By Leslie Anderson, Salem Oregon
When you make a decision to start a business with your marriage partner you are mixing two things that are naturally opposing. They are both complex entities with a lot of moving parts and it’s nothing short of daunting. I think it’s made us stronger as a couple, but that hasn’t come without heavy sacrifice. If you’re going to try it out, get ready for it to change your life in positive ways, and in ways that require you to have strength you didn’t know you needed. Here are 5 things we wish we knew before starting a business together.
Here’s our story.
Jason is a natural entrepreneur, and he’s always had the gift of buying and selling just about anything. He’s also a car lover, classics in fact. One of his first cars was a 1965 Ford Mustang Fastback.
In 2003, we decided to make a go of running a classic car business. For the record, Jason is a dealer, not a mechanic, that’s the number one question we get, ha ha! My training is in business – school and I have a knack for it- and Jason’s training is natural ability, knowledge, and highly relational people skills. He’s a walking encyclopedia of cars, and in addition, like I said, people like him.
I told Jason to just quit his job so we could pursue the dream. It was risky.
Jason is a natural at making relationships and seeing things from a larger perspective, so that’s helped him be successful. Jason quit a great job in order to start this venture, and I supported that decision fully. In fact, I told him to do it. ‘Just quit!’ I said. He packed up that day, and has never looked back.
At the time I was a stay at home mom, so on paper, it was a risky decision. We’ve never regretted it. My business school teachers would say that it broke all the rules, and it did. That makes it even more appealing to me. I’m a rule follower, but sometimes I just break the rules for no reason whatsoever. The days and years have slipped by, and here we are, 18 years later, still doing the same thing that was just a dream back in 2003.
It’s a fun business. We have a lot of cool cars roll through our shop, and we meet a lot of really interesting and cool people. There are many people that are like us, they think outside the box and they explore their dreams and all that life has to offer.
Make no mistake, you’ll be enmeshed with your spouse if you take this path.
I benefit in many ways from this endeavor, we have 18 years of stories about cars he’s sold, people he’s worked with, and it’s been awesome to watch Jason pursue his passion. It’s provided for our family too. All of those things are mixed in with our family and marriage story. The whole situation is enmeshed for certain, but if you own a business with your spouse, I think that’s always the case. That doesn’t have to be a negative, but it can be if it’s not properly managed.
We’ve been through recessions and a booming economies. Jason and I prefer the booming economy option, obviously. That’s a necessary ingredient for any business, and that persistent nagging question, are the dollars coming in? We’ve always prioritized our family and we’ve never done without.
I did at one point, drive a gold Lincoln when times were tough and I didn’t mind, it was a sacrifice I was willing to make. It paid off, and fortunately we are out of that season for now. Who knows, things might change and I’ll be back in that gold Lincoln. I’d do it in a second if it meant Jason could continue doing what he loves.
We’ve learned a lot about how to navigate starting a business and our relationship.
We’ve learned so many lessons during the years about how to navigate business ownership and marriage when things are largely out of your control, like a recession and family responsibilities and life issues. All that said, we’ve made a nice life for ourselves. That’s due to Jason’s ability and my support of his endeavor. You need both of those things in a business. He’s happy, and even now he says he can’t imagine doing anything else for a career, so I guess we’re on to something.
There’s not a perfect formula for success, but you can do some things to give yourself a strong chance.
Defining what it takes to run a business and stay married at the same time isn’t a precise formula or a checklist. It’s more challenging than you’d think, and it also changes depending on the season or cycle of life that you are in, and the growth and maturity of your business interests. We’ve had some hard corrections along the way, very few of which have to do with money, which is what people usually equate ‘hard times’ with when it comes to owning a company.
There are a lot of opportunities for that
cursed blessed hindsight on this subject. Here are a few of the important things we’ve learned over the years.
1. Providing for your family comes first.
As new business owners, it’s tempting to prioritize money. It’s not wrong in and of itself, you have to take care of your responsibilities. A business exists for many reasons, but as I said before, those dollars count. It would be foolish to think otherwise. Jason and I like to eat and have a roof over our heads, and I’m assuming you do too.
We decided that we would give the business a chance in 2003, but our deciding factor was whether our bills were paid and our family was provided for. For us, that meant that we didn’t miss a mortgage payment, or worry about where that money was going to come from. That was our bottom line. We knew we’d have to give up the dream if our family suffered as a result of our dreams.
2. Decide what your roles are, as they relate to the business, and understand that those roles will change over time.
Ask yourself some initial questions. Is it going to be a joint venture? Is one person running the day to day business or will you work together? Who makes the decisions? When we started out, Jason was going to run the business, and I planned to take care of the bookkeeping and back end support. We were all in, and in it together. Those roles have changed over time for us.
