Starting a business with your spouse: A small business guide

Mixing business and pleasure might be a bit of a no-no, but what about mixing business with those you love? Plenty of people do it and there are several clear advantages in forming a business partnership with your life partner.

For a start, you get to share the experience as well as the workload. Going into business for yourself is hard work and so, if you can share that with your closest companion, in theory you halve the pressure.

But, in reality, going into business with your spouse can increase pressure too, especially if you take work home with you all the time. And what if you actually work from home? Then you really do need to set some boundaries to safeguard your out-of-work relationship.

 

The right kind of separation

 

Talk to any couple who run a business together and this will be their first piece of advice: keep your work and your home life separate. They’ll tell you that there have to be boundaries that are adhered to. You need to find a routine that works for you and, to the best of your abilities, stick to it.

By all means put in long hours. But have a cut off time, set aside time to be a couple and, every now-and-again, stop talking shop! Remember you are life partners first, business partners second, and you need to give each relationship the attention it deserves.

Get disciplined and get some help

 

Going into business with your spouse needs discipline. There will be times when the personal and professional combine to double the pressure on you both. It’s important, then, that you know how you deal with this – and you’d be wise to put some effort into preparing for such events – as, no matter how tight your relationship is, it will be tested heavily at times.

Bringing in help from outside can mitigate this risk. For some it might be a family member to step in and take care of the kids, for others a cleaner to keep on top of domestic duties while you’ve both got your noses to the grindstone. A business coach, mentor or professional adviser will be invaluable too; an objective third-party perspective that could save both your business and your marriage.

“As a couple you’ll often have a wider range of skills within your partnership than you would going it alone”

Australia-China Business-to-Business Relationship ‘Strong,’ ACBC’s Brumby Says

 

Two heads are better than one

 

 

Make no mistake, starting a new business is tough. Lots of people make it work, but there are sadly still some that fall by the wayside. Going into business with your spouse, though, should mean double the determination, double the effort and double the resilience. If one of you is having a bad day, then hopefully the other can motivate and support. And neither of you is going to want to fail through a lack of effort, so you might just put in those extra efforts that a true entrepreneur needs.

 

The benefits after the hard yards

 

You’ll be aware that starting a new business won’t mean instant gratification. You’ll put in longer hours than you’ve been used to, and work harder than almost anyone else you know. But, if there are two of you working together, and you work smart, you might just fast-track some of those early business development years.

And, once you’ve got the business established and settled into a relatively regular routine, there are other advantages to going into business with your spouse. For start, if you have children you’ll be sympathetic if one of you needs to take time off work to collect the kids from school. Equally, you’re less likely to miss out on your children’s milestone moments such as school plays and sports days.

 

More profits for your pockets

 

Going into business with your spouse and sharing the spoils is a bonus too. Since, if you’re bringing the income into one household, you get to share the profits between you and significantly reduce your tax implications compared to a single earner. But, remember, you need to get through the early start-up phases of your business if you are to see some spoils to share. And, if both of you quit your jobs to start a new venture, you’ll need to set aside some cash to live on for at least a few months.

 

Play to your strengths as a couple

 

What type of business might suit a couple? Well, it’s the same question you’d pose to a singleton: what type of business interests you, and how does it fit with your skills set? The great thing about life partners going into business together, though, is that you’ll often have a wider range of skills within your partnership than you would going it alone.

When you make your decision, then – and you’re sure about going into business with your spouse – you need to maximise those advantages. If you’re the chatty, people person, then don’t get bogged down in spreadsheets. Conversely, if you’re an organiser and administrative ninja, then focus on that side of the business. In short, play to your strengths as a couple and, whatever you do, don’t try to do everything yourself.

Lots of successful family-run businesses are owned by husband-and-wife teams, so going into business with your spouse is no bad thing. Be sure you want to do this, though, as it’s important you’re both on the same journey. But, if you both have a passion for your business, and you add that to the mutual trust you have as life partners, then you have a winning formula that can’t be matched.

 

Catherine Larke, director of myhrdept, discusses how she manages working with her husband in a HR support business. 

My company is a HR outsource company, it started with an on-line service in 2004 and in 2011/12 moved toward more bespoke, quality HR support for small businesses. My husband started the business in 2000 and I joined him as a director in 2000.

In terms of working together, it’s easier now that we have more staff and defined roles. When I first joined him our work was essentially the same and we often disagreed on how to progress or thought the other one was doing a task. Now that I have a role and he has a role we have more independence from each other and clearer responsibilities. We also have separate offices so we have a bit of space.

“I was listening to gossip at a Christmas party about two colleagues having an affair. They were talking about us”

It’s hard to separate personal from professional life. We spend a lot of ‘personal’ time talking about the business, its staff and clients etc. even on holiday. Luckily we enjoy the business and have a great team, so most of the conversation is positive. We try to have offsite meetings occasionally to have frank discussions about developing the business, in ‘business’ not personal time.

