Running a company is challenging. So is co-living and co-parenting. But what about a business couple who does all of it together?
Learn about the benefits and challenges of working with your husband or wife, along with tips from successful couples making it work.
Business Couples: Success at Work and Home
A couple’s business is considered a family-owned business in that two or more family members operate it.
According to SCORE, “28.5 million small businesses in America” and 19% are family-owned.
However, more than 20% of family-owned companies, or 1.2 million, “are run by a husband and wife.”
Many well-known brands were founded by entrepreneurial couples, including:
- Forever 21: Do Won and Jin Sook Chang founded the popular clothing retail store in 1984 before selling all assets in 2020.
- Eventbrite: Julia and Kevin Hartz were engaged when they paired with technical architect Renaud Visage to found the ticketing and event technology platform.
- Houzz: After struggling with their home remodeling project, Adi Tarako and Alan Cohen founded the Houzz application.
- Panda Express: Although Andrew Cherng began the business with his father in 1973, his wife Peggy joined the duo in 1982.
- Gap: Donald and Doris Fisher founded the clothing retail store in 1969, and both participated in the company for many years.
- ABC Supply: Diane and Ken Hendricks took a gamble during the economic downturn in 1982 and founded American Builders and Contractors Supply, known as ABC Supply.
- The Wonderful Company: Stewart Resnick was Lynda’s marketing client until they married and founded their business. It includes POM Wonderful, Fiji Water and Halos mandarin oranges.
While these business couple examples include plenty of billionaires and people who’ve stayed together for decades, not all partnerships are as pleasant.
The love-hate relationships of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and Sonny and Cher come to mind, as does the split between Frank and Jamie McCourt that ultimately resulted in Frank selling the co-owned Los Angeles Dodgers.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Working With a Spouse
In 2020, many couples suddenly found themselves working from home and cooped up together for weeks or months on end. While some embraced these unique moments as opportunities, others longed for their spouses to return to the workplace.
Business couples face similar juggling acts. Sharing a business and a home can be advantageous in some cases or downright disastrous.
Business Couple Benefits
Partnering with your spouse can bring financial and emotional rewards.
Copreneurs may have advantages over other business partnerships or dual-career couples because they:
- Share aligned passions: Dual-career couples often struggle because their jobs take them in different directions. In contrast, business couples create work goals and use those to fuel long-term plans.
- Spend more time together: Many couples argue about missed family dinners and overtime hours. On the other hand, business couples can work at the same time or coordinate downtime better.
- Keep business earnings under one roof: Partnering with a nonhousehold member means sharing your company’s income. Working with your wife or husband keeps company profits in one spot.
- Leverage special statuses: Business couples can structure their company to take advantage of minority-owned or women-owned business statuses, which in most cases require them to own 51% of the business.
- Achieve tax savings: Married couples can benefit from various business structures and co-owner salaries to reduce the tax they’d owe if they were dual earners or unmarried co-owners.
Challenges of Working Together
Likewise, owning a business with your spouse can be complicated.
For starters, if you’re already having communication issues, feel resentment or take your spouse for granted, going into business won’t make it easier.
Moreover, depending on your industry, you may need to spend more time apart, as business couples may take turns running the store or managing the restaurant.
On the other hand, it may be difficult to separate your professional and personal lives or get alone time if you work from home.
What about vacations? In the early years of business ownership, it can be difficult for partners to leave their business unattended.
Unless you have a trusted team, there’s a good chance one person will need to manage the company while on vacation or stay behind.
Lastly, work arguments. They’ll come home with you, and your personal struggles will follow you to the job site.
Tips for Working With Your Husband or Wife
So how can you avoid the pitfalls of sharing a business with your spouse?
Use the following suggestions to improve your business relationship and possibly avoid divorce.
Build on Strengths and Recognize Weaknesses
Although you should share core principles, it’s also important to understand your differences.
Jim and Vania Matthews own Express Employment Professionals. Jim told The Washington Post, “It’s important to know what you do well and what your spouse does better.”
In many couple business partnerships, the individuals have different talents. One may handle technical design, whereas the other oversees public relations.
It’s vital to know what makes your spouse stand out. Are they great with people, or maybe they prefer crunching numbers?
And outside of them telling you, they’re good, what knowledge or expertise do they bring to the table?
Business couples can leverage these strengths for decision-making. The person who is best at building websites could make the final call about the software to use. Meanwhile, the person with a degree in sales and marketing may have the last say over those decisions.
While coming up with strengths is relatively easy, it’s more difficult to discuss weaknesses. But, it’s a necessary conversation.
It isn’t about who is less competent and shouldn’t be used to downgrade your partner on the job or in the home.
But it’s important to understand that your spouse doesn’t grasp certain technologies or struggles with anxiety when meeting people in person.
Likewise, your significant other may excel in interior decorating but tend to blow the budget.
Define Roles and Business Communications
Once you understand your strengths and weaknesses, it’s a good idea to define job roles.
Of course, you may both be founders, but you should have distinct job duties. For instance, one person may focus on business operations while another handles customer acquisition.
The roles should reflect each person’s capacity and capability. Moreover, the tasks and positions should account for each individual’s personal goals.
Although you live and work together, it’s essential to treat each other as business partners.
- Building job descriptions based on tasks completed by each co-owner
- Defining reporting guidelines, so each partner understands how to share information
- Outlining processes and standards for each task
- Creating shared and individual goals
- Scheduling regular business meetings
Inevitably, work comes home, and personal lives go to work.
The solution and appropriate work-life balance are individual to the business couple. But one way or another, partners need to set boundaries.
Ways to do this include:
- Respect each other’s time: Use appointment scheduling software, share a calendar and don’t assume your partner is always available for meetings.
- Use a mobile application: Create reminders to end work conversations at a particular time so that you can focus on your family or relationship.
- Avoid micromanagement: Give each other space in the business. Each person does their job duties and follows up with their partner using preset guidelines.
Get Outside Help
From marriage counseling to business coaches, an external consultant is crucial at times.
They can discover blind spots in your relationship or company and mediate heated discussions.
Along with a therapist or coach, couples work with financial advisers, lawyers, and other experts to get an outside opinion on challenging issues.
In addition, co-owners of a small business may hire employees for a spouse’s job duties. Doing so can give partners a chance to work apart for a bit or handle family matters.
Plan for the Worst
Few couples want to think about the what-ifs, especially if your relationship and health are perfect.
But future planning is essential for business partners, regardless of relationship status.
- Employment or partnership agreement: For tax and legal reasons, it may include business structure details (sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company or corporation) and individual job responsibilities.
- Estate plan: Work with an estate planner to develop your wills and decide how ownership transfer will occur after a co-owner dies. It’s important to understand if your state is community property or common law property state.
- Life insurance: Each spouse should carry enough life insurance to cover business liabilities and the cost of hiring employees if a spouse dies.
Discover Business Ideas for Couples
There are tons of great husband and wife business ideas. You could start a company in nearly any industry, as long as it’s a passion shared by you and your spouse.
Use your communication skills to brainstorm ideas and develop a long-term plan that you both agree on.