As our business has grown, our roles look much different than they used to. I quit that bookkeeping job last year, and it was the best thing I ever did for myself. It was my decision to help getting things up and running in the beginning, but as our business grew and I wanted to pursue my own interests, it became a burden for me to keep doing that. I can do bookkeeping, payroll, and all office functions, but I don’t love it. It’s not my passion.
Now, I just get to enjoy our business as a spectator and I get to pick and choose my personal interests to pursue. That means I have more space in my life and in my brain to just have fun with it.
I love cars too, and now I can enjoy the aspects that I love, hello Gambler 500 in Summer of 2021. I am really excited for us to go to the Gambler and have some fun. Before, I was way too busy to even consider heading off for a weekend of cars and car people and Jason. Now I can do that without guilt, and I can enjoy something that Jason and I like to do together.
Be honest with each other.
You have to have honest discussions with your partner about these things. I had to own up to the fact that I wanted out, but it didn’t mean that I hated our business or didn’t support Jason. It just meant that I had changed and I wanted something different. We have had a lot of turmoil about our roles over the years, and even my transition was not an easy one. Both of us think it was well worth the change though.
3. Be ready to sacrifice.
This goes for both people. If you’re starting a venture, you have to know it’s going to require you to dig deep. In our case, Jason has had to work hard to provide for our family. He’s sacrificed time, effort, and sometimes doing things he didn’t want to do, for the sake of providing for us and doing the right thing.
I’ve sacrificed some stability for the opportunity to watch Jason pursue his passion. We’ve both sacrificed an easier way of life in order for him to have this opportunity. It’s worth it if you are all in. If you’re not, then it’s going to be a hard road. If your business is only about turning a dollar, that gets old really quick. Chasing dollars never leads to fulfillment. Ever. You think it will. It won’t. Have I repeated this enough?! Don’t chase money. That’s not worth sacrificing for.
Both partners need to have a space and place. Each sacrificing for the other. Don’t let the business become your god. It can fill that role easier than you’d think, and that is also not even worth it. Your business won’t save your marriage and it won’t save you. It should be an enhancement to your life, not a reason for existing.
4. Set boundaries.
You can’t pour all your hours and days in to business. Yes, sometimes you have to be willing to work hard, especially in the beginning. Do not make the mistake of letting your family relationships suffer for anything in life, most especially a business.
Jason and I have made the mistake of discussing business at all hours, or having a serious discussion start up at night, just as we are laying down to bed. We talk every night, but those times shouldn’t be about business or money. We have now set limits on when and how we will discuss our business. There are times of year when we need to spend more time doing this i.e. tax time, so it fluctuates, but we put definite boundaries on it.
We don’t want to miss out on family because of obligations either. Jason limits evening and weekend business deals. Customers are important. Customers are essential. We like customers and we love customers. But we can’t cater to them at the expense of ourselves or our family. That’s been a difficult balance to strike at times, but you simply cannot chase money. Don’t chase money. Don’t chase money. Don’t chase money. Got it? Chase your family and your dreams. That’s what’s worth it. If your dreams are money, you need new dreams.
There are times that business has to come first. Talk about these issues when they come up so that you have agreement with each other and have honest discussion if you don’t have agreement and when you feel like things are getting out of balance. You have to do that in order to avoid resentment in the long run. We’ve learned this one the hard way.
5. Make time for other activities you enjoy.
Your life cannot be all about your business ventures. If it’s something you’re passionate about, that might be hard to navigate, but you need to make the effort. Do fun things with your spouse that have nothing to do with your company.
We like to cook together and explore the outdoors. Jason and I are foodies and we enjoy exploring new restaurants and foods to try. I’m a sucker for a good organic grocery store, and Jason knows he can take me on any date that is food related. He also knows that I love the outdoors and being active, so we’ve made it a priority to hit the trails and get outside as much as possible. It’s enjoyable and we’ve learned not to talk work while we are together during those times.
Don’t forget that there is room for both of you in your relationship.
We take time to give room for each other to explore who we are and to make time for each of us to grow. That’s made a huge difference for us. Don’t neglect it! It’s essential. No matter how important your business is, it’s not what makes you special or important. People are made for so much more than what we do for a living or for our hobbies. I want to explore those things with Jason in the absence of business talk.
Good luck! If we can do this, you can. It’s hard, and both people have to be committed, but I would encourage anyone to give it a try. It’s a fun and rewarding venture to own a business. At the end of the day, it’s one of the best decisions we ever made together. If any of this is helpful, please feel free to take what you want and leave the rest.
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