Okay, technically I businessed my marriage partner, but it all works out the same in the end. (:
Kyeli is now on sabbatical, so things have changed, but I want to tell you the top 10 things I learned from six years of co-owning and co-operating a business with my lovely wife Kyeli.
Many of these insights apply to other business relationships like co-workers, joint venture partners, assistant, or employer. Others will get you sued. Use your best judgment here, folks. (;
1. Communicate. A lot.
Ask for what you need. Your partner can’t read your mind.
If your feelings are hurt or you sense resentment building up, don’t stew. Bring it up quickly before it festers.
Schedule a short daily meeting and a longer weekly meeting. It can feel awkward to bring something up out of the blue, so it’s good to have time set aside for it.
Also, if someone emails both of you, BCC each other when you reply, so you don’t both reply independently and look like goofballs. (:
2. Clarify your priorities.
Kyeli and I broke down all our business activities into four categories and assigned each one a color. Learning/self-care (red), growing our tribe (blue), keeping our existing people happy (yellow), and selling (green).
We agreed on which slices of the pie are most important for the business this year. Then we shifted our pie chart to make those slices bigger and the others smaller.
Our pie chart helps us make sure our business decisions are in line with our priorities, and it also helps us make sure the way we spend our time lines up with our priorities. For example, if the blue slice is really big but we’re spending very little time on it, then we can figure out what’s wrong and make it better.
3. Clarify your responsibilities.
If the two of you share responsibility for everything, you’ll spend a lot of time discussing and arguing instead of getting things done. We set up a “Mid-Boss” system, where one of us is the “Mid-Boss” for each area in our business.
Whoever’s not the Mid-Boss is the Advisor.
The Advisor gets to advise the Mid-Boss and make suggestions.
The Mid-Boss has the power to make the final decision over anything in their area, and the responsibility to listen and consider what the Advisor has to say.
I was the Mid-Boss of green (products) and blue (growing our tribe), and Kyeli was the Mid-Boss of yellow (keeping our existing people happy) and learning/self-care (red). We sometimes made exceptions, but only if we explicitly agreed on it.
Oh, and that reminds me: be sure to write down who’s the Mid-Boss of what so you don’t forget.
4. Disagree compassionately.
When you own your own business, you care about it a great deal. You care about it so much that you want every little detail to be perfect. So of course, you want to Do The Right Thing™ by correcting your partner every time you disagree with their decision, right?
Well, to keep your marriage stable and your business moving forward, you’ll have to let go of your perfectionism, your egotism, or both. Either you’ll need to accept that some things can be imperfect and not ruin your business, or you’ll need to admit that “perfect by my standards” may not be perfect by everyone else’s standards – most importantly your customers’ standards.
Don’t take it personally.
The two of you will sometimes disagree. It won’t ruin your business. It won’t ruin your marriage.
Remember: ultimately, you’re on the same team, and you’re both worthy of respect and trust.
5. Throw sticks at each other.
We adapted the idea of the talking stick into an “action stick.”
For each task that we agree to do, we always make sure that one of us “has the stick” for that task. If I have the stick, that means I’ve written it down on my to-do list and I have the responsibility for getting it done by the deadline. If I complete my part of the task and the next part is Kyeli’s, I pass the stick to her.
We don’t have an actual stick, but we do mime handing the stick back and forth. If we’re on opposite sides of the room, sometimes we’ll toss it to each other.
IMPORTANT: It’s not enough to say, “You have the stick on Task A.” The other person has to reply, “Yes, I have the stick on Task A.” We accidentally dropped many sticks due to headphones or misunderstandings until we made stick-acknowledgment part of our practice.
6. Learn when to work together and when to work separately.
Planning and talking are some of our favorite things to do together. Sharing our work with each other is always a treat, and often helps us catch errors we would have missed otherwise.
Writing together, on the other hand, is horrible, inefficient, and leads to the two of us bickering over trivial choices of words. Nowadays, instead of sitting down in front of one keyboard, we pick one of us to write the first draft, then pass the stick to the other for editing.
Learn what you work on best together and what you work on best separately.
Remember to prioritize your happiness as well as what’s best for the business.
7. Find your sweet spot between empowerment and consideration.
Your partner is unavailable. You make an executive decision and forge ahead. Toes are stepped on, feelings are hurt.
Your partner is unavailable. You wait until you can talk it over. Progress is delayed, opportunities are missed.
Laying out some ground rules for when to forge ahead and when to wait for a discussion can save a lot of bruised toes and missed opportunities.
Talking it over before it causes problems can help even more.
8. Play to your strengths. Ask for help with your weaknesses.
I’m horrible with logistics, scheduling, and that sort of thing. Kyeli loves it. I ask her for help.
Kyeli doesn’t enjoy marketing (even though she’s quite good at it). I love it. She asks me for help.
Even if it doesn’t line up with your pie chart or your mid-bossery, it makes sense to do what you’re good at (and what you love) and ask your partner for help with what you’re not so good at (and what you hate).
9. Begin and end out loud.
When you begin your work day, say out loud, “We’re now beginning our work day.”
When you end your work day, say out loud, “We’re now ending our work day.”
This sounds obvious and maybe a little silly, but it’s saved us hours of misunderstanding and wasted time.
10. Make time for love.
Remember that you’re partners in life, not just partners in business. Allow time for spontaneous sweetness during your work day. Give your spouse a hug or a kiss as you walk by. Offer a short shoulder rub when your spouse is feeling stressed. Email sweet nothings to each other.
Make time for your romantic relationship separate from your work relationship. Schedule regular date nights with a “no talking about work” standing rule. This is a marriage-saver here, folks!
A blessing or a curse?
Sharing your business with your spouse can be a curse, filling your days together with conflict and stress, or it can be a blessing, getting to spend lots of time with the one you love, doing what you love.
Which will it be? It’s up to you.