When The Personal Gets Professional

My sister and brother-in-law recently purchased a business that they plan to operate together. While they have been married for over 25 years, they are still a little nervous about working together day after day. For the past 10+ years, he was on the road a lot and they sometimes only saw each other on weekends so this will be a huge shift in both their professional and personal lives. My husband, Dan, and I have been in business together for 12 years so she asked for my advice.

In real estate, it’s very common to find spouses or partners working together so I thought this was some advice many of us in the field could appreciate. I reached out to several other successful couples who are in business together to solicit their advice as well. Based on their responses and my experience, I believe the best advice can be boiled down to three main points:

1. Mutual Respect – Whether you are partnered with your spouse, your parent or even your best friend, it is important to appreciate that your personal relationship may operate on a different level than your business relationship.  While you may have a marriage where one of you is considered “captain of the ship” or in a parent/child relationship where a parent is used to being the boss, when operating a business together it’s important to recognize that your personal dynamic may not translate well when running a business. Each person’s voice, opinions and expertise needs to be equally appreciated or you run the risk of alienating your partner. While this doesn’t mean that all decisions require a consensus (more on that later), it does mean that the contributions of each person should be equally valued.  If one person is a dictator, the partnership will likely fail or at the very least will not flourish.

2. Shared Goals – Are you on the same page? Does one of you envision a small local company while the other grinds toward statewide domination? Or, worse, one of you is full speed ahead thrilled to be self-employed while the other resents the risks, longs for the steady paycheck and benefits, the weekends free of worry or work? Before you begin a partnership and then regularly afterwards get out of the office environment, grab some coffee or cocktails and talk about your goals. If you aren’t on the same page, keep talking (being mindful of point #1 above) until you get on the same page. As my colleague, Anita Ortiz, put it, “Make sure your spouse has the same level of commitment to your business.  If one is not ready or able, it will leave the other resentful as more work falls on them.” Furthermore, both partners need to be very honest with each other about their goals. If you are practicing mutual respect both people should feel free and open to share their concerns so any issues will be confronted sooner rather than later.

3. Division of Labor- This is the final, and vital, piece of the puzzle for a successful partnership. Take time to discover each other’s talents and strengths and then give each person ownership of the role that suits them best. Erika Butler, who is in business with her husband Tiger, told me they took personality tests to determine how best to divide labor. I think this is a great idea. It may take a little practice and tweaking to get the roles set most favorably so don’t be afraid to switch things up. But, once those roles are clearly defined, stick to them and trust your partner to do their part. Doing so will make your business run much more smoothly and with quicker progress.

While I can’t promise that there won’t be disagreements, struggles or rocky patches, I can tell you that being in business with your spouse or other significant person in your life can be an extremely rewarding experience. Dan and I never run out of things to talk about and sharing the achievements that we made together strengthens our bond and commitment to each other! With that, I wish two of my very favorite people who are about to start this adventure together the absolute best!