Ask Shannon – Surviving Copreneurship

Question: How can husband-wife entrepreneur teams keep the business separate from their family life?

- Arroxane Eber, http://www.Kineteka.com, Lewisville, Texas

Shannon’s Answer: Arroxane, thank you for your question. According to a Wall Street Journal article, about one third of all family operated businesses are jointly run by husband and wife. In a tough economy, more spouses are finding ways to merge their “assets” at work and at home, and are quaintly becoming known as “copreneurs.”

This arrangement is not ideal for everyone. So if it’s something you are considering, you’ve got to weigh the pros and cons, and understand how to ensure success at the office and at home. Keys to success include solid communication skills, tremendous mutual respect, and the ability to split the load and trust your counterpart to get the job done. Benefits abound in this type of work/life arrangement, but as you will see below, it takes effort and determination to make it work.

Copreneurial Perks

There is a lot to be said for those who take a partner on the adventure of entrepreneurship, and with that decision comes many perks -

  1. You don’t have to explain yourself — Working long hours and sacrificing luxuries is much easier when you are doing it together. You experience the same ups and downs together, so there’s no need to justify.
  2. Two heads can be better than one — One of the biggest challenges of solopreneurship is that you are going it alone. Having a partner in crime provides the  benefit of a sounding board, someone with a different perspective on an issue. The challenge lies in deciding which way you will go when there is a complete difference of opinion.
  3. Split the load without doubling the cost — With a partner, you can each take half of the operation, rather than immediately needing to hire extra help, keeping startup costs under control. This is not to say that you shouldn’t still outsource the activities where neither of you have proficiency if there is a better place you could be spending your time.
  4. Take your best friend to work — For those who are married to their best friend, love to spend lots of time together, and have similar interests and passions, working together can be a perfect scenario. You get to share it all.
  5. Shared passion can deepen your relationship — As I just mentioned, when you share a passion, spending time on it together can really strengthen and deepen your relationship with each other. You may have differing outside interests, but for the majority of your day, you are like one mind.

Separating Your Business from Your Life

Not every copreneur relationship is as blissful as the next. And even under the most ideal situations, there will be bumps in the road. The answer to keeping the peace at the office and at home is to follow some simple guidelines designed to facilitate work-life balance. Because as the saying goes, all work and no play (or peace at home)…well, you know the rest.

  • Schedule Regular “ME” Time – I often talk about the importance of taking “ME” time, because when your fuel tank is on empty, you are no good to anyone. Those who continuously burn the candle at both ends find themselves perpetually on the verge of unraveling physically, emotionally and mentally. So do you and your spouse a favor, and set aside specific time apart to refresh and renew. Whether spending time with the girls, or heading to the spa for a massage — making the time will allow you to be at your best under pressure, and enable you to invest in healthy relationship building at work and at home.
  • Set Healthy Boundaries – Some copreneurs establish a rule that outside the office walls discussions about work are taboo. Others choose to develop a more symbiotic relationship, blurring the lines between home and work. There is no right or wrong approach. You have to mutually agree upon the right rules for your relationship. If you are the type who has difficulty “letting go,” forcing yourself to leave work at the office will be the best approach. Besides, when you consider that the largest portion of your day is spent at work, you might see the importance of taking a break from it when you are at home. Doing so, you will probably notice that when you return to work, your perspective on challenges that you left behind is fresher and more productive.
  • Keep the Romance Alive – Entrepreneurs are a busy group, and tend to sacrifice a lot for the sake of building a thriving business. But your work should never take the place of, or overshadow the importance of a personal relationship with your spouse. Just like anything worth having, a marriage requires continuous attention and nurturing. You and your spouse will need to commit to maintaining date nights with each other to reconnect on a non-work related level, doing the things you love to do as a couple. When you are happy at home, it is much easier to operate as a team when you are at work.
  • Clarify Work/Home Responsibilities & Expectations – When you decide to start a business or a life together, one of the first things you have to nail down is who is going to be responsible for what (without over booking yourselves).  Nothing can be more destructive to any type of relationship than unspoken expectations. Because when you or your spouse are counting on the other to get something done, and it doesn’t, resentment and frustration can build. So put all your cards on the boardroom, and kitchen table, and decide how you can equitably divide the tasks that must get done. For those neither of you wish to tackle, determine who you can hire to do the work. When roles and responsibilities are clear, it is much easier to focus on your own tasks, knowing that someone else has your back.
  • Create a Conflict Resolution Strategy – Do you know what sets you off like a cannon fuse? If not, then you should spend some time figuring out where your hot spots, and flare points lie. To maintain a consistent level of peaceful productivity it’s vital that you and your spouse develop an effective way to resolve conflict in the business and at home. Employees and children don’t like it when you fight, as it makes for a very uncertain and hostile environment. When each of you know which buttons not to push, how to effectively have a calm discussion when you disagree, and can rely on “time out” cues when you need to step away, you will be more apt to keep the peace under pressure.
  • Plan Escapes – Finally, but certainly not any less important, you and your spouse should actively and regularly plan “work-free” escapes. For most entrepreneurs, the element of freedom is one of the most significant reasons for starting a business. And from day one, you should be setting up systems and structure so that you don’t have to be tied to the office 24/7/365. It will take some planning and hard work, but the result is the ability to step away, even if only for a day or two, and relish in complete separation from your business.

Having only been on the solo side of entrepreneurship, I think that having the most important person in your life intimately involved and equally passionate about your mission would be a wonderful experience. But not everyone can work harmoniously together. For those who are trying, just remember that as copreneurs, your working relationship will only ever be as solid as your personal relationship, so don’t neglect nurturing and supporting the best parts of each other at home. Businesses come and go, but it’s vital to know where your riches truly lie, and that is in the loving embrace of your spouse.

