One of the most important steps (if not the most important one) you can take when starting a business is to talk with your partner/spouse before you embark on your adventure. It’s absolutely crucial to have your partner with you on the same page when you start a business. Without their support and “buy-in,” in the long run you’ll end up sacrificing your success, your relationship, or both. Save your marriage and your business by talking to your partner and coming to agreement about these issues.
Before heading into any conversation, make sure you have your “ducks in a row.” Know how to answer the questions your partner (from this point forward, for ease of use throughout this article, I’ll be using “partner” to refer to your partner in life, which may include a girlfriend/boyfriend or a spouse, and “s/he” to refer to “she/he”) may have. Do your homework and have a plan prepared so your partner can see that you’re serious and know what you’re talking about, but keep your plan flexible enough that your partner can have some input. And remember, these conversations may not be simple, easy, or fast, so set aside enough time to talk to your partner, share your thoughts and feelings, and give your partner a chance to absorb this new information. Be patient, loving, and sincere, and let him/her take the time s/he needs.
Money is the number one reason why people get divorced. That’s why it’s critical that your discussion with your partner includes money. As I suggested in last week’s post, when you first start your business, you’ll want to either save up enough money for you and your family to live on for at least six months or keep your current job and start your business part-time until you can afford to make the transition to full-time. Talk to your partner about your plan and let him/her know that you don’t want to put your family’s security at risk. Your partner may want you to save up more than six months’ worth of living expenses, so keep an open mind as you go into this conversation.
A great step to take when you’re talking to your partner about money is to sit down together and figure out where you are financially. Dave Ramsey, author of “The Total Money Makeover” suggests that if you want to create financial stability in your life and get out of debt, you should list out all your debts, “get right” with your creditors, save up a $1,000 emergency fund, then start paying off your debts, starting with the smallest ones. If you’re heavily in debt, I highly recommend reading Dave’s book and implementing his strategies to get your financial life straightened out before you start any business. However, remember that you can use a part-time venture to help you pay off your debts. There are several business models that are fairly easy and inexpensive to start and, when implemented properly, can result in enough income to pay down (or off) your debts, and then bring in enough to let you transition into a full-time entrepreneurial life.
Once you and your partner have figured out where you are financially, discuss the expenses you foresee with your potential business. Talk about the experts you want to hire and the various startup costs you anticipate, and why they’re important to your success. You may want to bring in a business consultant or advisor to talk with you and your partner to help you account for all the possible expenses. I frequently work with couples who want to find a business model that’s appropriate for their financial situation. In some cases, we can jump straight into a business that has higher startup expenses, but in other situations, we design a “leapfrogging” approach that lets them start a lower-risk, lower startup cost venture that brings in enough to fund a more complex business model.
You’ll also want to talk with your partner about how long you think it will take before your business is profitable. Many partners hear “I want to start a business” and start to fear that they’re about to head down a road where their partner is throwing money at a business that may never succeed. Remember that your partner may experience this kind of fear and it doesn’t necessarily represent a lack of support as fear and worry about the future.
Talking about the future is important because you want your partner to understand what you hope this business will do for you and your family. You’ll want to talk about what kind of life the two of you want to have together. What are your goals and what is your shared vision for your life together? What do you think the business will do for your family and what will you teach your children (or future children) by having this business? People often fear that the new business will absorb all the time and energy from their partner. Again, this is something to address with care, love, and reassurance.
The business models I work with tend to require a lot of time in the initial stages, during the startup phase. When you’re building a company and a brand and increase awareness of that brand, you may spend a lot of time working on that company, but as I’ve mentioned in my other articles, most of these business models eventually result in a lot more free time. Knowing that this kind of sacrifice will only happen at the beginning can go a long way toward getting your partner’s support, as will your reassurances that you won’t neglect your family.
You’ll also want to talk with your partner about some “what if” scenarios. I advocate positive thinking and believing so strongly in your business idea that you simply don’t allow for the possibility of failure. However, your partner may not see it quite the same way, and realistically, all business don’t succeed. So discuss some “what if everything doesn’t go according to plan” scenarios with your partner and talk about what you’re going to do to mitigate the risk of failure — at what point will you seek help to make your business work?
When you start a business, your partner may worry that your business is your top priority. Of course most people want to be important to their partners, in fact they want to be number one! By talking to your partner with patience, sensitivity, and love, and asking for his/her input, and by including him/her in your plans, you’re already showing your partner how important s/he is to you. But you’ll have to go one step further and let your partner know where your priorities lie.
You must be willing to set aside the work and give your partner the love and attention s/he needs. That means paying attention to what your partner is telling you and planning ahead. So find out what your partner wants and expects from you and plan ahead to provide that.
An example from my own marriage is that when I first started my company, I was working over ten hours a day, seven days a week. I love what I do, and I can get really involved in my work, so I didn’t realize how hard I was working. I only worked that much for a couple of weeks before my husband mentioned it to me and asked when we’d get to spend some time together. Suddenly I realized that, even for a brief time, I’d put a higher priority on my work than on my marriage, and quickly corrected my course. I decided to take every Sunday off and to quit working at a “reasonable” hour (being an hour that we agreed on together), and spend more time with my husband. But a conversation with him before I started would have prevented this from happening at all.
Your partner will most likely be concerned about risk. There are a lot of types of risk, but I think the two people fear the most are personal risk (the emotional consequences of failure) and financial risk. Your partner won’t want you to be crushed if you don’t succeed, so you’ll want to talk about those “what if” scenarios I mentioned earlier. Remember that you and your partner may have different tolerances for risk, so take time to find out how your partner feels about risk and what s/he can handle. Talk about how you’re mitigating and minimizing your risk and show him/her that you’re planning ahead and really doing your homework. Your partner will feel safer if you’ve considered the possibilities and accounted for what could go wrong.
How Your Business Will Work
It’s important that your partner knows that when you run a business, there are activities that seem like they’re not bringing in any income. Tasks like accounting, social networking, checking and replying to e-mails, updating your web site, and other tasks that aren’t your actual “job” may seem to your partner like work you don’t have to do. A friend of mine joked once about the time I spent on social networking sites, thinking I was just having fun all day long. Once I explained that social networking is an activity that keeps me close to my clients and allows me to get to know them as individuals so I can serve them better, she began understand that this is an integral part of my business. Explain to your partner that you’ll do tasks that may seem silly or insignificant, but there’s a reason for them, and be willing to explain what you’re doing and why if and when s/he asks.
Ultimately, you’ll probably want to have a lot of other conversations with your partner about business, but these are the top five issues I see the most when I work with new entrepreneurs and their partners. The most important things to keep in mind when you talk to your partner are patience, love, sincerity, and understanding. Remember that your partner may initially respond with fear and concern, and don’t get frustrated if s/he doesn’t agree with your plans initially. Just take your time, stick with the conversation, and be flexible and open-minded. Above all, remember that you and your partner love each other. Start and end every business conversation with that thought in your mind and you won’t go wrong.