ENTREPRENEURIAL COUPLES: THE GOOD, THE BAD
Many small business enterprises are co-owned and co-managed by entrepreneurs who are also partners in their personal lives. These partnerships, which commonly take the form of husband/wife teams, can be immensely positive experiences, strengthening each other’s commitment to and enjoyment of both the business and personal sides of the partnership.
Indeed, accounts of husband/wife teams and other romantic partnerships that built striving companies together are ubiquitous. But business experts and entrepreneurs who have built successful firms via this route warn that entrepreneurial couples often face additional hurdles that solo business builders do not encounter, and they note that when businesses founded by couples fail, their union is often placed in jeopardy as well. More and more couples are going into business together. When it clicks, working elbow-to-elbow is emotionally and financially rewarding.
Considerations That Face the Entrepreneurial Couple
Couples that are considering launching a business enterprise together, however, need to weigh many aspects of that effort before taking the plunge. Many couples understand what they are going into long hours, the life that’s often too shared, and tough sledging till the business shows a profit. But knowing about it still doesn’t prepare you for living through it. The daily pressures of working side by side, frequently hassled, with no time left for any other life and taking few or no vacations, can put a heavy strain on any marriage.
Entrepreneurial couples and business consultants alike cite the following as important factors in creating a successful business with a spouse or partner:
- Both need to bring significant value to the business: Each spouse should have a clear skill to contribute to the business. Spouses that are unable to make meaningful contributions in one or more areas of the business’s operation should not be partners in that company. Such people are unlikely to be happy since they are usually well aware that they are not “pulling their weight,” and also because efforts to give them responsibilities in areas in which they are ill-equipped often fail, if not an outright disaster for the company.
Moreover, arrangements in which one spouse is basically doing all the work of both “partners” often generate resentment on the part of the spouse doing all the work. This problem can be particularly acute in instances where one spouse gets a business up and running and then has to introduce his or her partner to the intricacies of the business.
However, the value split does not necessarily have to be 50/50. After all, a spouse whose duties run exclusively toward taking care of the company’s bookkeeping needs or serving as a restaurant’s host/general troubleshooter during main traffic periods may not be taking care of half of the business’s management requirements, but their execution of those duties can go far toward giving them a feeling of self-worth and assuring spouses that they are not shouldering the full weight of the business by themselves.
Ideally, partners in a couple-owned business will have separate, complementary skills. When partners handle different responsibilities of the business, it tends to minimize disagreements over the day-to-day matters and creates an environment in which both partners can exercise some autonomy and develop respect for the talents that the other brings to the enterprise.
- Partners should not be competitive with one another: Successful couple-owned businesses are willing to accept blame for business problems rather than simply point fingers at one another.
- Newlyweds should exercise caution before partnering up for business: The newness of both ventures causes uncertainties that can hamper growth in the business and cause problems in the marriage.
- Good communication is essential: Couples sometimes have trouble making the transition to a working relationship. The way they communicate as couples may not work in an office setting. The key to communication in dialogue with a spouse are the same as they would be for any other business partner: listening, focusing on the issue at hand, not taking criticism personally, etc., and that entrepreneurial couples have to recognize business disagreements have nothing to do with their love for one another.
- Adapt to changing roles: Some couples have difficulty seeing the person they married in a totally different light. If, for instance, your spouse has always been the passive one, it may be disconcerting when he or she suddenly becomes an aggressive CEO. This adjustment is particularly hard to make for husbands who are accustomed to calling the shots in their marriage, only to find their wives tapping into previously unknown reserves of independence and purpose in the work environment.
- Separate work life and home life: Many entrepreneurial couples warn that it is easy for husband/wife and other romantically involved business partnerships to lose sight of the personal side of their relationship in a flurry of business issues. In such cases, the romantic spark that first drew the partners together can be snuffed out by payroll concerns, worries about the landlord, proposed regulatory changes, and a plethora of other issues that are always swirling outside the doors of small business enterprises.
Entrepreneurial couples can take several steps to curb this threat, however. Some couples agree to never discuss work at home or in bed, while others actively seek out non-work activities that they can do together. Other couples, meanwhile, agree to have one or the other take time away from the business so that both partners can take a step back, regain their perspective, and rekindle their personal relationship.
Usually, the marriage existed before the business, and if it falls apart, the business falls apart. Both have to be nurtured and protected. This is particularly important in instances where children are involved.
- Set aside time away from your spouse or partner: Most couples need a bit more space (than they get in a business partnership with a spouse). For many long-term relationships, office hours represent a welcome break from their partners, a chance to function as independent entities and to assert their individuality.
Since entrepreneurial couples spend an enormous amount of time together, successful husband/wife teams agree that one of the keys to their success is their decision to set aside solo time for each partner. Even if the solo activities (community work, a class, a sports league) is only one evening a week, this time can do a lot to recharge the partnership batteries of both people.
- Objectively assess whether you and your partner would work well together in a business: Some couples enjoy good personal relationships, only to see they eagerly embarked on business partnership quickly deteriorate into an unsightly welter of hurt feelings and financial losses. Basic personality traits have a lot to do with how couples fare together in business.
Spouses who plan vacations easily and enjoy doing home renovations are the kinds of personalities that tend to make good business partners. For couples who communicate and share their business ups and downs on an open, equal basis, experts predict that the marriage can thrive and grow healthier as partners learn to work out conflict and differences.