Are you in business with your life partner and can’t tell the difference between your bedroom and the boardroom? Welcome to the world of Couplepreneurs!
What are “Couplepreneurs”? This term describes any two persons living together in a committed relationship and also owning and managing a business together. Couplepreneurship is a growing phenomenon for several reasons, including: corporate downsizing; more women entering the workforce; early retirees looking for another venture; and technology that allows a small business to become a viable option for earning a family income.
Statistics are not specifically kept on the number of small businesses jointly owned by couples. However, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA), the number of “jointly owned sole proprietorships” is increasing steadily at greater than 5% a year. Since “jointly owned sole proprietorship” is a tax term for a business where two individuals share ownership, this information could indicate a rise in Couplepreneurship. The actual increase in businesses owned by couples may be higher, as the SBA does not keep statistics on corporations or partnerships run by couples.
Being partners at home and in business is not only doubly challenging, but exponentially more complicated than being partners in only one of these endeavors. I congratulate all of those brave and adventurous souls who are doing both successfully. The following tips have been gleaned from my own experiences living and owning businesses with my entrepreneurial husband over the past twenty years; extensive reading; and interviews with several other successful Couplepreneurs.
So, for couples encountering some bumps while traveling the Couplepreneur road; Couplepreneurs who want more from either their personal or business partnership; and those considering embarking on the Couplepreneur adventure, I offer the following success secrets.
1. A shared, clear vision of your ideal business and relationship, with an integrated plan to enjoy both.
To be successful as Couplepreneurs requires planning a life-with a vision that includes personal and relationship goals as well as business goals. If both partners are not moving in the same direction toward common goals, they will grow apart. Ideally, partners will always be in synch. Realistically, they may start out with different goals and desires regarding the business, and/or as the business and family circumstances change, their dreams may diverge, or even change. Successful Couplepreneurs look for creative options that embrace both partners’ visions.
2. Respect for each other’s values.
Since values are the principles and beliefs that guide decisions, attitudes and behaviors; each partner’s values must be acceptable to the other. If partners are forced to act contrary to their core values, frustration and struggle will result. Assumedly, partners have similar values since they are a couple sharing a life. However, when partners team up in business, they may become aware of some aspects of their partner’s value system of which they were previously unaware. Values related to money, commitment, work ethic, integrity, authority, and responsibility may become much more important when a couple shares both personal and business lives. Successful Couplepreneurs honor each other’s values at home and in business.
3. Effective communication system to resolve conflicts.
Perfect communication between any two human beings is not realistic. However, when partners learn to manage their preferred communication styles, their relationship and business will both benefit. When they embrace each other’s usual problem-solving process, conflicts are resolved more quickly. Through experience, they have learned what works for each partner i.e., whether one person needs to retreat, be reassured, blow off steam, etc. They know that it is important not to judge each other for reacting differently to problems, and it is most important to not take their partner’s reactions personally. They deliberately focus the anger and frustration on the problem, and not on each other. Successful Couplepreneurs solve conflicts together by creatively implementing a joint solution.
4. Agreements on levels of financial risk.
This relates to respecting each other’s values, as one’s perception of money is integral to a person’s value system. Risk tolerance is based on beliefs about money. Successful Couplepreneurs have examined their money beliefs, including the following:
o Is each partner basically optimistic or pessimistic when it comes to his or her relationship to money?
o Do they have the abundance mentality, believing that there is enough for everyone?
o Do they have the scarcity mentality, believing their gain means someone else’s loss?
o What is each partner willing to risk to make the business grow?
o What is the line each will not cross? (For example: not losing the house, keeping medical insurance, etc.)
For success, the more risk-tolerant partner must agree not to exceed the level of risk acceptable to the more conservative partner. When the less risk-tolerant partner feels that his or her boundary is being respected, they will likely then become more flexible regarding accepting greater risks.
5. Capitalize on the differences.
Successful Couplepreneurs know that a major reason to team up in business with their life partner is to bring in a different perspective, a perspective from someone trusted. Couplepreneurs who make it work not only tolerate their differences but make the most of them. It is said that in love, opposites attract. It applies in business, too. Differing skills and ideas often make for the best business partnerships.
Successful Couplepreneurs assign business roles according to strengths, skills and styles. They figure out right at the start who is going to be in charge of what–and then stay out of each other’s way.
G.J., a Couplepreneur from Worcester, Massachusetts, states in Couples at Work,”You must be best friends and allow your partner creativity and not be overly critical of qualities you don’t particularly like. One of the best things about being different from your partner is that there is so much to learn from better understanding and appreciating your and your partner’s styles. If nothing else, you will learn that your way of doing things is certainly not the only one. Your differences can be your greatest strengths, when you understand, accept, grow from, and build on them.”
6. Present a unified front to all: employees, vendors, customers, etc.
Sometimes, differences in style and philosophy can cause “horns to lock” at the very moment teamwork is most needed. However, successful Couplepreneurs resolve conflicts in private and do not allow others to play one of them against the 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 the individual egos into a force that focuses on the relationship and the enterprise instead of one’s self. It evolves 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 Couplepreneurs leave their egos at the door to their business and happily assume their wegos.
7. The relationship comes before the 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 Couplepreneurs are firm about where and when talking about business is off-limits. They understand that this is vitally important in maintaining the couple’s relationship, as well as their sanity.
They don’t wait until they have spare time to spend quality time with their partner. Instead of waiting until there is time, they make the time. Even a few moments of focused attention can make all the difference. When time and money are scarce, that’s when the relationship is the most stressed and vulnerable. They establish necessary boundaries around work and kids to ensure that they keep their relationship healthy and strong. They do not allow the business to become a round-the-clock obsession. They carve out separate and distinct times to relax and have fun together (and with the kids, if 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 venture, to the global large-scale enterprise. As noted in Departures magazine (November, 2003), in an article about global real estate tycoons B(eng) S(eng) and Christina Ong, “The interplay between husband and wife is the genius behind their story. They complement each other perfectly. She is restrained, he’s outgoing. Her wit is quiet, his warm and lively.” B.S. states, “We’ve been married thirty years. For the first ten years she inspired me. For the next ten years, she drove me. Now, she is challenging me.” Christina sees it a little differently and says, “My husband’s work is the bigger picture, I notice detail.”
The bottom line is that who you are as individuals and as a team, and how you relate to each other and the outside world, will largely determine how successful you are as Couplepreneurs.