How to run a business with your partner

how-to-run-a-business-with-your-partner-emma-clark-gratton By Emma Clark

For some couples, working together makes perfect sense. You have complementary skillsets, share a passion and vision and you obviously like them as a person and enjoy their company. Why not build on that and start a creative business together?

If you can make it work, setting up shop with your favourite person allows the kind of freedom, flexibility and work-life balance that creative people dream about. My husband and I run a bespoke timber furniture and joinery company, which allows us the flexibility to raise our young sons together. However, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing and there has been plenty of roaring arguments negotiations to get to where we are now. Here’s our advice to keep your business and relationship on track and out of the divorce court.

Be 110% sure it’s right for you Going into business with your partner is both a personal and professional investment, so think hard about your relationship and goals before working together. Relationships and careers can be difficult enough without combining the two, and a strong marriage doesn’t necessarily translate into a successful working relationship. Remember that in thirty years the business might not be there but the relationship will.

The financial risks can be significant, too. Having both partners working in the same business can be a case of putting all your eggs in one basket, so be sure to do your due diligence and be aware of the financial ramifications in case the business doesn’t work out.

That said, working together can be a great joy: it can strengthen your relationship, provide more flexibility and improve work-life balance for both of you, especially if you have kids. After all, you get to spend time with your favourite person and create something spectacular together!

Have clear roles It is unlikely that you both have exactly the same skills, so identify your strengths and weaknesses and work accordingly. For example, my husband is an amazing woodworker but struggles with dealing with clients, whereas I love chatting to people but don’t have the same trade skills, so I do the bulk of the client communication and he builds the actual furniture. We both enjoy the collaborative process of designing, so we work together when sketching new designs and bouncing ideas off one another.

A big part of having clear roles is to trust the other person. This is much easier said than done! Don’t try to do their job. Sure, you can offer advice and help each other out, but try to step back and let them have the final say. Constantly ‘checking in’ on the other person is exhausting and undermines their ability to get the job done. The answer is to know your role and stick to it.

Communication is key Keep talking! This is important in all relationships, not just for business or creative partners. Constant communication with each other is imperative in order to stay organised, happy and sane. Be your partner’s biggest fan and celebrate even the smallest wins together. If my husband and I aren’t in the workshop together, we are constantly sending pictures to each other of what we are working on or what he has been building. It’s an easy way to stay in the loop and to keep the creative process moving.

Regular date nights, even if it’s just takeaway in the backyard after the kids are in bed or a quick drink on the way home from work, can go a long way to reaffirming your relationship as a couple. Even if you have spent the working day together, asking, “How was your day?” or “How are you feeling today?” will go a long way in ensuring the other person feels supported and heard.

No shoptalk as pillowtalk – and vice versa This is a hard one. When you work with someone all day, or even just part time, it can be hard to switch off at the end of the day. It’s easy to mention a frustrating client email while you are eating dinner or remember a forgotten invoice as you are both brushing your teeth. While this is inevitable up to a point, try your hardest to keep work at work and mentally switch off at home. Above all, you are romantic partners, not just colleagues.

The opposite is true as well. It is easy for squabbles and bickering to carry over from home to work, which, coupled with the daily frustrations of running a business, can lead to resentment and seriously affect your work and relationship. Try to leave your bickering at home, especially if you have staff or other people around. Nothing is more unprofessional and awkward than being trapped between bickering spouses at work.

Share the same vision Don’t assume your partner shares the same business goals. If one partner is aiming to have your products stocked on department store shelves and the other wants to focus on craft markets, your business will struggle. It is a good idea to map out a clear plan of what you imagine your business and lifestyle will be like. Having the same goals and vision for the business is the best way to ensure it continues to grow and evolve.

Having a shared vision for your work/life balance is helpful too. Sorting out all the practical issues such as working hours, childcare, getting to and from work and wages will help you to align your expectations and help ensure you are both feeling in control.

Emma Clark is an interior designer, writer and podcaster who, alongside her husband Lee, runs Gratton Design, a timber furniture and architectural joinery company. She blogs at Worst House Best Street and posts endless photos of her sons on Instagram at @emmamakesthings.

{Photo by Ben Vella at Shoot Everything}