We always said that we could never work together, both being quite feisty, so it’s come as quite a surprise that we work well together. We both worked for HR in the same large company for many years but had never met. We got together at a colleague’s wedding, officially my husband’s last day at that employer.

We were very clear that the relationship didn’t start until after midnight so we weren’t breaking any rules. Still, we were very discrete. I was listening to gossip at a Christmas party about two colleagues having an affair. The one person I had confided in had to pull me aside to tell me they were talking about us. That was 18 years ago, so no end of stories over that time!

When it comes to advice for other companies, be clear on your roles and responsibilities and what you’re trying to achieve as a business. Make time to discuss issues and business plans professionally rather than assume you’re both pulling in the same direction. Employee people you like and don’t be afraid to stop working with clients who make work unpleasurable.

 

Kellie Bath, founder of JimJams Spreads, discusses how her marriage with husband Kevin lends itself to a productive business relationship. 

Couple in Business

I am a mum of two, and my husband Kevin and I are the co-founders of JimJams Spreads. We started the business around three years ago in our mid-forties with absolutely no experience of the food industry whatsoever. Today we sell our spreads in Sainsburys, Morrisons, Ocado, Holland & Barrett, Wholefoods and many other outlets.

Initially, the inspiration for starting the business came from our children. I was getting a bit frustrated trying to find a breakfast spread for them that wasn’t laden with sugar. I was shocked to discover that all leading brands of chocolate spread contain the equivalent of up to 57 sugar cubes in a standard jar. Considering that children are the biggest consumer of chocolate spread and are heavily marketed to, I couldn’t believe that there wasn’t an alternative on the shelves and I thought if no-one else is going to do it, why don’t I?

 

At a crossroads

 

I put the idea to Kevin and without any hesitation at all, and he said ‘let’s do it’! Timing played a really important part because I think we were both at a crossroads in our lives. Kevin was looking for a new challenge and I was trying to push myself to become braver and take a few more risks in life. I suppose the stars aligned because we didn’t really think about it too much, we just acted.

We are different characters and we both possess a different set of skills which we utilise. We don’t try and over-rule each other in areas of the business that the other has agreed to manage. Don’t get me wrong, it’s extremely hard to keep a good balance, we’re not exactly high-fiving each other on a daily basis – some days I feel like pouring a jar of JimJams over his head (and I’m sure the feeling is mutual), but that is real life. I think you have to trust each other, allow the other person to make decisions and, if those decisions don’t exactly work out, don’t criticise – just move on and see it as a lesson learnt.

“We spent our savings on branding and stock but we soon ran out of money”

You have to be strict and allocate cut-off points; for example I work around my children. When they get home from school I stop working for a few hours to spend time with them, help with homework, cook them a decent meal, and I catch up on work a bit later. I also refuse to talk to Kevin about work after 8pm! Running your own business allows flexible working hours which is a godsend.

To be honest, I’m much happier now than I was years ago when I worked in London. I would get up at the crack of dawn (in the dark), commute to London, sit at a desk for nine hours solidly before travelling home (in the dark). It’s really not a healthy existence – I believe flexible working should be attainable for everyone.

When we first started the business, we spent our savings on branding and stock but we soon ran out of money. It meant that we had to get our hands dirty and literally do everything ourselves. At that point, we were still working our day jobs but we still hired a small storage unit and we would drive there most evenings after work, package up the stock and deliver it to local Co-ops and speciality food stores. Then, at weekends we would sell our products at markets, we were literally working 24/7 and were getting exhausted.

The pressure of ‘trying to do it all’ was finally coming on top and Kevin and I had this ridiculous argument about him overloading the van. I remember we spun off in the van (still having heated words) when the back of the van burst open and all the stock tumbled into the street. We sat there not knowing whether to laugh or cry – but I think we were so exhausted that we just lost the plot and burst into laughter. That was the point we decided that enough was enough and we had to really take the leap of faith and give up our supporting day jobs. It was the best thing we ever did.

When I first told people that I was going into business with my husband, the general reaction was ‘Oh, God, I would be divorced within a year if I had to spend that much time with my partner’. Believe me, I get it – it most definitely tests your relationship but it can also be a really great experience as long as you follow the golden rules I mentioned above: trust the others judgment, allow each other to make decisions, don’t criticise and remember we all make mistakes. You will break these rules on a regular basis because we are only human! But, get yourself back on track and make these rules your daily aim.

 

Summary tips: Going into business with your spouse

 

  • Keep your work and your home life separate. Find a routine that works for you and, to the best of your abilities, stick to it.

  • Take the pressure off the relationship by seeking outside help. It could be a family member, a cleaner, a business coach. Draw on other resources to help you focus your time on your business.

  • Communicate and motivate each other when the going gets tough. That support you have built up on a personal level can be critical when you experience problems on a professional level.

  • Play to your strengths as a couple. If your thing is numbers, stick with the spreadsheets. If you’re more creative, go for the people-person roles.

  • Share the same vision. If you disagree fundamentally on the direction of the business, you won’t get far.