Do you have business with your life partner and can’t tell the difference between your bedroom and the boardroom? Welcome to the world of couple entrepreneurs!
What are “couple entrepreneurs”? This term describes two people who live together in a committed relationship and also own and run a business together. Partner entrepreneurship is a growing phenomenon for a number of reasons, including: business downsizing; more women entering the workforce; early retirees looking for another company; and technology that enables a small business to become a viable option for family income.
Statistics are not kept specifically on the number of small, jointly-owned businesses. However, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA), the number of “jointly owned sole proprietorships” is steadily increasing at more than 5% annually. Since “jointly owned sole proprietorship” is a tax term for a business in which two people share ownership, this information could indicate an increase in the couple’s entrepreneurship. The actual increase in partner-owned businesses may be greater, as the SBA does not keep statistics on partner-run corporations or partnerships.
Partnering at home and in business is not only doubly challenging, but exponentially more complicated than partnering in just one of these endeavors. I congratulate all those brave and adventurous souls who are doing both with success. The following tips are drawn from my own experiences living and owning a business with my entrepreneur husband over the past twenty years; extensive reading; and interviews with several other successful entrepreneurs.
So for couples who run into a few bumps while traveling the Couplepreneur trail; Entrepreneurial couple who want more from their personal or business society; And for those considering embarking on the Couplepreneur adventure, I offer the following secrets to success.
1. A clear and shared vision of your ideal business and relationship, with an integrated plan to enjoy both.
Success as an entrepreneurial couple requires planning a life, with a vision that includes personal and relationship goals, as well as business goals. If both partners do not move in the same direction towards common goals, they will separate. Ideally, the partners will always be in sync. Realistically, they may start with different goals and desires regarding the business, and / or as business and family circumstances change, their dreams may diverge or even change. Successful entrepreneurial couples seek creative options that embrace the visions of both partners.
2. Respect for the values of others.
Since values are the principles and beliefs that guide decisions, attitudes and behaviors; the values of each partner must be acceptable to the other. If partners are forced to act contrary to their core values, frustrations and struggles will ensue. Supposedly, the partners have similar values since they are a couple who share a life. However, when partners come together in business, they may become aware of some aspects of their partner’s value system that they were previously unaware of. Values related to money, commitment, work ethic, integrity, authority, and responsibility can become much more important when a couple shares personal and business life. Successful entrepreneurial couples respect the values of others at home and in business.
3. Effective communication system to resolve conflicts.
Perfect communication between two human beings is not realistic. However, when partners learn to manage their preferred communication styles, their relationship and their business will benefit so much. When they adopt each other’s usual problem-solving process, conflicts are resolved more quickly. Through experience, they have learned what works for each partner, that is, if a person needs to withdraw, calm down, vent, etc. They know that it is important not to judge each other for reacting differently to problems, and the most important thing is not to take your partner’s reactions personally. They deliberately focus anger and frustration on the problem and not on each other. Successful entrepreneurs resolve conflicts together by creatively implementing a joint solution.
4. Agreements on financial risk levels.
This is related to respecting the values of others, since one’s perception of money is an integral part of a person’s value system. Risk tolerance is based on beliefs about money. Successful entrepreneurial couples have examined their beliefs about money, including the following:
o Is each partner basically optimistic or pessimistic when it comes to their relationship with money?
o Do they have the abundance mentality, believing that there is enough for everyone?
o Do they have the scarcity mentality, believing that their gain means the loss of someone else?
o What is each partner willing to risk to grow the business?
o What is the line that each one will not cross? (For example: not lose your home, keep health insurance, etc.)
To be successful, the most risk-tolerant partner must agree not to exceed the level of risk acceptable to the most conservative partner. When the less risk-tolerant partner feels that their limits are being respected, they are likely to become more flexible about accepting greater risks.
5. Take advantage of the differences.
Successful entrepreneurial couples know that one of the main reasons for partnering in business with their life partner is to bring a different perspective, a perspective from someone they trust. The couple entrepreneurs who make it work not only tolerate their differences, they make the most of them. It is said that opposites attract in love. It also applies in business. Different skills and ideas often create the best business partnerships.
Successful entrepreneurial couples assign business roles according to strengths, skills, and styles. They find out early on who is going to be in charge of what, and then they stay away from each other.
GJ, a couples entrepreneur from Worcester, Massachusetts, says in Couples at Work: “You have to be the best of friends and allow your partner to be creative and not be too critical of qualities that you don’t particularly like. One of the best things Being different from your partner is that there is much to learn if you better understand and appreciate your style and that of your partner. At least, you will learn that your way of doing things is not the only one. Your differences can be your greatest strengths, when understand them, accept them, grow from them and build on them. “
6. Present a unified front to all: employees, suppliers, customers, etc.
Sometimes differences in style and philosophy can cause “horns to lock” when teamwork is most needed. However, successful Couplepreneurs resolve conflicts in private and do not allow others to play against each other. In public, they collaborate and support each other’s positions.
In their book Working Together, Frank and Sharan Barnett introduced the concept of “wegos” instead of egos. A wego combines individual egos into a force that focuses on the relationship and the company rather than oneself. It arises from each partner’s confidence that together they possess the capabilities to achieve their goals. They realize that without “ourselves” the concept of “myself” is meaningless. Successful entrepreneurial couples leave their egos at their doorstep and happily take on their wegos.
7. Relationship comes before business.
A strong partnership and a happy home are an absolute necessity – they act as a kind of insurance policy against the “slings and arrows” of business life. Successful entrepreneurial couples are adamant about where and when talking business is prohibited. They understand that this is vitally important to maintaining the couple’s relationship, as well as their sanity.
They don’t wait until they have free time to spend quality time with their partner. Instead of waiting until there is time, they do it. Even a few moments of focused attention can make a difference. When time and money are scarce, that’s when the relationship is most stressed and vulnerable. They set the necessary boundaries around work and children to ensure they keep their relationship healthy and strong. They don’t allow business to become a permanent obsession. They set separate and distinct times to relax and have fun together (and with the kids, if there are any), even if it’s only a few hours a week.
These secrets apply to all levels of Couplepreneurs, from the small part-time home-based business to the large-scale global business. As noted in Departures magazine (November 2003), in an article on global real estate moguls B (eng) S (eng) and Christina Ong, “The interaction between husband and wife is the genius behind their story. Perfectly. She’s restrained, he’s outgoing. His wit is calm, hers is warm and lively. ” BS says, “We have been married for thirty years. For the first ten years, she inspired me. For the next ten years, she led me. Now, she is challenging me.” Christina looks at it a little differently and says, “My husband’s job is the bigger picture, I notice the details.”
The bottom line is that who you are as individuals and as a team, and how you relate to each other and to the outside world, will largely determine your success as couple entrepreneurs.