Answer fast: if you had the opportunity to work with your spouse every day, would you take it? If you had asked me this ten years ago, I would have said no way. This was (just) before I met Tim and I was starting out in my own career with an objective of being single, independent, and very much in control of my own work. Most of our clients don’t realize that I had a very different career before joining with Tim full time…and the truth is, I kind of miss those days. Now that I run a business with my husband — one he ran on his own before me — the complexities of working together while raising a family are very, very real…
We’re still working out the kinks, but after two years of doing this full-time as a team (and collaborating for many years before), I have developed a pretty good sense of what has worked well for us and what hasn’t. If you’re considering going into business with your spouse, or even a best friend, or just want to know more about what it’s like, read on for my top ten tips for not torpedoing your relationship while building a successful venture together.
Here’s the thing about mom-and-pop businesses: there is usually no HR department to help you work through coworking strategies or professional problem areas. You only have each other, so find a good counselor to help guide the stressful conversations you are bound to have. Consider it a business investment and stick to your sessions as respectfully as you would client meetings.
Working side-by-side means there is ample room for duties to overlap. Sometimes this is good, sometimes it leads to friction (not the good kind). Know your respective skills and delegate accordingly.
This is really big. I feel quite strongly that even if one party is in charge of managing your business’ finances, both people need to be aware and competent about your financial situation. This means regular, even weekly meetings to talk about anything money related. Normalize the conversation so that you can talk about your outstanding vendor payments with as much ease as you can the weather.
Running a business with your spouse will mean that you will constantly be asked about your work by well meaning friends and family. I often find myself talking about work with friends because they’re genuinely curious about how things are going at our shop, or it’s nice to hear a third-party perspective on a business idea, or some personality trait of Tim’s will relate back to a work-related story…and suddenly you find that when you wanted to enjoy a respite from your business, you’ve just spent three hours over dinner talking about…your business (just with new people). Find new things to talk about.
Maybe this is easy for some people but it has proven difficult for Tim and me since we both like to do similar things in our free time. Between working together and raising a family together it’s easy for us to spend nearly every minute of the day, every day of the week, with each other in some capacity. I found it important for me to schedule my own time away from Tim, whether it’s taking classes Barre3 or spending a few mornings a week working at Misha’s instead of our shop.
Probably the most common advice I hear about working with your spouse is to establish boundaries between “work” and “home” and never let the two intertwine. We tried this — and failed miserably. The fact is, both Tim and I are passionate about what we do — and we have a lot to do — so it’s impossible for us to simply not talk about our business when we’re “off hours.” We have found much greater success in putting more of an effort into respecting the conversation whenever it occurs rather than abiding by work time/family time rules.
You know what makes my heart swell? When clients talk to me about how patient, thoughtful, and wonderful Tim is to work with. Because you know what? It’s totally true, and I know it, too — even if I forget it sometimes (specifically while reminding him to do X for the fifteenth time that week). I wanted to work with Tim — and he wanted to work with me — because of how we saw each other in our professional lives before. Remember this.
When you spend so much time together on a daily basis it can be very, very easy to allow your routines to become just that: routine. Whether it’s bringing him a cup of coffee in the afternoon without him asking or sending flowers to her desk just because, make sure you create space for something special between yourself and your partner each day.
When I feel myself get really heated about a topic and I’m getting ready to go full-on interrogatory style with Tim and WIN THIS ARGUMENT… I remind myself: what if HR were listening? Would they approve of my tone? My words? The examples I’m giving to support my claim, would they find them relevant or just rude and unfair? When you work with your partner you are bound to learn about (and interact with) all of their flaws on some level. Don’t use this intel as ammunition to make a point.
This is simple, but really, really difficult. When the proverbial refuse hits the fan, approach the problem with laughter (and a touch of humility), together. Choose to make it fun. There is just no point in working together unless you can have fun doing it so: choose to laugh, choose to have fun, and then change out your fan.
Alexandria & Company is an Old Town-based workshop and design studio specializing in creating and restoring fine jewelry and silver hollowware. They are the in-the-know jewelers of Alexandria and have been serving clients out of their small workshop for decades. Tucked in their historic building on South Royal Street, the team at Alx&Co. brings a personalized, modern approach to their craft – this is not your average stodgy jeweler or antique shop. Visit them during their walk-in hours or online to view their collection of handmade fine jewelry or to drop off a repair project; or, if you’re feeling creative, make an appointment to talk about that custom design project you’ve been imagining.
121-B South Royal Street
Alexandria, Virginia 22314
Design Studio Walk-In Hours (all jewelry services): Wednesday – Saturday 12-6pm
Silver Workshop Walk-In Hours (all silver repair and restoration services): Wednesday or Friday 12-6pm, or by appointment
Appointments encouraged for custom design.