For more information on couples who are making copreneurship work, check out this article – Power of Two: Secrets to Marital and Entrepreneurial Bliss

To your business success!







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7 Comments

  1. Eddie
    Posted January 17, 2014 at 3:52 am | Permalink | Reply

    Shannon,

    Happened to visit this site after leaving my comment some time ago. I’d like to address your response to my comment.

    First, Everyone regards themselves as committed to maintaining a healthy marital relationship. People don’t go around on a conscience level thinking, “I don’t want to be committed to maintaining a healthy marital relationship.” Things HAPPEN over time. For both spouses to always think this way is next to impossible, in my opinion – especially after years and years together. Just look at all the articles about the dramatic upsurge in “gray divorce” – let alone having to work AND live together.

    Both parties loving their work? What are the chances that both of them, simultaneously, LOVE the work, even most of the time, that they HAVE to do to pay the bills and put food on the table year after year after year. In my opinion, this is a very lofty viewpoint that is quite divorced from reality. Rarely this may be true. But, realistically, how often is this true for the majority of copreneurs?

    In terms of making the necessary changes to preserve their marriage – what changes? They are in business together. One can’t just decide to change that fact. Again, its what pays the bills. The overwhelming majority of the time they are locked into “the business”, often for years and years. Have you examined the job situation out there? One can’t simply up and decide, “This copreneurship isn’t working. To preserve the marriage, I’d better go get a job at Burger King.”

    In many cases, I think “the business” BECOMES the larger part of the relationship, especially after years and years. One cannot simply say, “don’t let that happen,” because, in my opinion, it just plain DOES happen in the real world.

    I appreciate your response, but its the proverbial telling someone what to do, but not HOW to accomplish it in real life.

    If their work relationship is damaging their marital relationship, and they count on “the business” to pay the bills, mortgage, car payment(s) and put food on the table – what specific changes would you recommend? (And, yes, I realize you are not a relationship counselor).

    And, just a thought – I wonder how many “relationship counselors”, themselves, end up divorced. Its probably, in my view, a case of “physician heal thyself”.

    I still think that for most, copreneurship is a recipe for eventual divorce – despite the comments one sometimes reads stating something like, “My spouse and I have been in business for twenty five years and are more in love than ever.” How does one know WHAT the other is really thinking? For example, how many affairs happen while one spouse thinks everything is stable in the marriage? I think the vast majority. How many copreneurs are having affairs and how many will be married ten or more years from now? I think I’m just being realistic and analyzing this from the viewpoint of common sense.

  2. Eddie
    Posted August 27, 2013 at 10:51 pm | Permalink | Reply

    How long does somebody you have to work with everyday and then go home with every night remain your “best friend”? How long does something you HAVE to do everyday to pay the bills remain a “shared passion”? Date nights get old and routine. Getaways eventually turn into, “I wish I could get away from my spouse.”
    Regular “ME” time turns into, “thank goodness I’m not with him/her time”. Conflict resolution is a whole lot more difficult than it seems – especially after years and years. Keeping business and home seperate is next to impossible.

    People end up unhappy, yet intertwined in “the business”. Silent resentment festers for years and, if they can extricate themselves financially, divorce is the probable end result – especially in a day and age when people are living into their late 70’s and early 80’s. Even at 50, after years of marriage, do you really WANT to spend 25 or 30 more years with this person? In total honesty, what do you think the answer to that question is?

    This comment will probably not be posted because it does not pretend that copreneurship is pie-in-the-sky happiness and marital success even when all the recommendations for making it work are followed. In my opinion, and I would submit by any reasonable standard of common sense, it is a recipe for eventual divorce.

    • Posted August 28, 2013 at 8:02 am | Permalink | Reply

      Eddie,

      Thank you for your comment. Let me begin by stating that co-preneurship is not for every couple.

      Success requires two things: (1) Both parties need to be committed to maintaining a healthy marital relationship first, and know what they individually and jointly need in order to do so. And (2) both parties need to be engaged in work that taps their gifts and passions in order to experience a fulfilling and happy career. Even under the best circumstances, not every day will be sunshine and roses. But personalities that mesh easily in both arenas can weather the challenges.

      I am not a relationship counselor, but would hope that parties who have come to the realization that their work relationship is damaging their more important personal relationship would make the necessary changes to preserve their marriage. :)

  3. George Allan Phiri
    Posted November 21, 2011 at 12:54 am | Permalink | Reply

    This is indeed helpful to couples who cannot precisely separate the two responsibilities in order to enterprise their skills successfully. Keep it up Shannon. I have personally loved it.

    • Posted November 21, 2011 at 8:15 am | Permalink | Reply

      Thanks George! It’s an important topic to address, as many more couples are venturing into business together. Thank you for sharing your comment. Shannon

  4. Posted November 15, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Shannon,
    Thanks for your article and great insight – especially since you are a solo entrepreneur. I have worked with my husband for two and a half years yet we have only been married for three. All the points you make about the perks and the importance of separating work and life are spot-on. Yet in the moment they can be hard to remember. I have struggled with work/life balance as I have grown my business and just this fall started sharing the story of Josh and I working together on my new blog called Married at Work at http://www.marriedatwork.com.

    Arroxane, I wish you lots of luck in your copreneurship. There is nothing more rewarding and building a business with your other half!

    Ally

    • Posted November 15, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Ally, Thank you so much for your comment and compliment. Being a solo entrepreneur, I had to draw from my knowledge of teamwork, and do a bit a research to adequately respond to this question. It is wonderful to hear about couples working together, because despite the challenges I am sure they face, when done effectively and with balance, it is probably one of the most rewarding of experiences. Thanks for sharing your new blog! I can’t wait to check it out. :) Shannon

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