Oh, how I wish I read this post before I decided to start a business with my wife. My hope is that if you’re reading this now then you’re in the ideation process with your significant other, rather than too deep into it.
While you can always readjust even once business is booming, it’s really best to lay a solid foundation first. So that you can build up from there more easily. That being said, we didn’t do it that way, and we still turned out just fine. I mean, we’re not divorced, and our business is thriving- so we must’ve done something right.
When my wife and I first started working together, though, it was tough (to put it lightly). Which brings me right back to my original point in that I wish I had read this very post before we dove in.
Today I’ll share a brief background on the business that my wife and I run together, what our biggest struggles were, and my top 8 tips to know before you start working with your significant other. Whether you’re dating, married, or something in between- this post is for you if you happen to be considering opening a business with your other half.
What To Know Before Working With Your Significant Other
Opening A Business With My Spouse
My wife and I met in Nicaragua in 2019 when we were each there for solo surf trips. A few weeks later, we bought land together as “best friends.” And another two weeks later we were saying “I love you” for the first time, knowing that we were going to be together forever.
When we bought the land, we originally planned on building a house on it. Well, we were actually planning on building TWO houses on it, because we’d split the land down the middle as “best friends,” rather than partners. The land title is still split down the middle, funnily enough.
Two years later, a lot of hard work, tears, and laughter later- we managed to build a retreat center from the ground up. I’m talking about everything from our own food, water, electricity, and Wifi source…we had to get all that installed, PLUS the buildings themselves. Building in another country is another story entirely. So you can check out this post for more details about that whirlwind.
Our retreat center, Still Salty Escape, opened on January 1, 2022. But the truth is, we started working together on this project long before we had any guests join us. We ran into a lot of hiccups in the building process itself. But it was the first year of operation that really gave our relationship a run for its money.
Our Biggest Struggles Of Co-Owning A Business
Like I said before, we’re not divorced, so it all worked out in the end. But damn, there was a point that we thought we’d have to throw the towel in (to the business, not our relationship). Although some of the issues extended beyond our relationship dynamic within the business, the real issue is that our foundation was shaky. Mostly because it was like the blind leading the blind. And neither one of us really knew what the hell we were doing.
I’ve started multiple businesses in the last decade. So I’m comfortable with the whole trial and error process of being an entrepreneur. However, the sheet quantities of cash that we were spending on this didn’t compare to the more casual online start ups I’d done in the past.
We were stressed about money, we’d gone way over budget. And it seemed like no matter what we did we continued to hemorrhage cash at an alarming rate. It also took us time to build a solid, reliable team- which was imperative considering we both have completely separate full time jobs. I should mention my wife is an exec in finance at a large tech company. So this was really more of a passion project than anything.
As stress rose, communication continued to fail. And when communication dips, then all hell breaks loose, am I right? The good news is that we learned from our mistakes, we adjusted, pivoted, and corrected as needed. And without going through all that we did, I don’t think I’d have these same tips ready for you today.
8 Tips To Know Before Working With Your Significant Other
Working with your significant other is not a choice that should be taken lightly. Going into business with someone is like a marriage. So if you’re already married- you now have two marriages to take care of, even though it’s the same person. Kind of trippy, huh?
And if you’re not married, then make sure you think about it long and hard before committing to working with your partner, because this is also legally binding.
Working with your person can be equally rewarding as it can be frustrating or difficult. It’s definitely not for everyone, nor every relationship. But when you figure it out, your relationship will inevitably become more resilient as a result.
The very first thing you need to do before anything else is to establish roles between you and your partner. You need to know exactly what you’ll do, and exactly what they’ll do to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.
Think of it like any other job you’ve done where you have an official title with specific job requirements and duties. It’s the same thing here, and should not be glazed over, or generalized. Get as specific as possible for each of you.
Once you establish your roles, get it all written up in a formal (and legal) contract. If you don’t know how to find a lawyer, you can literally Google “small business lawyer near me,” and a ton of options will pop up. Writing up contracts is second nature to lawyers, so the turn around should be quick. Expect to pay a few hundred dollars, and know that it’s worth it.
The contract should have everything from the roles, responsibilities, and duties- to the financials, shares in the company, starting costs, and whatever else you see fit. Again, don’t generalize. Get specific here, remembering this is a document you can both refer back to at any time for clarity in what’s expected.
I like to suggest a minimum of meeting once a week for the business, but this might not be enough for you depending on what your business is. The reality is, you’re going to be talking about business stuff all the time. Like all the time. Especially when you’re trying to get everything up and running. The first few years are full on.
You want to have dedicated times to discuss business related queries, rather than texting or voice noting whenever something comes to mind because this can get overwhelming to either party, and also it keeps things a lot more organized.
Talk About Money
If you’re not comfortable talking about money, then you better start getting real comfy with it, because it’s about to be a regular topic between the two of you. It’s very normal for people to feel a little awkward around money talk, or reserved about exact numbers- but all of that needs to GO when you go into business with someone.
There needs to be an open, honest conversation around your finances within the business, as well as your finances as a couple. If that sounds near impossible for you, or you don’t know where to start- do a few therapy sessions together around money. Or hire a business coach.
I mentioned before that my wife is an exec in finance for a large tech company, so you’re probably not surprised when I say she’s the numbers and spreadsheet person in our business- while I’m the creative innovator and marketing expert. She thinks in numbers, and I think with colors. This helped us to divide our roles easily based on our natural abilities and interests.
A lot of couples are like this, which can make for a great business partnership. However, it’s still vital that there’s total financial transparency. This means that the creative person still knows that the hell is going on with the money stuff, even if they’re not punching numbers. You don’t ever want to be in a situation where you think someone else has it under control, when they really don’t at all.
Time Boundaries Around Work And Personal
Setting those weekly work meetings is a great way to instill time boundaries between work life and personal life. However, you’re going to need more than that. Trust me. Every couple is different, and every business is different- so you’ll have to play around between the two of you as to what feels good to you.
Some couples have an agreement not to talk about business in bed. While others say no business talk before their morning routine, or after 5 pm. Take a look at your own schedules to see what makes sense, and do your best to honor those boundaries that you instill together.
Maintaining strong communication is a must for all relationships- whether they’re working, romantic, or platonic. When you’re working together, and romantically involved (not to mention probably living together, too), it’s vital that you’re communicating well throughout.
It’s easy to assume that the other person knows what you’re thinking, or how you’re feeling, but I can assure you that they don’t. Yes, even if you’re soul mates. Make sure to work on open, honest, and productive communication to maintain the health of your working and romantic relationship with this person.
Your working relationship is separate from your personal relationship. It’s easy to fall into the hazy gray area when your boundaries aren’t strong, and communication is faltering. It’s funny because although they’re two different relationships, they’re both with the same person. Which is why it can get a little tricky sometimes.
Schedule weekly relationship check-ins with the same integrity that you’d schedule a weekly work meeting. Only bring personal relationship items to the table for this meeting, rather than work stuff. Without the foundation of your romantic relationship, it will be hard to build a strong working relationship.
I know it’s a lot to take in all at once, but remember that laying the groundwork for your foundation will set you up for success as you build and grow together.
You’ve got this, my friends!