Given the cautionary line about not mixing business with pleasure, it might surprise you that there are about 1.4 million husband-and-wife owned and operated businesses in the U.S. Of the top 15 Shark Tank super-success stories, one-fifth are couples.
If your entrepreneurial dreams lean towards working with your spouse or life partner, there’s a trove of information online about the benefits or pitfalls of running a business together.
Avoid the latter.
We’ve got some tips to consider before melding love and work:
Tip 1: Do as you would with any potential business partner
Clearly define why you want to go into business together, and discuss individual goals and collective goals for your business.
Then craft a business plan with the steps each of you will take to meet those goals. Define your individual strengths and determine your business roles.
Finally, envision how your co-owned business can start small and grow strategically.
Tip 2: It’s all about boundaries
It’s important to respect your partner all day, every day — and no matter what the business issue, your relationship should always come first. This means you need to figure out a healthy way to handle disagreements — because there will be some — and keep lines of communication open.
It’s also important to define work and marriage boundaries. Do not take work roles or responsibilities for granted due to the intimate familiarity you share, and instead, leverage each other’s strengths as business professionals, not as lovers.
Quite simply, do not focus on work 24/7. Define both your work and family goals, figure out where they intersect or diverge, and then prioritize.
Tip 3: Talk to other women who co-own and co-work with their life partner
We spoke with Nicole Curran, founding partner of Foster & Create, the design and branding agency she owns with husband Frank Hekel, and we got the scoop on her personal experience.
“In 2003, Frank and I got married, adopted our twins, and I started [what became Foster & Create] alone,” says Curran. “Frank officially joined me in 2008, when I had a series of projects that utilized his skill set, and it was the right time for us to expand the services we could offer clients.”
She goes on, “Having a business and life partner who I completely trust is such an advantage. With that comes a certain confidence and productivity and collaboration that we share on both a professional and a personal level, because we’re just living our life together. It adds a lot of dimension to your relationship and life — a little risky, because that’s our lifeline — but working together makes the business and the relationship stronger.”
And it helps when you need to assess what you’re doing.
“We regularly carve out time to step back, think through the business and establish new goals,” Curran says. “For us it’s very fluid and can happen as we’re preparing for a major business event or just finished major event and review how we can apply what we learned. It can be as simple as a dinner out or coming into the office on a Saturday. It’s very important to periodically do that sort of business review no matter how busy you are.”
As Curran looks back at her journey so far, she would make a few changes.
“At the beginning, you don’t know what you don’t know,” she says. “We went through a big rebrand last year and honed in on spaces that we felt were making an impact in the world. We focused on health care, biotech, medical device, and life sciences, because we had such rich and amazing experiences with clients who were making an impact, and we realized that was extremely meaningful to us. We might have looked through that lens sooner.”
Ultimately, Curran cherishes both sides of her relationship with Hekel, and because of that, keeps them defined.
“It’s important to treat the business as if you aren’t married by always being professional and work-focused,” says Curran. “At work, you wouldn’t know we are married.”