Updated: Jan 19
Guest Post by Richard Sumner, Owner of Spreadsheet Solutions
Introduction: I've always been fascinated with couples who work together. Never having been in this position, I've been unable really to write from experience about it. Having been a member of various groups for self-employed parents though, it's something I come across regularly and find myself asking how it works. Should you go into business with your partner, or keep work way out of your relationship? Does running a business together strengthen your relationship or are you left sick of the sight of one another, sitting across the dinner table with nothing but invoicing and deadlines and crazy clients to talk about?
Is it really possible to pull all of these aspects of our lives into the same space and still be able to breathe? That's why I was so pleased when Richard Sumner, a fellow self-employed parent offered to share his insight into running a business alongside his wife. So, here's Richard's advice for those couples considering a business partnership:
Working With Your Partner
I recently wrote a book called 40 Facets of Starting & Growing a Business, which was largely about many aspects that I had learned over the last 7 years while starting and growing my own business. One facet that I wrote about was entitled Working with a Partner. It covered two aspects, firstly about working with your significant other, and then also about working with a business partner. Here is an excerpt from the book which talks about working with your significant other.
I set up a business with my wife, and we work together. Up until the time of writing this book we were working in separate rooms, due to space, but we’re now planning a move and plan to work in the same room in the future. Some couples may say that this is a stupid idea, and maybe it is for them, but not for us. We like working with each other. This is very much something to be considered, though. You do end up seeing your partner all the time. Wake up, work, lunch, work, dinner, family time, bedtime, weekends, always together. If you can handle this, then I think it’s a good idea. If you can’t, then please don’t work together. We chose this for the flexibility and support.
We live in the UK but most of our family are overseas, so we don’t have the support which most other parents do have. We chose to be self-sufficient and work from home. We knew what we were getting ourselves into and chose it. This is not for everyone, though. If you enjoy your space and time at work, and don’t want to be in each other’s faces twenty-four hours a day, then I’d consider not working together. It also depends on what work you both do, and if it is even viable. My wife and I both decided what we wanted to do, and they were compatible, so they went together well.
The downside of doing everything together is that there are some dull patches when we go out together (on the rare occasion). We end up talking about work, our child, and the home. When you don’t do anything without the other person, they know everything that is going on. It makes for quite boring conversations, but that may not be a big deal to you.
As you can see, working together has pros and cons, and you really need to go into this decision with your eyes open, and your rose-coloured spectacles in the draw.
Here are 5 things to consider when deciding if you want to work together:
Can you handle being in each other’s company ALL the time? If you live together, work together, sleep together, then there is no time apart. If you have kids, your ‘you time’ may have been replaced with family time, so you may end up never getting a break from each other. Consider this carefully, because it may sound romantic, but you can start getting on each other’s nerves.
Are your skills compatible? Part of having your own business is often doing what you want to do. If you both do what you want, do the roles work together? I make spreadsheets for businesses. My wife is a virtual assistant who prefers working on spreadsheets. I make them for the client, the client hands them over to her and she puts them to use. Those jobs work well together. If you both want to do different things, you could still work together (in the same space) but in different businesses. Please note that although you may not be communicating about business, the point above still applies.
Is it financially viable? This is particularly relevant when you start out. My first year of running this business, saw me earn under £4000 for the year. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that £4000 for a year is not enough. Fortunately, my wife was still working for someone else, so that paid the bills. When my son was born, that changed, and my wife then came on board with me after her maternity leave. Yes, it was tight financially, but we could make it work and we grew from there to where we are now. Starting your own business can be financially tricky, so make sure you address this before you both give up employment for being a business owner.
Can you balance work with family life? My wife and I have a young son, who currently goes to pre-school in the mornings. Once he’s home, working is difficult, so we’ve had to work around all of this. There are times when we can both get down to solid work (in the week mornings), then there are times when I do light work and keep an eye on our son, and times when she watches him and I do more work. Then there are times when neither of us work and we do stuff as a family. I address this in the book too, but you need to find that balance. It is hard, because running your own business is tough, you can’t just switch off at 5pm. Kids (especially the young ones) are not that bothered with your deadlines when they want to play. Think about this (especially if you plan to work from home) and make sure you can deal with this pressure before starting out.
Consider what would happen if the relationship fails. Yes, this is a grim topic, but relationships do fail, especially when under stress. If you were to split up with your partner, not only do you have the house, life, and children to consider (which is tough enough) but now you also have to split a business. It may well get messy. Now I’m not suggesting that you have a contract for this in the business, but you need to at least have an exit strategy. Not only if you decide to split up, but also if you decide that you don’t want to work together anymore. If my wife and I decided to split the business, we could do so. We could both work independently, and even hire offices away from home if we wished. If you are both partners in making key decisions, it may be harder to split the businesses. Again, I’m not saying you must be able to split properly, I’m just saying it’s something to consider.
As some of my points have been warnings, and therefore somewhat negative, let me end on a positive note. I love working with my wife. We are self-sufficient, answer only to our clients (no boss) and our time is our own. We don’t need childcare for our son (which is good because our parents are all overseas), and we can work business and family around each other. Neither of us regrets giving up full time employment for this, and we have no desire to do things differently. It works for us. If you decide to do the same, it may be all that you wanted, and you may well thrive.
If you’ve considered all the points above, and decide to embark on this journey, I wish you all the best.