Starting a business with your spouse can require a huge adjustment in your relationship. I should know- I have worked with my husband in an international law firm and now in our luxury knicker business, Scrumpies of Mayfair. For the most part, it really is “having it all” to spend the working day with your spouse and, for us, it has been immensely satisfying to create and run successful businesses together. It is not always plain sailing though and here are some important tips I have learnt along the way:
Play to your strengths
You will both have different strengths and weaknesses. Divide tasks accordingly and remember that you don’t have to do everything together.
Respect each other’s individual working practices
Just because you would handle your partner’s responsibilities in a certain way, it doesn’t mean they have to. Your spouse is not your subordinate and can’t be told what to do like an employee. The absence of a supervisor and subordinate is a textbook co-management problem. Remember, if you try to manage your spouse’s workload and output, you are skating on very thin ice so be careful.
We’ve found that it’s a good idea to hold on to one “big office” formality – the weekly meeting. For this to be effective, you both have to step away from the distractions of your desk and dedicate yourselves to going through an agenda around a meeting table. This can be very helpful understanding the overall picture and has the benefit of ensuring that you both know what the other has done, is doing and has to do in the future.
Have your own stuff
There are limits to the whole sharing is caring idea. Sharing the office is fine and can be fun, companionable and productive. However, you each need adequate space to work. Your own desk and IT set up (including your own printer) is a must.
Don’t forget the niceties
Just because you are married it doesn’t mean you can drop pleases and thank you’s. Praise when your other half when they do a good job. It’s still nice to hear and important for job satisfaction.
Understand your impact on third parties
Respect that fact that together you make an intimidating power block. It’s your responsibility to put third parties at their ease. Be upfront about your relationship (especially if you have kept your maiden name). My husband and I once had a lawyer explain for the large part of his interview with us that he wanted to leave his current firm because he couldn’t bear working for a married couple. Awkward. We still gave him the job though and 15 years later he is still there.
Don’t take it to bed with you (too often)
It is unrealistic to expect that you will confine discussions on the business to office hours but there are limits. 3am in the morning is rarely a good time to discuss business! If you find yourself discussing work issues around the dinner table remember to include others. Children, for example, can learn a lot from being part of business discussions.
If you are just starting out, try not to carry old prejudices with you. You obviously know your spouse very well but you don’t necessarily know them in a work context. Don’t pigeon hole them People can behave very differently out of the domestic context and you might be surprised. Don’t miss out on some hidden talent in your organisation by thinking you know everything about your spouse.
Don’t forget, not everyone is family
As the business grows more and more employees come on board be careful to grow your employee infrastructure accordingly. Be mindful that, while the informality of the business to date was probably one of the elements that attracted candidates to your business, they will also expect proper management, employment benefits and a professional set up. Just because you are happy to forgo formal lunch hours and spend them with your spouse don’t expect others to feel the same. Put in place a proper system of annual reviews and pay structures. These are the issues that all employees care about and, if you want to attract and retain the best, this is vital.
Remember you have another life too
Your domestic and professional lives are now existing in the same arena. Don’t get over focussed on the business side to the detriment of the other. Understand that domestic life - the children, the dogs, the supermarket trips go on regardless and these needs have to be attended to as well as everything else. This contribution is just as valuable as anything you or your spouse might be doing for the business.
When the fun stops, stop
Never forget that the most important thing is each other. Check in with your spouse from time to time to make sure their goals remain your goals. If tweaks are required, make them. If necessary, impose an IT ban for an afternoon a week to do something non-business related together. If you’re still not feeling it, don’t be afraid to pack your bags and head for two weeks’ away. With some ruthless delegation and your trusty out of office in place, your business will be just fine and you two will be great.
Scrumpies of Mayfair are priced from £35, available at www.scrumpiesofmayfair.com
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