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Posted: March 28, 2014

When you’re married to work—literally

Nine tips to consider

Erin Gibbs

Business partners, married and parents – how do you do it? That question is asked of every spouse partner in business ownership.  The logistics of keeping 50 employees straight, in addition to maintaining customer volumes, plus keeping an organized home life with children, caregivers, animals and schedules is daunting -- but not impossible. There are keys to success for spouse-partners in business.

Throughout history, “mom and pop shops” were common, and spouse partnerships were not unusual. The business was often "the family business" and even children would take part in entrepreneurial responsibilities. Having a business partner as a life partner can offer advantages. Responsibilities are shared; risks are equal and successes sweet for both. For some couples, merging careers with marriage actually helps in the juggle and trade-offs required to “have it all” (uniquely defined by each person). 

A spouse-business partnership is an extraordinary sacrifice of personal time, personal finance and often, individual dreams. Work becomes consuming and it is brought home. And home is often brought to work despite best efforts. A shared vision of the future, commitment, humor, compromise, diplomacy and respect are the ingredients of the secret sauce that keep business partner couples together and establishes co-leadership.

Married to work, literally? Or, are you considering opening a business with your spouse? It can be done – nationally think of the founders of Cisco or Flickr. Locally, the owners of the Pueblo-based Bingo Burger or Denver-based Footers Catering come to mind. There are many more. Pick a role model, and go for it.

To be happy at home and at the office with the same person, consider these points:

1. Compatibility: Can you work together? How do you already work together (raising the kids, house projects, training the dog)? If that’s swell, then it’s possible.

2. For better of for worse: It’s great to revel in success. But can you stick together when the business isn’t thriving? Phones aren’t ringing? Employees aren’t happy?

3. Different seats on the bus: Define your roles and do what you do best. If you are good with the books, and he’s good with marketing, delegate those skills and responsibilities with a job description and trust that it will get done.

4. Agree to disagree: Arguments will happen. Compromise between you will often leads to the best decisions for the company.

5. Communication: Above all else, be nice. That will transcend into your office culture.

6. Take breaks: Unplug. Be escapist and let your staff take some responsibilities in your absence. Vacations and nights out that are unrelated to work are healthy and keep you both interesting to each other!

7. Don’t forget your house: When you are both away all day, it’s easy to come home and keep working. Decide who is going to do what house chores and be as responsible at home as you are at work. If there isn’t time, consider a housekeeper so that your home can be a place of rest and respite.

8. Keep your day job: There is tremendous risk with both spouses invested in one business that you both own. If possible, at least one spouse should keep his or her foot in the door with a "day job," in case things don’t work out.

9. Are the kids okay? Work can be consuming, demanding, deadline-driven. Have a plan for who is picking up kids, helping them with their homework, chauffeuring them to sports and other activities. It takes a village – and it’s okay to ask for or hire help.

Erin Reilly Gibbs has played central roles in the development of innovative services and educational content in the healthcare industry. Before founding RMVI Services, she helped MayoClinic.com launch its first edition website and produced the first online video health library as well as online text and interactive health content. Erin led the opening of all of RMVI’s clinics including RMVI’s Diagnostic Center, which ranks in the top 10 percent in the world for vascular diagnosis. Erin also initiated creation of The Compression Center, an innovative approach within each clinic for conservative treatment of vein disease using the latest in compression technology. She can be reached at Egibbs@rmviservices.com or 719.242.8650.

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