Updated: Mar 6
I have had both the pleasure and pain of working closely with my spouse for several years on many entrepreneurial endeavors. We have been in business for the last ten years running a successful photography business. We have also traveled the country speaking together, shooting together and hosted our own annual traveling conference and all of this while also trying to raise children and maintain a decently healthy marriage. We have created and worked on so many special projects that have required both of our skills and was necessary for those things to thrive, but, it hasn't come without some frustration and heartache.
Is It Smart To Work With Your Spouse?
If I am going to be in business with anyone, there really is no one who has my best interest at heart more than my husband. We share the same passion, the same resources and ultimately, the same goals. There is no one who understands the pull that being a creative requires and no one who will give me the freedom to pursue it the way that he does, but all of that has come with time, heart wrenching mistakes, a tremendous amount of learning and growing, balance and boundaries.
Tips For Working With Your Spouse:
The other night I sat with Ike and asked, if he could give other couples advice about working together what would his tips be and we compiled a list of our biggest takeaways for you below:
1. PLAY YOUR POSITION. Know what it is that you bring to the business or project, what your strengths are and focus on bringing the best of those strengths to the forefront.
In our business, we learned early that Ike wasn't always great at communicating with clients and that I was terrible at dealing with the hard things of business (taxes, insurance, reporting). We quickly learned that when it came to corresponding with clients, I should be the one handling communication and that when it came to accountability of our business, the finances and the reporting to the IRS, the taxes, that Ike should take the lead on that.
Taking the time to recognize strengths and weaknesses and assigning roles based on that has been imperative to our growing business and knowing which roles are suited for each person can be a game changer.
2. TRUST YOUR PARTNER. When you and your partner have established what your roles are or are going to be, trust them. Believe them to do what they say they are going to do and stay out of the way.
Early in our business, I would find myself nagging Ike about the things he was supposed to do. I would trust him just enough, but not enough to surrender whatever task that we agreed he would do and if he didn't do it the way I felt was best, it didn't matter if it got done or not and that was a major problem.
When working with other, especially your spouse, it is important to give them the freedom to complete tasks how they see fit and however they choose to complete the task, show gratitude.
3. DON'T MIX BUSINESS WITH PLEASURE. When working with your spouse 24/7 it can be easy for the business of work to bleed into the pleasure of life. Boundaries become easily skewed and its hard to determine where work stops and when life begins. It is vitally important to keep work conversations within work hours and to not allow what might be stressful or left undone to impact your day to day life.
There were so many times where I would allow what was happening in our business to impact our marriage. I would hold my frustration in business against our marriage and lump all of it together. It wasn't clear whether "Tash the photographer" or "Tasha the wife" was in the room and we were always on edge and walking on eggshells. It took a conscious effort to move away from mixing my two worlds and laying work down and picking up life in a more seamless way.
4. KEEP YOUR WORD. When you work in business with another person, especially your partner, it is important to keep your word. Trust is built on our ability to follow through and to do what we say we are going to do. When in business, there is little room for trust to be broken by way of our inability to do what we say we are going to do.
Ike and I have had tWhen you work in business with another person, especially your partner, it is important to keep your word. Trust is built on our ability to follow through and to do what we say we are going to do. When in business, there is little room for trust to be broken by way of our inability to do what we say we are going to do. tthe on-the-job training we needed to get our act together and learn to work together and have each other's backs. There is a lot of growing that takes place over the course of ten years. A person changes a lot in their personal life, so you can imagine that same growth would also tend to take place in business - don't give up after the first mistake, miscommunication and mistrust.
When trust is broken in the workplace, we have grace to sit down with our co-workers and work toward solution. Be sure to work that same grace and understanding into co-working with your spouse.
5. CHECK IN OFTEN. Ask your spouse how they are doing. Do weekly check ins on the work environment, on the process and on your goals. Make sure you are still on the same page about where the business is heading and if how you handling business is conducive to where you hope to be growing and going.
Plan weekly meetings to make sure that both parties are still feeling motivated, fulfilled and excited about what is happening. There may be times in the business where one person has to pick up more slack, or find a part-time job, while the other person is sick, or raising children (both of our kids have been born in the last 10 years. Communicate and be open about the ebb and the flow of your business and be flexible. Honest communication is the only way to gauge both the needs of your spouse and your business.
6. CREATE AN INSPIRING SPACE. Just because you work from home doesn't mean your environment has to feel like you do. Create a space that motivates and inspires you. Don't settle for what is in front of you but imagine and invest in a space that makes you want to work and don't apologize or feel guilty if that space is out of the home or across the house from your partner. Just because you are working and building together, doesn't mean you have to do that sitting across from one another every moment of every single day.
I learned quickly after a few months that sharing an office with Ike wasn't conducive to my creativity or workflow. What we needed to be productive was better suited to a working environment apart from one another. This distance also created space for us to miss one another and check in on what the other was doing in our absence. It was healthy. Moving out of our office space and working independently from home was the wisest thing I did for our work and marriage.
7. GET UP AND GET OUT. Use your flexible schedule and your freedom to be spontaneous. No point in working from home or with your partner if you can't play hooky and adventure together a bit.
You don't pick self-employment to play by the rules. So, make your own rules and have fun doing it. There's so much that gets sacrificed when you are on your own and working for yourself, so make the experience worthwhile and do the things you always dreamed of. Don't wait. Make the hard days worth it by living your life in the freedom that you dreamt about.
8. INVEST IN YOUR INDIVIDUAL INTERESTS. Find something that is special and unique to your interest and do that, separately and on your own. Working with your spouse is so fun, but you should still have aspirations, goals and interest that are your own and that motivate and inspire you toward your purpose.
Although Ike and I enjoy so many of the same things, we still have projects and jobs we accept and do on our own. Ike is incredibly passionate about photography education and he does this by regularly checking in with his personal audience via Youtube and I love to help people. It is rooted deeply in who I am, and I do this by sharing with all of you on this blog, serving in my community and fostering and building community in a variety of different ways. Although, we work together, we have these other things that are vitally important to who we are as people and we often invite the other into those worlds, but that invitation is always a choice and always respected.
We certainly haven't figured it all out, but we've made it this far and we are proud of what we have built on our own, but we know the real magic lies in what we can accomplish together. The biggest thing that has kept us working so well together is our ability to meet in the middle and dance on our disappointments. He is truly my friend and I am thankful for what he adds to our partnership and my hope is he feels the same.
If you are a couple that is considering stepping out to start a business with your significant other, if you are currently working together or in the struggle and aren't sure what to do, I hope that our tiny bit of advice serves as a resource toward your endeavor and that you will
continue to fight forward and find your stride in business with your partner.
With strength, wisdom and courage,