How to make going into business with a significant other work
When my boyfriend Prince and I decided to go into business together, we didn’t know what to expect, but we were willing to make it work. We wanted what many other couples dream of too: greater control of our financial destiny, more time together and the freedom to travel.
In five months I’ve not only learned more about myself than I could’ve imagined, but I’ve also learned a few important takeaways to make going into business with your significant other successful.
Here are the four most resounding lessons I have learned...
Define your roles early on
For better or for worse, most couples have distinct roles in their relationships. In my experience, defined roles in a relationship usually lead to unmet expectations, which in turn leads to unhappiness.
For example, Kate assumes it’s her boyfriend Ben’s role to take out the trash every week. If Ben forgets to take out the trash one time she’s likely to be upset with him. Lose the roles and the expectations in your romantic relationship, and you’ll actually be a lot happier.
But in business it’s not the same. Entrepreneurship can be exhausting because you wear a lot hats and essentially have a bunch of roles. You’re the designer, the engineer, the writer, the head of sales and a master of multi-tasking. And if you’re fortunate enough to have a partner to balance half of the responsibility, take my word for it: define your roles early on and stick to them.
The easiest way to define your roles is by starting with your strengths. For example, Prince is more technical and creative. I’m more organized and customer service oriented. Generally speaking, he handles all the design aspects of our website, recording and editing our podcasts, and shooting and producing videos. I reach out to our community, find and schedule our podcasts, and write blog posts.
Without assigning positions in your business, you’ll step on each other’s toes. By playing off each other’s strengths your business will run a lot smoother. Like Tom Rath said in StrengthsFinder 2.0, “People have several times more potential for growth when they invest energy in developing their strengths instead of correcting their deficiencies.”
In situations where neither partner flourishes, either come together to collaborate or alternatively, outsource that task. There are numerous sites like ODesk, Elance, and Fiverr that have helped us tremendously in these circumstances.
There’s no work life balance – our business is our baby
I met a couple recently who told me they go on a date once a week where they’re not allowed to talk about their kids. I laughed, but then I thought about our business in the same way. Our business is like our baby – it’s all we ever talk about. We’re like helicopter parents, but instead of being overly focused on our kids, we’re intensely immersed in our business.
There comes a time when we mustmake a conscious effort to switch our train of thought or topic of conversation. As Bob Hayes, co-founder of Burba Hotel Network said of being in business with his significant other, “Keeping the professional out of the personal when your business partner is your life partner is impossible. Remember that.”
While we too find it difficult to take our mind off the business, there’s no quicker way to do so than getting out of the house, which is simultaneously our office, to have a glass of wine.
Respect each other’s differences
If you’ve never worked with your significant other before, you’ll discover each other’s work style almost immediately. Whether or not you’re on the same page, try to put your opinions aside and always operate from a place of respect.
Remember why you went into business together in the first place. I’m sure it wasn’t to nag your partner about how to do things “my way” or “the right way”. For us, it was to have control over our futures, but also creativity and freedom.
As the artistic one, Prince often finds his creative clarity right after dinner, which coincides with when I like to curl up in bed with a book. We’ve set up a separate workspace for Prince in our living room so we can continue to be productive when it’s optimal for each of us.
Being opinionated about certain aspects of the business or how the business is run isn’t all bad news. Simply try to listen more than you talk. Listening will help you understand where your significant other is coming from and might also open you up to a new, better solution that you wouldn’t have found on your own.
Lastly, don’t feel like you always have to conform to the other person’s way of thinking. Differences are what make us unique and human, and it’s important to maintain some sense of individuality when you’re in love and in business with your soulmate.
Sometimes couples that work together feel it’s hard to maintain their individuality. But we’ve found little “me time” can go a long way.
Prince and I always make time for our hobbies – skateboarding for him and yoga for me. The times we spend away from each other leaves us healthier and happier, and give our business the renewed clarity it needs.
Working together is something every couple can do if you define your roles, respect your differences, maintain individuality, and realize your work-life balance might disappear altogether.
My last corporate job left me feeling disposable, exhausted, and stressed out. And I always carried that stress home with me. This is not to say just because we work together now we’re never tired or stressed out. In fact, as I mentioned above, we have less of a work-life balance than before. The difference is now we’re doing something fulfilling that we don’t feel the need to escape from. And for this, we consider ourselves incredibly lucky.