Expert Advice for Couples Running a Small Business Together

Learn that delicate balance of managing your relationship at home and at the office.
Young couple running coffee shop
Allowing yourselves to enjoy your business will make both your marriage and your business run smoothly. (Photo: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

While marriage can be challenging, working with your spouse might be even more difficult. There is a delicate balance of managing your relationship at home and at the office. It’s no surprise, then, that working together can either make or break a marriage. However, being in business with your spouse can work well – especially if it is a business you are both passionate about.

If you are considering working with your husband or wife, here are some tips on how to make your business partnership as successful as your marriage.

Be clear about the ‘why’

“Before going into business together, develop clear agreements about why you are going into business together, and what your individual and collective ownership interests and priorities are,” Henry Foley of Bayan Global Family Business Advisors recommends. “In our experience, it is incredibly important for spouses who are partners to have agreed in advance what they are trying to accomplish for themselves individually and together.”

Mike Anderson, who runs Black Toe Running with his wife in Toronto, Canada, agrees. “We spent a lot of time at the beginning talking about why we thought it was a good idea to work together from a business perspective. It wasn’t a love story dream. It was a very practical decision. Did we think that the two of us running the business together is the smartest choice?”

Have defined business roles

Much like the divvying up of household chores, the same goes for the business. “Couples who are successful are conscientious about carefully defining the roles, responsibilities and accountabilities each will have,” Foley says. “In many cases, couples may want to share top leadership roles, responsibilities and accountabilities. In other situations they may decide that one person should be in charge and the other will be a ‘subordinate.’”

Set boundaries

Working and living together can be overwhelming, so it’s important to limit shop talk around the house.

“One thing I noticed in this kind of situation when you are dealing with your spouse is the tendency to talk about business all the time,” Anderson says. Instead, he and his wife book meetings to discuss certain subjects, like accounting and marketing, leaving the business talk for work time only. “We still keep that discipline to make sure it doesn’t permeate every other conversation we have.”

Clear communication is essential

You need to be able to discuss your needs and actions to your spouse as clearly as you would any other colleague. At the same time, it can be confusing at times whether you are talking like a “boss” or like a spouse, which is why clarity is vital.

“[Successful couples] always recognize that they are wearing one or another of ‘three hats’ at any given point,” Foley says. “One hat is that of a member of a married couple, the second is that of being one of two or more co­-owners, and the third is the business leadership hat. This may sound either simple-minded or difficult, but it is incredibly important for married couples to be clear when they are speaking to each other what the perspective is from which they are speaking to the other person. “

Don’t forget to enjoy yourselves

Allowing yourselves to enjoy your business will make the experience of it that much sweeter – both outside and inside the home.

“If it wasn’t fun, we wouldn’t do it,” Anderson says. “It’s not easy starting a business. It is a lot of work and there are a lot of challenges, so do have a lot of fun with it. The stuff that I enjoy, I do a lot of that. The stuff she gets a kick out of, she focuses on that. We make sure it is a fun experience for us, and our staff and our customers.”

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