4 Secrets to Starting a Company With Your Spouse
If marriage were easy, then some 40 percent to 50 percent of first marriages, and 60 percent of second might not end in divorce. If starting a business were easy, then 50 percent of start-ups wouldn't fail within the first five years.
Combine the two and start a business with your spouse, and it would appear that the odds are certainly stacked against you.
Pros & Cons of Starting-up Together
But consider the advantages of starting a business with your partner. First, there's no one who knows you better, or who you trust more. Second, when you have a family, the flexibility of both you and your spouse being able to make your own schedule is priceless. And imagine the exhilarating feeling of building a truly amazing company together--there's really nothing like it.
Don't kid yourself, though; there are drawbacks, too. When you start a business together, all of your financial eggs are in one scary basket. It can be a challenge to separate business from personal, and of course, there's the dreaded power struggle over who is truly the "boss".
My husband Dave and I fell into entrerepeneurship. We had an extremely successful sponsored wedding that delivered advertisers millions of dollars of earned media. When the wedding was over, our sponsors wanted us to do it again. We couldn't get married again, so we took a leap and started a word-of-mouth marketing company, Likeable Media. That happy break grew into one of the leading social media agencies. It has been very exciting for us--and also very challenging for our marriage.
We spent the first year of our business in a constant power struggle. We argued and we grew resentful of one another. We forgot how to communicate. And this wasn't just in the office; it was coming home with us, too.
Fortunately, our communication improved. And even as our company grew so rapidly that we encountered many difficult challenges, we learned how to handle them much better than we would have in that first year.
Here are four ways we learned to work together to become happier co-founders and life partners:
1. Establish your roles.
When you aren't stepping on each others toes, you're much less likely to argue. Set clear and defined responsibilities in your business, and respect them. The more separate your roles are, the more you will appreciate your spouse's skillsets, and respect the work he does.
2. Set up rules.
Make rules for your communication, and how you'll handle work-life balance. Different rules work for different partners. You may decide not to talk about business after 7 PM, or commit to CCing each other on important emails. It's necessary to articulate what you both want and need.
3. Be okay with losing sometimes.
Did you ever hear the saying, it's better to be happy than right? You and your partner will disagree on things, and I can promise you that you won't each get the outcome you want every time that happens. That's okay. Let your partner have the deciding vote on the things that he is clearly most passionate about. You'll be far more likely to have his support next time.
4. Be #inittogether.
No matter what, you must promise each other that your relationship's health comes first. Approach your business as a team and you'll be infinitely stronger. Consider having a code word or something to remind yourselves of this when you're feeling particularly stressed out. Dave and I, social media nerds that we are, use #inittogether as a reminder that we are, in fact, in it all together.
What secrets do you have for running a business with your spouse? Write them in the comments below.
Carrie Kerpen is the co-founder and CEO of Likeable Media, which she grew from a husband-and-wife consulting firm into a global social media and word-of-mouth marketing agency. She led her team to more than $15 million in revenue and landed the agency on the Inc. 500 List in 2011 and 2012.