Running a Business with Your Spouse
Juliet Aurora and Steve Loates , owners of AIS Solutions in Burlington, Ontario, won the 2017 Firm of the Future contest. More and more accounting firms like AIS Solutions are successfully operated by married couples.
When couples are in business together, professional and personal success can blend. To thrive and prosper, consider setting guidelines to ensure everything works – for your marriage and your business.
Running an accounting practice places a strain on any entrepreneur. Juliet shares how she wore multiple hats during the early days of her practice. She had a young daughter at home and didn’t want her in daycare for 10 hours each day, so she decided to work from home. Steve closed his retail business several years later to join AIS full time.
Couple-preneurs experience additional tension on their relationship. Operating your business requires a deep commitment. Sharing the joys is the fun part. However, the burdens, especially financial ones, can strain your marriage.
Working together can grow your relationship and your accounting practice, especially when you follow basic guidelines. Prevention is easier than intervention. Set some ground rules before a crack develops, taking a toll on your relationship and your business.
My husband, Steve, and I have worked side by side since 1982. As a therapist turned business coach, we developed a set of guidelines for couples to grow a profitable business together. Juliet and Steve share how they put these principles into play.
A Business Protocol for Couples
Practice these guidelines to keep things running smoothly.
- Create boundaries. Set boundaries at work and at home. Discussing business 24/7 will challenge even the best relationship. Remember, your marriage came before your business together. Their daughter sagely mentioned that they frequently talked at home about business. That’s when they decided to discuss business at work and not at home.
- Commit to the business. Check in with your partner about whether they still feel the fire they first felt when the two of you went into business together. Is your partner passionate about building a business or just doing it to support you? When you’re in business with your spouse, each person’s role is equally important. The vision and passion for AIS is shared by Juliet and Steve. Steve states, ”If I’m not passionate, then I won’t do it.” Realize that resentment builds when one person works in the business because of a sense of obligation and expectation.
- Clarify your roles. Focus on each other’s strengths as you define your roles within the business structure. Be careful not to micro-manage your partner. “Since the business was my baby I had a harder time letting go of control," said Juliet. "All the major decisions we talk about together. If a decision falls into Steve’s area, he has the final say and vice versa." Steve adds, “Coaching is one of the smartest business decisions that I ever made. We would not be where we are today without him.”
- Compromise. Opposites make great business partners. Which person has all the ideas while the other person is the voice of reality? Juliet and Steve respect their different perspectives. Because they don’t think alike, they brainstorm the various angles to solve challenges and flush out new ideas. Respect for each other’s point of view allows them to openly voice their differences.
- Calendar regular meetings. The two of you can hold scheduled business meetings with agendas. Fridays are set aside for Juliet and Steve to work on their business. That is closed door time that’s not interrupted. Scheduled meetings keep the longer term projects progressing and reduce bottlenecks that could affect work flow.
As a couple you may enjoy the free flow of minds that brought you together, but your business requires structure when you are on “business time.” As entrepreneurs with so much responsibility, it’s easy to blur the lines. Clarify your business roles and develop systems so your business runs smoothly.
Your Couple Commitment
To remain happily married the two of you need to nurture your marriage. Work matters can easily creep into your personal time. Suddenly work projects replace your traditional date night. Be careful. Don’t allow your business to take a toll on your marriage.
- Schedule fun time together. Every marriage needs time to enjoy each other’s company, but especially for accounting professionals it’s important to schedule fun. Juliet and Steve get away every 30 to 45 days for a day or a couple of days. “The most creative thinking and best ideas for future growth and services originate when we are away somewhere else,” say Steve.
- Appreciation. Don’t take your partner for granted. Let your partner know you appreciate him /her. Maybe it’s doing something unexpected or giving a surprise gift just because you can.
- Connect. Carve out time to talk with your spouse about the things you share together, but doesn’t involve business. Juliet and Steve found that became easier after AIS moved from a home office into its own space.
- Take time off. Many couples need breaks from each other. Couples who work together for long hours can use some time apart. Spend some time with your friends. Remember to encourage your spouse to do the same thing.
Nurturing your marriage tips the odds of success in your favor.
The Balancing Act That Impacts the Bottom Line
Focus, boundaries, and attention are keys to enriching your partnership and nurturing your accounting practice. Your marriage, and your business, will constantly evolve. Commitment, effort and purpose is required for couples to build a business together and remain happily married.