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Starting a home-based business with your spouse? A primer on what to expect and how to handle the challenges.
By Unmana Datta
Conversation in our home/office on a Wednesday morning:
Me: I need some time off. I wish we could take today off.
My husband: But there’s the client meeting.
I know! And tomorrow is our Office Hours. Maybe Friday?
Don’t we have that deliverable for a client?
Oh right. And Saturday we have that start-up event to attend. But at least we have Sunday.
No, our developer is working on Sunday, so we have to work with him.
Me, with palpable desperation: Oh my god, we’re never getting a day off!
I don’t want to scare you off if you’re considering starting a business with your husband/partner. But this is kind of what happens (with us, at least) most weeks.
If you are considering starting a business with your partner (or even sibling/roommate/close friend/parent), maybe my experience will help you understand what to expect – and how to deal with it.
There’s just no line between work and personal life anymore. As we sit over breakfast, we talk about what we have to do today; over dinner, we end up rehashing how a client meeting went. The bedroom, a date night… nothing’s sacrosanct.
But if you’re like me, this is mostly a good thing. I’ve always talked work stuff over with my husband; we’ve used each other as sounding boards, as coaches or mentors even. It’s fun to share ideas and argue over the best process for a work activity.
Only, on nights when we need to not think about work anymore, we have to decide not to talk to each other at all – maybe just pick up books and read or watch a show together. If we talk over dinner, we might just start talking about what we need to do tomorrow!
It’s difficult to keep things professional when you have to go to bed with the person you’re arguing with. We are used to being each others’ biggest supporters; it can be disconcerting to argue and not give in to your partner’s perspective.
Here are a few rules we use to make sure we don’t take things too personally even when we argue:
1. Agree that it isn’t personal – Obvious, I know. But it’s important to say: “When I argue with you over something work-related, it’s not because I don’t respect your judgement. I’m just presenting my perspective, and we need to do this like professionals.”
2. Accept that there’ll be times when this won’t work – When things get heated, we take a time out. One of us says, “I don’t think we’re dealing well with this right now. Let’s come back to it later.” And we usually do, and make an effort to understand the other’s perspective, and we can usually reach a decision that both of us are comfortable with.
3. Don’t compromise – It’s tempting sometimes to give in for the sake of keeping the peace, or just because you respect your partner’s judgement. But for the sake of the business, do not give in if you’re not convinced. If you don’t agree with something, say so; it might make things difficult in the short-term, but you owe it to the business to be honest.
4. Have clear lines of authority – #3 might leave you at a deadlock if you don’t also follow this rule. Spell out clearly what each person’s responsibilities are. In a start-up, you end up doing bits of everything, but who makes the final decisions? With us, for example, if we argue over marketing, my decision is final, even if my partner doesn’t agree. If it’s project management or software development, I’ll agree to push the feature to a later release if he says it will take too much time to build.
Inspite of occasional disagreements, I hadn’t quite realized before we started how much of an asset working with my husband would be. We’re in sync in a way I’ve never experienced with anyone I worked with. When we’re meeting clients, we can expand upon each other’s statements, or take over and give the other a breather when needed. We know each other well, so it’s easier (though never actually easy) dividing up tasks that will play to either’s strengths.
A business consumes your life in a way a job might not, and if you’re in it with your partner, you’re in that much deeper. It’s important to not let it get to you, so remember to get out and meet friends or do something that relaxes you.
I’ll retreat to the bedroom with a book at the end of the workday, and we try to schedule time with friends at least once a week. At the end of a long week, it can be a relief to get together with friends and talk about things totally unrelated to work.
So can I actually never take time off? No, I can and I do. There are busy times and less busy times, and if there is nothing urgent and I have a bad cold, I can stay in bed with a book – and since my home is my office, still be available if something comes up that I have to deal with. When there are deadlines to meet, we keep our noses to the grindstone and try to forget it’s Saturday night.
The other side to uncertainty is that financially, there’s no safety net; if the business fails, you both fail.
I don’t regret this for a moment. For one, there’s the whole thrill of working on your own business. Every word I write online, every bit of work I do, it’s all towards this business that we’re building. If one of us is working late, it’s no longer a problem for the other: no apologies necessary!
Have you ever worked with your partner or even a close friend? Tell us about your experiences in the comments!
*Photo credit: Pixabay