It’s not an easy decision, going into business with your partner. After all, we all know how nice it is to get home from work, vent to your other half about what’s been going on in the office and then switch off from the day job until the alarm clock goes again the next day.
Of course, working together brings a whole other level of emotion and pressure into the mix, but it can be really fulfilling – even during lockdown.
When I first started working with my husband, David, it wasn’t just a new experience working together, it was a whole new industry too.
David’s business, Gas Angel, is a gas engineering company, and I hadn’t previously known anything about the sector other than sometimes, I needed my boiler fixing. Funnily enough, it was during a time when I needed my boiler servicing that I first met David on a dating website! Who knew ‘gas engineer’ would be such an exciting proposition for somebody looking for love!
I had worked in the creative agency world for many years and had my own award-winning company that I co-founded with a good friend and colleague, but after having my second child I was feeling jaded with agency life. After months of soul searching, I decided to join David, using my marketing and brand skills to add a new dimension to the business.
When we first started working together it was so exciting. We were completely buzzing, it was a real novelty. We’d stay up late and come up with ideas together and we spent the first couple of months trying to bring those ideas to life – which was great for David because he’s such an ideas person but never had the regular support that encouraged him to focus on the creative and strategic side of the business prior to us joining forces.
However, you can sometimes be a victim of your own success and, as business started to boom, David found he was needed back out on the road again, repairing customers’ boilers, leaving me to work on the strategic and creative side of things.
It was difficult for him leaving this side of work to me, especially as he’d began to really enjoy coming up new ideas and working on the business and not just in it – he just didn’t have the time or capacity to work them up, but I did.
This caused a bit of friction and a good few arguments, so I asked him to trust me to deliver. Life was all consuming, I was so focused on our new baby boy, my then 8-year- old, as well as the business, he felt pushed out of everything. It was really difficult striking that balance.
I was really over-zealous and so focused on the business. But David was more focused on the marriage – he felt that our partnership, our marriage, was the basis for everything working well together – us, the business, our role as parents. I knew then I needed a better balance and he wasn’t keen on me being so work-hungry.
We also found there was a lot of ‘you’re not my boss’ ping-ponging between the two of us. The dynamics were really tricky at first, but we put some rules in place, and started to get into the swing of things.
After just over a year of working together, however, lockdown struck and changed everything. Now, we had the kids at home, we were unable to work from our City Centre office and David spent a lot of time out on the road – leaving me at home with the kids and home-schooling. I became pretty resentful – thinking irrational thoughts like, ‘I didn’t sign up to this’.
Just as David realised that our circumstances before were the result of business growth and not personal choice, I started to realise, my frustrations weren’t David’s fault. We were in a situation that many people were in. It wasn’t about choice – nobody was keeping me at home in a sexist attempt to spite me. It was about doing whatever we had to do during lockdown to for the business to survive. And while we did have to lose a member of staff and furlough others, we were lucky that the business was still going strong, because, after all, people always need hot water and heating. We were an essential business, able to trade.
Of course, I knew how lucky we were, but this didn’t rid me of my frustrations. David reassured me that the work I had already done on the business was really positive, and that during lockdown, rather than work until 3am because I’d spent the day parenting and homeschooling, I should take a couple of weeks off, get used to the new situation and just chill. It was hard at first, but then I found I quite enjoyed taking the time out, filling the paddling pool for the kids and enjoying a G&T in the garden during the glorious heat wave.
Now I’m managing to strike a better balance of raising a family and building a business. It will never be equal time spent on each and I’m fine with that, but I’m back working on new ideas for the business, including some really exciting environmental work we’re doing – partnering with JUST ONE Tree to plant two trees for every customer who signs up to our cover plan to offset gas CO2. It makes me feel really purposeful to be able to make a difference to the planet from the comfort of my own home!
Overall, running a family business absolutely has its challenges, but I’m still convinced it was the right move. The kids get involved and excited about it too – pointing with glee when they see one of our branded vans drive by or providing a detailed critique of mam’s interview on the radio! And when the business does well, it positively impacts the family, so we celebrate as a family, which is lovely!
Running a business with your other half really can work – but I urge everyone to ask themselves the right questions before taking the plunge. There are many rules you can put in place to keep both the business and romantic relationships healthy – here are a few things I’ve learned about combining business with your relationship:
1 Define your roles
You need to be upfront and clear about what each other’s role is. If we ever argue about work these days, its because there’s a grey area around who’s expected to do what. You don’t want to feel as though somebody hasn’t done what you thought they were going to do or to be fearful of stepping on toes.
Get it written down in advance, really define the detail of the roles, and sign the bottom of the page! It’s like a joint contract and it really helps!
2 Discuss work ethics
People can have different approaches to work. Some people really value a good work/life balance, while others can go full steam ahead and work around the clock. Neither approach is right or wrong, but you need to understand how each other works before going into business together – you don’t want to resent your partner for not pulling their weight, or equally, for not spending enough time with you or the kids.
3 Put some rules in place
We found that making a hard and fast rule that we were not to discuss work after 8pm was incredibly helpful. Prior to that, I might wake up in the middle of the night, panicking about a VAT return and waking David to discuss it. That really wasn’t healthy – what can you do at 2am anyway?
Pre-lockdown we also made a rule that one day a week, David has time to work on the business development side of things with me, so he doesn’t feel pushed out of the exciting stuff. He’s great at things like SEO and has loads of brilliant ideas on how to grow the business, so it’s not just good for the relationship, it’s good for business too and means we’ve got each other to bounce ideas off.
4 Practice acceptance
Accepting the fact that lockdown wasn’t David’s conspiracy to keep me at home with the kids was so relieving. I’ve been independent and career-driven for such a long time, and always went out to work, so admittedly felt angry and jealous that he got to go out to work. Once I was able to accept the bizarre lockdown situation for what it was, all that tension was released.
5 Make business fun!
Just as a manger or leader in the office might plan away days or offsite working to mix things up and inspire the team, we try to do that as well.
Before lockdown, we gave ourselves one day a month where we’d go offsite to one of our favourite bars and restaurants, enjoy lunch, get planning and follow it up with espresso martinis. I couldn’t sleep after too many of those, but it was fun!
6 Take time out
Finally, a really key point that I’ve learned is that you must take time out as a couple. You can’t simply live as business partners. You need to ensure that you earmark quality time together to just be you.