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When starting and operating a business, the lines of work and life begin to blur for small-business owners. They often find themselves answering work emails while at the dinner table or taking conference calls in the car.
When starting a business with your spouse, the lines between professional and personal lives become even more intertwined.
While there are benefits to starting a business with your partner, it can be challenging to maintain both a productive working relationship and a supportive personal relationship.
Ian and Jamie Landsman, the founders of HelpSpot help desk software, started their company 12 years ago and have successfully self-funded the business while remaining happily married. It hasn’t been an easy road, but the couple says it isn’t impossible. Here, they share their tips for married spouses thinking about entering the world of entrepreneurship together.
Much like you would for any other employee, detail specific job descriptions for each spouse when you establish the business. For example, Ian uses his programming skills to work on the technical side of the business, while Jamie oversees HelpSpot’s operations, strategic planning, and development.
“We outline the roles and responsibilities for each employee at HelpSpot, and our jobs are no different,” said Jamie Landsman. “By understanding what we’re specifically responsible for, there’s no guessing on who is working on what. This keeps us organized and avoids to-do items falling through the cracks.”
Once there are certain tasks and responsibilities for each partner, allow one another to own those roles like you would at home. You wouldn’t undermine your spouse on how they load the dishwasher if it’s their turn to do the dishes, so be sure to show the same respect at the office.
“While I might have a different approach to solving a problem than Jamie, I know that she’s thought through the most appropriate plan of action,” said Ian Landsman. “It’s not healthy to challenge every move she makes — either at home or at the office. Plus, it’s inefficient when running a business.”
It’s impossible to keep all personal and professional conversations separate, but if you’re working with other employees, it’s best to stay on the topic of work.
Minor one-offs are acceptable, like confirming who’s picking up the kids from daycare, or if you’re going to be late to dinner. Deeper marital conversations should take place at home, away from the eyes and ears of other staff members. To co-owners of a business, what may seem like a simple discussion or minor argument unrelated to work might, in fact, spark doubts of job-security among employees.
When the time is right and your SMB is growing, bring on staff members that can handle the workload and fill in any knowledge gaps between you and your spouse. It helps to relieve some of the stress when there are other people to help balance the work, which will ultimately alleviate any added pressure on your relationship.
“Hiring more employees allowed us to further create separation of responsibilities between us so we weren’t in direct conflict on things,” said Ian. “Jamie stays on her side of the business, and I stay on mine.”
Jamie added, “We hired our first employee three years into owning HelpSpot. She worked remotely and was hired as a support person. It was a great help.”
At the end of the day, the ultimate benefit of starting a business with your spouse is that you’ve got an incredible partner to share ideas and successes. It only works, though, when you both believe in the company and each other.
“There are definitely going to be rough patches when you’re married and own a business together,” said Ian. “What has helped us get through those times is knowing that we have each other’s back at the end of the day.”
Starting a business with your spouse can be a great benefit because you’ve already proven that you work well together, can make it through good times and bad, and support one another. However, it’s a big undertaking to operate a family and a business, which can add pressure to your relationship. Your best business partner may already be standing next to you, as long as you lay some ground rules.
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Thunderbird School of Global Management Alumna Dana Manciagli '84 is the author of "Cut the crap, Get a job". With her 'Career Mojo' column, Dana is the sole syndicated career columnist for the Business Journal nationwide. Her remarkable profile includes a career in global sales and marketing for Fortune 500 corporations like Microsoft, IBM, and Kodak. She has coached, interviewed and hired thousands of job seekers. This article was originally published on her website.