realized it was worth the overhead to get a space where it would be clear when it was work time and when it was family time.
- Understand each other’s risk tolerances
It is normal to have different ideas about the best way to move forward. Some people like to ‘go for the big one’ and are comfortable risking a loss for the chance to get a lot. Others are more cautious and are happier earning less so they don’t have to worry about making nothing. There is no right or wrong answer to risk tolerance and one day the big risk would pay off while another day it might not. There is no way to be sure, which is why it is called risk after all.
Having ongoing conversations about each other’s risk tolerance can help avoid misunderstandings and conflict. Consider creating a joint statement about goals and the risks you will and won’t take, and then put these understandings in your operating agreement. Dave and Kathy were clearly aware of each other’s comfort levels with risk.
- Keep your eye on the good work that is done as well as improving the non-helpful work.
Many times the set-backs can seem more important to address than the wins. Make sure to take time and celebrate when something good happens for the business. When Dave sold a big sponsorship, Kathy would do something special for the office like buy lunch. It is easy to jump to how things can improve, but be sure to also enjoy the successes along the way!
- Keep your sense of humor
At one annual event I worked, after all of the staff had proofed the design, we noticed – after most of the t-shirts had been given out – that there was a significant misprint on them. At that point, there was nothing to do but laugh and hope folks felt like they got something special that year!
While these tips sound simple, I have seen that they can be hard to practice when the deadlines are bearing down. Try to remember to take a deep breath and refocus on priorities and responsibilities and you’ll have the best chance of coming through the stressful times successfully, in both your business and your marriage.