While spending all your time with the one you love might sound like a good idea, sharing both a bedroom and business can be challenging, bringing unique positives and pitfalls. Just ask Beyoncé and Jay-Z, or Melinda and Bill.
Data on exactly how many businesses are owned by couples is dated, but back in 2000 it was estimated that out of 22 million US small businesses, three million were set up jointly. It’s thought that this number will only have increased since then.
So, is it worth it? Well, according to a 2014 Danish study, going into business together leads to significant income gains for both spouses, suggesting that doing so is a sound investment.
The CEO Magazine spoke to four successful couples who are navigating their way through this most personal of professional partnerships.
ANNA + PETER
Be a supporter and a critic
Anna Thomas, COO, Stockdale & Leggo
I started working with Peter when I read the job description for COO and realised that the role suited me.
I won’t underplay the difficulty of raising a young family and running a business. We never stop talking about work; we live and breathe it 24/7. But I consciously try to find a balance because when I get home I’m Mum, and it’s all about homework and who is feeding the chickens.
I knew we needed boundaries on our roles, and I’ve helped build an incredible team so we don’t miss school concerts and we manage to have a date night every week.
The challenge for Peter was to relinquish some control but our team is stronger for it. It comes down to the fact that he trusts me 100 per cent, and vice versa. You have to be each other’s biggest supporter and toughest critic.
It’s also important to stay strong and united because there can occasionally be someone who will try to play you off against each other. Nip that in the bud immediately.
It isn’t always easy but I’ve learnt that if we make time for each other and step back from the business, it works.
Empower your partner
Peter Thomas, CEO, Stockdale & Leggo
If you work together, the hardest thing is not to talk shop 24 hours a day. It’s hard to switch off, but we manage it.
Business has always dominated my life; I was so busy before but, with Anna onboard, I’ve learnt to delegate. We’re both mature and I respect Anna enormously.
That’s so important, as is being able to understand and respect each other’s role within the company and being responsive to each other’s needs; needs that will change over time as the business evolves.
When you’re working as a couple, you have to want to empower your partner and check in with them all the time to make sure you’re on the same page and heading in the same direction. stockdaleleggo.com.au
REBECCA + EDWARD
Bedroom & boardroom can blur
Rebecca Plant, Co-Founder and CEO, The Institute of Couples in Business
Ed and I had different careers paths – I was in journalism and he was in the military – but 10 years ago, we found we were housemates who were running similar leadership businesses. We became a couple and gradually started running parts of our businesses together. When I was pregnant with our first child, it made sense to join forces.
The greatest thing about working with Ed is that I know there is no other person on the planet who has my back like he does. I never doubt him or the direction we’re going in and, of course, I get to see him whenever I want during the day.
It’s a privilege to see him on fire, with a glint in his eye and know that he’s giving his absolute best to us, to our business and our family, rather to anything or anyone else. The downside is that the intoxication of it all can swallow up every little moment and every holiday because running a business is hard, stressful and full-on.
That’s when leadership structures come into play. Without having those parameters in place, lines between bedroom and boardroom can blur very easily.
To work together successfully, you have to agree that your relationship comes above all else and realise that the combination of marriage, children and business will teach you more about yourself and each other than you ever thought possible. It’s the biggest personal development experience ever.
You have to take time out
Edward Plant, Co-Founder and Lead Coach, The Institute of Couples in Business
There’s no doubt that working together on our business is all consuming. You can’t step away from it because you’re in pursuit of excellence but it’s important to take time out, even if it’s for a regular date night where all talk of business is banned.
It’s also important to build your business so that can be run by your team when you’re not there so that you can still have time away and take holidays as a family.
The advantage of working as a couple is that I get to see Bec at her best. I stand there in awe. Couples tend to be total opposites and so we both bring different skills to the business. And there’s the flexibility of being able to do the school run and ferrying to soccer practice, something that’s priceless but easy to miss out on when you’re working hard.
