I have a good friend who started a bed-and-breakfast with his wife five years ago. It had long been their dream to ditch the rat race and become their own boss. Understandable, especially since they seemed to have a great relationship. But I must confess that we (my buddy’s pals) didn’t love the idea. It was not that we didn’t like his wife – we did, very much. We just felt that too much of a good thing might become a bad thing.
But here they are five years later, and business is booming. When I asked him how the being-married-to-your-business-partner thing is going, he responded, “The good news is that I see Rachel a lot. The bad news is that I see Rachel a lot.”
All joking aside, he is very happy with his choice but cautions that it is not for everybody. Having spoken with him, and a few of the other people I know who have worked with their spouse, I have compiled five suggestions that should help anyone considering the same approach:
1. Playing the game is different than watching the game. Running a business is like being on a team together. When working together, spouses will play the game on the same field every day. You will not have someone cheering you on from the sidelines. So ask yourself: would you rather have a teammate on the field with you or in the stands cheering you on?
Additionally, on a day-to-day level, this also means you will be working the daily grind with your partner. He or she will not ask you how your day was when you get home, because they already know.
2. Divide and conquer. Running a business is not the same, not by a long shot, as being in a relationship. Just as you would with any business partner, sit down with your spouse and assess your weaknesses and strengths. One of the best parts of bringing in a business partner, be it your spouse or not, is that they add to the skill set of your business. As an entrepreneur, you undoubtedly have your strengths and weaknesses. When choosing to work with your spouse, be sure to divide up the duties so that you play to each other’s strengths.
3. Set some ground rules. When you work with your spouse, it is always personal. Figure out the best way to work together, and write down a few written guidelines that each of you will try to follow. But remember this too: rules are made to be broken. Guidelines are just that. They will change as you and your business do. When in doubt, communicate.
4. Take time away . . . alone. As with most new entrepreneurs, expect to work hard and get little time off with your new business. As such, that makes whatever time you do have to get away important. And this is even truer when you work and live with your business partner. So be sure to take a break, even if it’s only for coffee, a walk, or a night out with friends. It’s smart to carve a little breathing room for yourself, and it’s healthy for your marriage and your business.
5. Fake it ‘til you make it. Anyone who says they know the secret to running a business successfully with your partner is probably wrong. Sure, ask for advice, but remember you and your partner know your relationship and your business best. What works for someone else may not work for you. Know that it usually takes a while before you ease into some comfortable roles in your business.
In the end, the best advice is to take the tips and advice that you like and make them your own. Running a business with your spouse is an adventure. Enjoy the ride.
About Steve Strauss
Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.