By Michael Gunther
The entrepreneurial couple is linked both personally and professionally, electing to not only spend their lives together but also to create a business together. At first it makes sense: two smart people, a great idea, working with someone you trust to take charge of your destiny. But along with these benefits come unique challenges and additional pressure due to poor communication, unresolved conflicts, reliance on the business to financially support both individuals, and no separation between work and home.
While many couples successfully make this transition, a greater number fail. Success relies on clearly defining what each person expects from the other in their business and personal relationship, avoiding undue stress and creating a true partnership. The following seven topics are what I believe are the most important for discussion and agreement.
- Roles and Responsibilities. Identify clear roles, responsibilities, and expectations – just as you would with any employee. Without clear roles, individual duties get blurred. This leads to each person thinking the other is handling an item, which can lead to tasks not being completed – which leads to the blame game.
- Decisions. Determine a process for making decisions from the get-go. Focus particularly on how disagreements will be handled. What happens if one partner wants to go in a direction that the other partner vehemently opposes?
- Needs and Values. Come to an understanding on what each person’s needs and values are in the personal and business relationships. Often, the personal relationship is about security, connectedness, and equality; this relationship tends to be full of emotion. On the other hand, the business relationship is more about risk, equitability, and competition; this relationship leans more toward rationality. Each person needs to understand how the other views these differences, and then together you can come up with a game plan on how to honor these views.
- Separate Work from Home. Create parameters about topics that should stay at the office. Couples working together often see their home and work life blend together so much that they feel they are always working. This leads to losing aspects of their personal life and relationship. One couple that I worked with refuses to talk about business between the hours of 6 p.m. and 8 a.m. to allow time to focus on their personal relationship.
- Personal Independence. Identify and develop some independent activities, hobbies, or friendships. This allows each of you to maintain an individual identity and to also bring new perspectives and insights into the relationship.
- Finances. Establish clear budgets for both the business and your household. It is crucial to manage both budgets well since you rely on one business to support a household of two (or more). Most importantly, business financial decisions that may impact your personal household finances should be made jointly.
- Assistance. Get an outside advisor or coach. It is imperative to have someone you trust advising you on the dynamics that arise from sharing a business and personal relationship. An impartial third party can help prevent differing opinions from becoming major conflicts that can negatively impact your relationship.
Entrepreneurial couples can create an unstoppable team if they have a strong, trusting foundation. Without good communication skills and clear expectations or partnership parameters, these relationships may also hinder a business’s growth and prosperity.
If you are an entrepreneurial couple, you probably desire business success, family harmony, and personal well-being. Unfortunately, entrepreneurial partnerships may have a hard time achieving these three things and may underperform due to unresolved conflicts and ambiguity about roles. Together as partners, I encourage you to take time to evaluate how you are truly performing as a team. Create a game plan, write down your resolutions, and make a contract with one another using the above seven topics as a guideline.