Questions to Ask Before Starting a Company with Your Significant Other
by Melanie, on 3 Mar 2020
Today is our anniversary. Not a work anniversary, our marital one. And, anniversaries and new years always seem to be great reminders to pause and reflect...
Matt and I have known each other for almost six years and have been officially working together for about six months.
The "official" is important because Matt played an instrumental role in my previous company, Marketing Interface, as a business advisor as well as personal cheerleader. I was a sounding board for him at his previous jobs and we met each other through work, so this part of our lives has been intermingled from Day 1.
When we were debating whether or not to actually, formally, officially, merge our existing companies and run them as one, part of me thought it was a no-brainer.
There were many obvious and pragmatic benefits - like one set of books to keep - and I felt we were extremely compatible at a work-level, too. I knew that we had well-aligned views on how a company should be run and what we thought was BS in the business world.
As it turned out, it was a no-brainer, and we became one of the millions of couples who start a business together in the US.
Some people told us that we were crazy or that they could never start a business with their partner. And, I appreciate where they're coming from. Other people said that it was their dream to get to work with their significant other.
Hopefully I'll continue to refine my point-of-view over many years of running and growing a successful company with Matt, but I already feel like I've learned a lot about working with a significant other.
Here are three things I've come to appreciate that you might not immediately think about when deciding if you want to go into business with your spouse/significant other/partner.
QUESTIONS TO ANSWER
How are you going to navigate carving out work and non-work time... and stick to it?
One of the biggest challenges I've encountered so far comes when we sit down to dinner.
Before we worked together, if we talked about work over a meal, it was catching up on each other's day and stories from the workplace. Now, we have rules about when we should and shouldn't talk about work - for example, not until we've finished breakfast.
Sometimes we seem to sit in silence more often. It's been an adjustment. But, I also think it's an incentive for us to find other activities to do together, so that we're not stuck talking about the mundane, our work, or nothing.
Also, be honest about how much space you need - both physical and temporal. Can you work together, but only if you have separate offices? Or, are you able to really handle the shared home office?
I ordered a new pair of Beats headphones on about Day 3 of sharing an office with Matt, who really likes his clackety keyboard!
I also hate talking on the phone in front of other people. While this has become easier for me over the past few months, we still need to coordinate who is making calls at what time to ensure they're not overlapping.
There are bound to be hiccups, but I'd expect that when sharing an office with anyone, especially after five years of working on your own like I had!
Oh, and don't forget to give your partner a heads-up when a conference call will actually be a video call and you need them to not to be listening to music over the speakers.
What are the implications if the business - or the relationship - fails?
You obviously never really want to think about the failure of either your business or your relationship. But, you absolutely do need to think about both.
If your business fails, are you ready to look for a day-job? How will you know when you've hit a point when that is necessary? Can your finances survive such a failure and not put your wellbeing in jeopardy?
Putting an exit plan in place isn't a fun conversation but, much like having a will and a medical directive, can be important to making sure your household will continue to function in the face of a crisis.
If your relationship begins to suffer, what is going to happen?
Our attorney wrote provisions into the company formation documents that cover how things would be handled if we were to divorce. We obviously think the odds of ever using those clauses are nil, but I would hate to find myself facing the unthinkable: navigating both legal separation from my partner and trying to figure out how it impacts my ability to earn a living.
I don't think we'll never need them, but I honestly do sleep better at night knowing that we've talked through a range of unpleasant possibilities.
Would you choose to start a business together if you weren't married?
Objectively speaking, I would work with Matt in a heartbeat if given the chance, even if I wasn't married to him.
I know that we have similar business philosophies and lifestyle goals. I know that our skill sets overlap in a complementary way without making one or the other redundant. Romantic relationship aside, he's someone who I'd want to have as a business partner.
If you can think of other people you'd rather be working with, then going into business with your significant other might not be the best option, and could put unnecessary strain on your romantic relationship.
For me, it really boils down to an expression that Matt and I like to use about many decisions in life:
"If it's not a hell yes, it's a hell no!"
Running a business with my life partner has required an adjustment.
I have a few quippy jokes that I can count on when someone asks me whether I like working with Matt. I tell them about the new headphones and clackety keyboard, and how he found my "thinking" face at work disconcerting (and thought I hated all of his ideas when I was merely considering them!)
Working together can be a blessing or a curse - and that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the quality or compatibility of the couple outside work.
The ultimate goal? Enjoy a fulfilling career that meets your lifestyle expectations, and have fantastic support - romantic or otherwise - in your corner.