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Secrets of successful husband-wife business teams

By Jennie Wong
Jennie Wong
Jennie Wong, Ph.D., is a nationally syndicated columnist, executive coach, and the creator of the product quiz website www.ABorC.com.

According to the Wall Street Journal, about a third of family businesses are operated by husband-and-wife teams. North Dakota State University researcher Glenn Muske dubs these couples “copreneurs” and believes those numbers are rising.

Maybe you’re one of them, or perhaps you’re considering joining their ranks. If you’re thinking about taking the leap, what should you consider when it comes to partnering with your life partner?

The joys of working with your spouse

Sandra Guynes is a portrait photographer who runs Charlotte-based Hip Chick Photography with her husband, Odell Guynes, also a photographer. “We are best friends,” Sandra Guynes said. “Sounds cliché, but we love spending time with each other, which is a must for working together. We also are very different. … Odell is a calm, ‘go with the flow’ type of person, whereas I’m a more Type A personality.”

Having run a company with my husband for more than six years, I would echo Sandra Guynes’ sentiments around spending time with your best friend. Of course, conflicts and arguments do happen, but we always remind ourselves that couples who work together have to keep the ratio of positives to negatives in mind given how much more interaction we have compared with “regular” couples.

Don’t let work take over your home life

Another common theme expressed by copreneur couples is the blurred line between work and personal life. Ruben Gutierrez, founder of VRG Components in SouthPark, talks about maintaining boundaries while working with his wife and operations manager, Verena Martin. “We try not to let business talk take over family life but rather make specific times to discuss business matters at home. Otherwise a relationship can easily become transactional. Family still is more important than business, and we don’t want our new baby to grow up feeling business was more important than him.”

Diane Esposito has worked side-by-side with her husband Vinny Esposito for more than 20 years in their Matthews music and entertainment company, Split Second Sound. She urges other co-working couples to “make date nights, and make an agreement that business talks will only be for certain areas of the house and at certain times of the day or night.”

Establish clear roles and responsibilities

Successful entrepreneurial couples tend to create clear roles and responsibilities that play to each partner’s strengths.

Melody Staten has owned Association Management Solutions Inc. in Lake Wylie with her husband, Alan Staten, since 2007. “Make sure you have clear divisions of responsibility and management at the office,” she said. “And at home, make sure that both spouses work to make the home run smoothly. Alan is great to help out with things around the house, so that I am not doing all the cooking and cleaning when I get home from the office.”

Work in separate spaces

Tactically speaking, all of that intermingling of professional and personal lives can be quite enough, without also intermingling work spaces.

Jenni Walker runs Walker PR Group with her husband, Sander Walker.

“Have separate offices,” she said. “We both work from home but have offices on different floors. It’s amazing how little we see of each other during the day. Our friends all think we sit across from each other at a card table all day and can’t imagine how it works. It’s nothing like that.”

If you and your partner have different tolerance levels for clutter or noise, or different definitions of tidy, separate offices can save your sanity, as well as your working relationship.

Start with a strong relationship

And speaking of that relationship, the husbands and wives who chimed in on this subject all agreed that you have to have a strong marriage to begin with. If you have any big issues in your personal relationship, don’t even think about adding the extra stress of running a business together.

“If there are issues with your marriage or you have personal issues, then working with your spouse should probably not be attempted,” Staten said. “It places a strain, that if the foundation is not firm, then it may break. You may end up with a successful business but a broken marriage.”

Jennie Wong, Ph.D. is a Charlotte-based executive coach and the creator of the product quiz website www.ABorC.com.
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