Building a solid brand is a lot like building a great marriage. It takes time, flexibility and even just good old-fashioned tender loving care. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are approximately 4 million family-owned businesses in the United States, and out of those, 1.4 million are run by husband and wife teams. Working together at running your own business can be extremely fulfilling, but it can also have pitfalls that can be detrimental to either your business or your marriage. How do you avoid having your private lives interfering with the success of the business? What do you do when either relationship starts to unravel?
Business or Battleground?
There’s the saying, “Behind every great man is a great woman.” This saying has been widely adopted by the feminist movement, but it rings true for politics as well as business. In politics, most of the time, there is a First Lady standing a little to the side and behind the Head of State. In business, however, more women are standing side by side with men, serving as CEOs or CFOs.
While there are many couples that are indeed standing side by side because they have discovered the secret to keeping both their business and personal relationships happy, working together with a spouse does come with additional stresses that you wouldn’t encounter with other employees. For one thing, there’s the heavy economic stress of knowing that both of your paychecks are completely dependent on the success of your business. There is no financial backup, unless you have managed to secure reliable investors. This fact alone impels people to put in longer hours and devotion to the business, sometimes neglecting their family.
If you approach your business venture professionally and carefully, there are common mistakes that can be avoided from the outset. By preparing yourself for what it’s going to be like and making agreements from the get-go, you’re more likely to come out better should the relationship take a turn for the worse.
In Florida for example, one of the best Orlando divorce attorneys warns their clients who have a business partnership that “distribution of assets can get very complicated” if the net worth of the two individuals involved are high. Chances are that yours would be high if you have both worked to build a recognizable brand together. It is also presumed that neither of you would want to forfeit any ownership of the business.
1) Create a “business prenup.”
Before you even set foot in your new office together for the first time, getting agreements down on paper provides you both with what is expected, as well as what will happen in the event of a divorce or separation. Try to think through every scenario. For example, would you still be able to work together? Would certain circumstances like discovery of infidelity negate any parts of the agreement? Speak with a local attorney to make sure you’ve covered everything.
2) Agree who is going to do what.
Spell out job descriptions for both of you that make it clear who is responsible for what, and stick to it. Having a clear division of labor enforces your roles. It is also a good idea when establishing your business partnership that ownership is divided at least at 51% for one person and 49% for the other. In reality, 50/50 partnerships don’t work. There is always one person who does more and puts in more sweat equity and will start to resent the 50% ownership. With a clear and understood division of labor, expectations are transparent and performance can be easily evaluated.
3) Leave arguments and disagreements at the door.
A common problem working couples have is not being able to leave their personal life at home, which can lead to continuations of arguments in the office. Not only is this not good for your relationship, it creates an uncomfortable environment for other employees and kills morale. Make an agreement that if it’s personal, relationship, or home-related, it’s not to be discussed at work. You can always pick up discussions when you head home for the day, or at lunch.
4) Make time for yourself.
If you’re married and working together, chances are you’re ending up spending 24 hours a day, 7 days a week together. Even if you love your spouse, spending that kind of time together can start to feel grating and make you resentful. Try to find time to spend with your friends or on your own by getting to the gym or joining a club. Sometimes even something as simple as reading a book can give you that valuable time off from each other. And don’t forget about date night with your spouse, not with your business partner. Do not even bring up any business issues.
What If It All Goes Wrong?
If you don’t have a “business prenup” or any type of agreements in place, dividing up your business in the aftermath of a relationship breakdown can be extremely difficult. Discuss with your partner if you will be able to continue to work together and keep the business going. If that does not look realistic, then other options become one party buying the other out, closing the business and liquidating the assets for division, or even working on alternate days. The best thing you can do is to retain a divorce lawyer to get the best advice on what your options are.
While some couples have learned how to juggle both their personal and business lives successfully, it doesn’t always work out for others. Though it may not seem particularly romantic, having agreements in place before you start can prevent a lot of headaches down the line. By outlining some basic rules about what’s going on in the workplace between yourselves, you’re more likely to get it right.
Debbie Nguyen is a self-employed designer and writer, married to an architect. She remembers the tensions borne out of contracting her husband for some floor plans. Her research into married business partners led her to the Best Orlando Divorce attorney whose expertise is to omit pain and emotions from the proceedings.