So, let me guess: you want to start a business with your husband. Seems like the most logical choice and perfect situation, right? After all, your husband is your best friend; understands you inside-out; knows your strengths and weaknesses; and you both have the same family and financial goals. What could go possibly wrong?
To put things into perspective, my husband and I have been married for nine years, and working together for almost 5 years. My husband is the founder and creative director agency of our creative branding agency, The Orangeblowfish, and I’m the managing partner of the firm. My husband started the agency in Shanghai, China, in 2012, while I was still in the corporate world. In 2014, I started my own consulting firm and within a year, my husband and I merged our services under The Orangeblowfish.
Fast forward to 2019, I am ecstatic to say that my husband and I are still happily married and running our creative agency together. However, it didn’t come easy! The first two years was really challenging in all aspects: emotionally, physically and financially. While we have different working styles and perspectives on a range of business matters, one thing we do have in common – which is why we’re still together – is that our marriage and family will always come first. Once we agreed that our role as “life partners” was more important than our roles as business partners, we worked hard on bringing back the “spark” in our marriage, and worked even harder on our business partnership. Every day.
There are many pros and cons to being married business partners. My top 3 pros are:
- We set flexible working hours and conditions – I often need to do school pick up, or run family errands, so I find myself in the office earlier, or starting work from home at 7:45 am, and finishing up earlier.
- We only work with clients and projects we are passionate about – In the first two years of starting our business, we said yes to every business lead that came our way. What we found was that we took on projects that didn’t match our interest or skill set and completing the project just wasn’t fun. We went back to the drawing board to realign ourselves with clients and projects we were genuinely interested in, and would take our business to the next level.
- We have a deeper understanding and appreciation towards each other – Since working together, we’ve learned to appreciate each other’s unique qualities. My husband and I are complete opposites, and it was hard at first to have someone you are so close to challenge or disagree on almost every decision you make. After time, I came to appreciate that my husband’s brain is wired differently from mine. This has enabled us to tackle business issues from all angles and see all blind spots. Working through our communication issues at work has made us better communicators at work and at home.
Now, here comes my top 3 cons:
- It’s 24 x 7 – There was honestly a time where my husband and I stopped talking at home because whenever we spoke, it was always about work. As mentioned before, my husband and I are complete opposites so we didn’t (and perhaps still don’t) see eye to eye on a lot of business matters. I have lost count of the number of times we started off with a work conversation over dinner– very casually – and end up with one of us storming off, or giving the other one silent treatment, with our kids at the dinner table.
- No space or clear boundaries – Our first office was so small, that I worked at the end of my husband’s desk for about six months before we bought a desk for me. We didn’t have a meeting room or a lunch area, so we were in each other’s face (not space) every day.There were only four of us in the company when I first joined, and we both agreed that we didn’t need a finance or administration executive. I was quite versatile at all the corporate and operational tasks such as drafting and reviewing legal contracts, translating documents, the HR and finances, so I agreed to take care of it temporarily. In reality, this temporary arrangement lasted for two years. All lines were blurred as we just jumped in to make it work.
- We put all our financial eggs in the same basket – When my husband first started the agency in 2012, I was still working in a corporate full-time role. In essence, we had a safety net. Now that both of us work full time in the business, if the business doesn’t go according to plan – regardless of macro or micro factors – we can lose it all. This definitely keeps me and my husband up at night more than we’d like to admit.
Integrating your marriage into your business is a whole new ball game. Obviously, my husband and I jumped into the deep end without carefully assessing all the risks and challenges. Even though it’s working well, in hindsight, I wished I spent time with my husband to discuss the nuts and bolts and devise a plan to address them. Does running a business with your spouse spell doom? Of course not! But it isn’t for everyone. Weigh the pros and cons of business co-ownership before you take the leap. Your husband (and colleagues!) will thank you.
Already running a business with your spouse? Check out “How Not to Kill Your Spouse at Work: Five Strategies for Making It Work as a Married-Business Couple.”
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.