Advice Inspiration

How Not to Kill Your Spouse at Work: Five Strategies for Making It Work as a Married-Business Couple

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Anyone that has entered into a business arrangement with their partner knows, you will more than likely butt heads. There are pros and cons to owning a business with your spouse, but for those of you who are already committed to taking the plunge, here are 5 strategies for making it work as a married-business couple:

1. Align your business and financial goals.

Before joining The Orangeblowfish, I said to my husband, if we do this together, we’re going to conquer the world. We both knew what I meant metaphorically, but we didn’t quantify or set goals for this. At the end of our first year of working together, we didn’t have a benchmark to measure success and gaps.

Since then, we’ve put in regular weekly Strategy Sessions, where we look at financials, growth strategies, challenges in the business and where we can leverage each other’s strengths.

2. Delegate and learn to say no.

My husband’s philosophy in life is to “Yes” to everything, because you never know what the opportunity it may bring you. My philosophy on the other hand, is to say “no” to opportunities that may deter me from my achieving my business and personal goals.

When my father fell ill in May 2019, and unexpectedly passed away within 10 days, I was left in a pretty bad emotional state. I had said “yes” to a lot of things – work and personally – but I was unable to function in any capacity. My friend said to me, “you need time to grieve, Nat”. I wanted to return to my “normal state” immediately, but realized that I needed 3-4 months to grieve, and to find myself again. As a result, I restructured our business resources so we would have a high performing team focusing only on key business priorities.

As an entrepreneur, it’s hard to let go of control, and even harder not to be a perfectionist. Learn to assess which tasks you should or need to take on yourself, and which ones you can delegate. This way you’ll be working on the business, instead of in the business.

3. Be committed and trust each other.

As managing partner of the agency, I am responsible for taking calculated risks to grow our business into other regions. My mandate is to expand our business footprint into Southern China and Asia-pacific. By serendipity, I was introduced to a contact based in Guangzhou and after two telephone conversations, I hired her to lead our business development efforts in South China. My husband was quite surprised that I hired our colleague, without interviewing her in person. However, he said to me, “I trust you”.

If I were to sit here and tell you that I haven’t thought about throwing in the towel, I’d be lying. This is one of the hardest jobs, apart from being a mother, I’ve ever had. But it does get easier. If you both are committed to making this work, it will work.

4. Don’t take things personally.

I’m not one to take work matters personally. Whenever I have a disagreement with a co-worker, it was always about the business issue at hand, and not about the person. However, it was different with my husband. I found it quite difficult to separate work from family and for obvious reasons I was very short-fused over work disagreements. The reality was that I was frustrated over something that happened at home and the disagreement at work took tensions to a higher level. In our second year of working together, I hired an executive coach to help me learn how to separate my personal-self from my work-self. From the coaching sessions, I learned to use language that allowed me to remove the “personal sensitivities” in work disagreements.

For example, if I was acting as my personal self, I would say something along the lines of, “I don’t understand. What are you trying to say?”

In work situations, I now say, “I think I’m missing something. Please help me to understand …”, or “We’re coming at it from different angles. I think what you’re trying to say is …

See and feel the difference?

5. “Me Time” – 20 minutes Every Day.

As a women entrepreneur and a mother of two, I have found that women naturally take on more tasks than we care and want to. It’s just the reality of things. We try to do everything, even though we know there’s only 24 hours in a day. We sacrifice ourselves to do what needs to be done. As a result, I found myself constantly at the mercy of others – whether it be my kids, my business about a year ago, I stared dedicating 20 minutes of “me time” in the mornings. After getting the kids off to school, and before I get ready for work, my “me time” could be a mix of planning my day, a high intensity workout, Asana Yoga or reading the news. I have found by doing this, it prepares my state of mind for the day ahead.

Choose an activity that will for you – a stroll, a run, meditation or something else that will give you a break away from everything and everyone. Find a time that works for you, and commit to it for 10 days straight, 20 minutes every day.

You will honestly feel and see the difference after 10 days.

It’s Not One-Sized Fits All

There is no right formula when it comes to managing your business relationship with your spouse. It all boils down to hard work, communication, and dedication. Trust yourself, and trust your spouse. You have each other’s back.

About the Author

Natalie Lowe is managing partner of The Orangeblowfish, a creative branding agency with a strong presence in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Guangzhou. Natalie has 20 years of experience in delivering effective global marketing and communications programs for Fortune 500 and startups. Natalie is responsible for driving business growth, client services, operational management and staff development. Natalie has been based in China for over ten years and speaks three languages fluently: English, Mandarin and Cantonese.

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