It’s rare to see businesses being successfully launched by a husband-and-wife team.
And there is no shortage of married teams that do make it and eventually break down anyway (Amazon anyone?)
Why? Because it is extremely difficult to make it work and last.
Cara and I have had our fair share of issues on our journey, including a trial separation. The lack of segregation between work and your personal lives can be suffocating because the couple issues follow you everywhere, just as your work issues do.
Based on what we have learnt over the past three years, we have come up with five key tips to help a couple succeed and navigate through the perilous world of running a business together. Most of these tips have come with hindsight rather than actual preparedness, so feel free to learn from our mistakes.
1. Believe in what you’re doing
The key to making it work is having a cause that you both strongly believe in. Your joint personal drive will help get your business off the ground and encourage both of you to put in the required effort to get things past the ‘idea’ stage. It’s what will inspire you to make the sacrifices required to support one another and push your idea into existence.
It was our belief in each other and desire to help others that drove us. Without this passion, I don’t believe we would have gotten the business off the ground. We were so unprepared when we started that it was only sheer willpower that got us through the first three months.
2. Clearly defined roles and responsibilities
This is critical. You need to clearly define who does what and who’s responsible for what. Right from the start, you need to establish who will have the final say. The potential for major issues to arise is multiplied significantly when you disagree and start blaming one another because responsibilities haven’t been established.
This is something we regrettably didn’t do from the outset. It meant we would often get into disagreements about who was responsible for what and who got to make the final decision. This put a lot of pressure on our life out of the office as we struggled to separate work from home. Passion can be a double-edged sword.
3. Take some time for yourself
When you work and live together there is a risk you will lose your sense of self, and that’s not good for anyone. Make sure both of you takes time out separately to do what you need to keep yourself whole. A common mistake is taking time off and always doing things together. Trust me when I say, you can’t let the business and relationship define who you are. Make sure you enjoy your own company.
Early on, we went on holidays and enjoyed the fruits of our hard work, however, we failed to do anything on our own. We started losing ourselves in the process because we only seemed to be operating as a pair. The only time we had separation was during our arguments. Not the healthiest of environments.
4. Have a dispute-resolution process
There will come a time in the business when you won’t agree on the way forward and neither of you will be willing to budge. Make sure that before this happens you nominate someone as a tie-breaker — a third-party who is only interested in the success of the business. This independent person needs to be able to guide you both and provide a final decision within letting emotions get in the way.
We were very lucky to have access to a third-party who talked sense into the both of us during times of heightened tension. Without this outlet, I doubt our marriage or business would have survived. (Thank you, Stephen!)
5. Have an exit strategy
Sometimes the business will take over your lives and build a wedge between you. Having a plan where one or both of you exit the day-to-day running of the business could be the best thing you ever do to save your relationship. It’s never easy, as the business will become a huge part of your life, but you may have to decide what comes first for both. Discussing this beforehand can save so much pain later down the track.
There were definitely times that both of us were more than happy to throw our hands in the air and say enough! Today, we have rejigged our business structure and ensured we each have very defined roles and responsibilities. We have entered our third year of business with an improved focus on what we both want, and while working as a team, we are also working towards our own individual business goals. This clarity sees us better positioned for success than ever before.
Hindsight is a beautiful thing, but only if you learn from it.
I hope these five tips help you navigate the risky world of business and coupledom combined. I promise you it won’t be easy, but if you prepare and plan upfront, your chances for success on all fronts are so much better.
Good luck, you’ll need it!