Nancy was Featured in Women’s Prospects on Owning a Business with Chris!
For better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, through meetings and planning, in hiring and firing and reviewing and filing. Wait, what? I don’t remember saying those vows on my wedding day. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure that would’ve been an “I DON’T” instead of “I DO”. I strictly recall telling my dad, who at the time owned a business with my mom, that I adore my husband, Chris, but don’t think to work together would ever be good for either of us or our marriage. That was 8 years ago and in January of 2010, my husband and I started the entrepreneur journey together. I had entered the world that I swore I wouldn’t, or couldn’t or didn’t want to. It took me some time to accept that and to get over it, but now I love it and can’t imagine not working with my husband.
Working with your partner is an experience that requires patience and a sense of humor. In our case, we own the business together and that also requires us to find ways to agree on decisions that will impact the company and employees as well as our family and livelihood.
It’s true, people may think I’m completely out of my mind to work with my husband. Some days, I too think that. For us, it’s typically a good balance. I can very candidly say that it is not for everyone. It is definitely not all puppies and rainbows, but it is always interesting and new. If someone were to ask my thoughts on working with or starting a business with their partner, I would encourage them to really consider some core standards to work and live by.
- You are in this together and on the same team: At home, it’s important to have a united front. In order to have peace in the home, you must be on the same page about parenting, budget, priorities and household management. As for working together, being on the same team is just as vital. Understanding that you are both in this together and trying to make decisions in the best interest of the business. Being on the same team means that even when there is a disagreement or difference of opinion, you must remain united and never throw each other under the bus. It will just create an environment where the other staff members may think one person is more influential or holds the upper hand. Unless that is the message you are trying to send, take care to avoid one person appearing to have more control. Work as a team. When conversations require sharing unfavorable opinions, just like with other team members, pull your partner into a closed area to have a one on one talk.
- Leave work at work: This tip goes for anyone looking for a work-life balance, but let’s face it, if you are working with your spouse it’s especially important. Being able to turn off the busyness of the day and come home to live your life as spouses is a key component to keeping your relationship healthy at home. I told my husband when we started working together that if it ever became a matter of our marriage or our business, I would choose our marriage without hesitation. He is my husband, and that relationship, to me, is the most important to keep healthy. It’s also a more enjoyable environment for our kids if we keep our work talk to a minimum at home. Focusing on their interests and things that are going on in their day is vital to managing a healthy and well-balanced home life.
- Find a healthy relationship balance, DON’T date your co-worker, date your spouse: Again, this goes back to keeping your personal relationship personal and taking the time to feed that passion between you. Designate specific times that will be true dates. Avoid ruts. Find ways to regularly keep your dating life exciting, interesting and outside of the ordinary. This could be going out somewhere new or staying in if you prefer. Try a new restaurant, go for a hike, play a game or cook dinner together. Whatever you decide, just be sure it’s something you can both enjoy and keep it light-hearted and fun.
- Schedule work related discussions during the work day: In other words, create a meeting and treat it like a meeting. Perhaps a standing meeting that is recurring and regular is an approach that will work for you, maybe once a week. Don’t assume you will talk about work related things at home or whenever you get around to it. Rather, carve out some time in your day at the office to discuss things that relate to the business. Just because the meeting is with your spouse doesn’t mean that you should treat it with any less importance than if it was with someone that you don’t go home within the evening. It should not be something that can be easily rescheduled. It is a scheduled appointment, keep it and schedule other appointments around it as if you were meeting with another staff member or client. This practice will only make you both more accountable with your job responsibilities as well as show each other the respect that you would show and expect in any other professional relationship.