I think couples put off bringing in other people to assist with their business because of the extra cost, or because they don’t know any better, or because they think they should be able to do it on their own. But the truth is that you don’t have to do everything by yourself and if you try, you’ll only hold yourself and your business back.
So sit down together and work out your vision, goals, strengths and weaknesses, and then get support, if necessary. After all, the best business people in the world have advisers and mentors so why should you be any different? instituteforcouplesinbusiness.com
MARNIE + ADAM
Marnie Goding, Co-Founder and Creative Director, ELK
I already had a career in marketing and events, so when a contract came to an end, I moved over to work with Adam. It’s something that we’d have done sooner but my dad wisely told me to learn and make mistakes on someone else’s time first.
I feel incredibly lucky to work with my life partner and it’s not something I take for granted at all. I’ve had to learn that we deal with stress and pressure differently and that that’s okay.
I threw myself into the business with gusto and didn’t realise quite how much travel would be involved and the time that would mean I’d be away from Adam and our children.
The advantage of creating a business together is that our kids are part of our world. They know where we are, and they come to see our work and home life as pretty blended, which is cool.
I’d say couples need to sort out early on what their ways of working are. It’s important to realise that this isn’t for everyone either. If you do go for it, make sure you communicate constantly so any problems are sorted out quickly.
This is a lifestyle choice
Adam Koniaras, Co-Founder and CEO, ELK
Both my family and Marnie’s worked for themselves so it was natural for me to start my own business too. I was an apprentice in jewellery design after leaving school and had always worked on the side so setting up ELK was a progression from that.
The challenge is the expectation for us to be available 24/7, but I need my downtime to refresh. Marnie understands that now and knows the indicators. But those are challenges within the business not with our relationship.
There’s nothing I don’t like about working together. I get to share my whole life with the person I love the most and our children are growing up with the business, which has untold value for their education.
If you’re considering working with your partner, think about it long and hard first. You have to be rock solid and understand that this is a lifestyle choice. elkaccessories.com
ADAM + KATE
Deal with curve balls quickly
Kate Sutton, Founder and Creative Director, Uberkate I’ve always loved making jewellery and as that began to grow, I left my job as a TV producer to start Uberkate in 2003. Adam was also a TV producer and, over the next few years, I sneakily absorbed his time and expertise into the business. In 2009, he joined me full-time to run the technical and online side of Uberkate.
We set rules early on about how we would treat each other, which included always behaving respectfully, being courteous even if we were in disagreement and taking care not to step on each other’s toes. Adam says I’m a wild brumby and need to be free; working with him means I’m able to do that.
There is a risk of disconnect if you work and live together because of the problems that you might bring home (our first meeting is at 7am every day over coffee) but it has actually brought us closer. We’ve had to navigate curly situations together and that’s made our camaraderie even stronger.
Having some separate interests is key too. Adam goes off mountain biking while I recently fulfilled a long-held dream to travel to Morocco.
Any curve balls that get thrown our way, we deal with quickly and with humour. We have a team mentality and are interchangeable at home, for our two children, and at work. Setting up written systems about how challenges are to be met and what you have agreed your roles to be gives you a framework to refer back to when there’s conflict.
But to be honest, it’s not hard to work as a couple because we really like each other. Adam’s my soulmate.
Define ground rules early on
Adam Simpson, General Manager, Uberkate
Kate would always drag me into the garage at home to teach me the art of jewellery making. I gradually started doing more and more for the business until I left my TV job altogether.
Yes, she’d give me appraisals about how I was going or if I needed to pull my socks up. I think she even sacked me once! But now I’m working with my best friend every day. That’s not to say it’s not challenging at times. Kate’s full of creative ideas and I help her condense those into workable ones that are right for the business. In turn, she helps me focus more.
This is a lifestyle business that’s built on an engaged and connected community and that’s reflected in our flexible working environment. I’ve never missed one of our kids’ school recitals or award ceremonies, for instance.
To work together successfully, you just have to make sure that you respect each other and have clearly defined ground rules about your roles from the start. Above all, you need to ensure that there are times during the day when you are not talking about business. uberkate.com.au