- Clearly, define your roles within the business- know when to engage or when to just “remain in the loop”: This is a delicate space. We all do our jobs differently, react to situations and stress differently and we like to take our individual jobs and own them. The best way to really ensure that you can accomplish your job effectively is to understand your job and your role. Review the roles and responsibilities of both you and your spouse. Be sure you are on the same page and that your roles complement each other’s roles and understand how you can work together. If you are considered equal partners in the business, defining these roles will avoid micromanagement and other misconceptions regarding “who’s in charge”. With this in mind, know when to interact with one another. It may not always be necessary to go into a great amount of detail sometimes surface level and keeping each other in the loop that way is more acceptable. This is a good conversation to schedule and keep as an appointment, it’s important to know where things are with the business and decisions.
- Communication: I feel like communication is the fall back response to any relationship, personal or professional. No matter what the relationship, you hear people say “communication is key”. And, while it seems so cliché to say it, it’s absolutely true. When working with your partner, it’s even more important to keep communication flowing. In our particular case, we juggle our family schedule, work schedule, social schedule and of course our personal appointments and schedules as well. It’s absolutely necessary to not only talk about schedules but truly listen to the other person’s schedule too. If you are business partners, that means that you both have busy work days and need to come together as partners at home, find a way to work together to accomplish the tasks that wait for you at home. In our case it’s homework, practice, grocery shopping, cooking, bath time, bedtime, packing lunches, keeping up with the doctor’s appointments, managing the social calendar for the family, keeping up with the house and the projects we have to get done, to name just a few. How can you work together to get it all done? Where do you need to fill in the gaps with coverage, driving and making everyone feel love equally?
- Know when to push back, or pull in: I live by the quote “pick and choose your battles”. I always have. For me some things are just not worth getting wound up about. I am a very laid back person. I really do believe that things will just work out in the end. If someone’s life is not in immediate danger, then I tend to think through things and come up with solutions that are going to be thoughtful and realistic. Chris would likely not consider this to be one of my better qualities in his eyes, and he is very much the opposite here. I refer to him as an “emotional responder”. He is quick to respond to any and all situations. He immediately thinks of the worst case scenario and quickly responds with first instincts. I know this is his personality, I accept that about him, I also know that because of this, he needs to be nudged appropriately and sometimes I need to give a little push back or reel him in to talk through a situation before responding. Of course, on the flip side, I take too much time to think about a solution and may appear to not have a sense of urgency in situations, where Chris is the opposite, everything is urgent. He knows when to nudge me and show me when things need a greater sense of urgency. I help him to see that while a sense of urgency is important, the way we respond to a situation can greatly impact the result. This is a fine line and has caused some tension which can be relieved even slightly if we would just refer to numbers 1-6 of this list. This is one of our greatest differences, but probably the area that we most importantly balance each other in our business.
- Lose the “I do everything around here” attitude: Respect the other person’s feelings, ideas, and strengths. Avoid criticizing all that they are not doing right and help balance their weaknesses rather than getting frustrated or trying to change them. Use their strengths to the advantage of the business. Understand the value you each bring, both good and bad days are going to happen. Some days you may feel as if you are carrying the majority of the burden or putting in more time or energy. Remember, you are in this together and some days you will put more in, some days your spouse will, some days you both will. Just like in all situations, everyone has a lot going on, a lot on their mind, both personally and professionally there is a lot to do all the time. Be intentional about respecting your spouse and mindful of their strengths and all that they do bring to the table. Just keeping the good in mind will make your attitude towards your partner more positive.
- Give each other a pat on the back: We all work better when we feel appreciated and valued. Like all of our team members, it’s important to hear the good things that we are doing and being recognized for. As important as it is to get the high fives when doing a good job, it’s also important to offer constructive criticism when it’s appropriate. We typically feel the most comfortable with our spouses and often that is the person we criticize the most or may have the hardest time receiving criticism from. If it’s not constructive criticism that is work related, don’t do it. Keep it beneficial, professional and especially encouraging.
I think there is an ongoing theme that is in this list of standards. That theme is being intentional. Being intentional about your relationship with your spouse, intentional about your communication, intentional about your attitude, intentional about listening and understanding and valuing each other. Intentionality is a genuine and active way to approach business or your relationship with your spouse. Or, in my case, the approach to my business that I run with my spouse.