TomorrowMakers

It is often considered a bad idea for spouses to share the workplace. So, what could go wrong if they become business partners?

Running a business with your spouse? These tips will make your personal and professional lives smoother

In his ‘Hearts and Crosses’ O Henry explores, at a subliminal level, what could go wrong when husband and wife become business partners.

While Webb looks after the ‘backend operations’ – overseeing the upkeep of the livestock – his wife manages the ‘business end’ – keeping a tab on the market, selling stock, and bargaining for the best prices. Trouble begins when Webb, egged on by a friend, says he wants to be the one taking the ‘big decisions’. His wife’s appeal that he’s performing a job few others can do does not cut ice; he sees himself as playing second fiddle to a woman, and in front of a hired hand he declares, “I will be a man.”

There are many lessons to be learned from ‘Hearts and Crosses’, even today, for couples who jointly start a business, but who may not be aware of what it could lead to the collapse of the company or even a breakdown of the marriage.

So how does one prevent such an eventuality? Here are some professional and personal tips for couples who decide to go into business together.


1. Always have an emergency fund in place

If you two quit your well-paying stable jobs to start this business, you would probably have put all your savings (read eggs) in one basket. Now, this can be a huge risk. You do not know whether the business will be a success or how much time would it take before you make a profit. Without a stable earning, it’ll be very difficult for you two manage your finances if things go south. Hence, create an emergency fund that you can use to stabilise your finances at such times. If you two are thinking of starting a business, this is an ideal time for you to create an emergency fund.

2. Divide tasks and responsibilities

Assign specific roles to yourself and your spouse, according to your respective expertise. Execute your part of the deal, and do not interfere in his day-to-day business decisions/ workings. This is where Webb slipped up: he did not honour the lines and his wife’s expertise.

3. Discuss issues professionally

Do not start advising him about every small problem that may crop up; this can be annoying and interfere with the smooth running of the business. If you were employed professionally and had a business concern, do you think a colleague would run up to you with unsolicited advice every time there was an issue? It doesn’t work that way in the real world. Make a list, schedule a meeting, and discuss them all at once – just as you would do in the outside world.

4. Be clear about finances

A healthy business spells a solvent, comfortable life for your family. So, work towards ensuring solvency. For this, money management is essential. If your business can sustain separate salaries for each of you, it is an excellent situation. If not, calculate how much you can take home for the two of you without hurting your business too much, and cut your personal expenses to suit this take-home ‘pay’. Just like a professional outfit, treat all business travel expenses as exactly that. Remember, the money invested in the business and kept aside as working capital may be your money technically, but it’s not for the taking anytime you need it for your personal expenses. Keep the two separate.

 

Indian couples who took the business route together

1. Venture – Chumbak, a destination for lifestyle items and accessories

The power couple - Shubhra Chadda and Vivek Prabhakar

2. Venture – Babyoye, an online store providing baby-care items

The power couple – Arunima Singhdeo and Sanjay Nadkarni

3. Venture – Amagi Media Labs, a tech start-up which helps with targeted advertising for television, over-the-top services etc.

The power couple – K A Srinivasan and Srividhya Srinivasan, along with another founder


4. Venture – Cashkaro, a site that provides cash backs, coupons, etc. to its customers.

The power couple – Swati Bhargava and Rohan Bhargava


5. Draw a line between work and home

It is boring (and, from a marital point of view, unhealthy) for a husband-wife relationship to revolve entirely around work. Take a joint resolution: no talking business after a certain time; even if you work from home, shut the ‘office door’ mentally and don’t go back in. Watch TV together, or play Scrabble – not every evening perhaps, but occasionally, this can be fun. This also means that an argument that happens during business hours is not to be brought up again at the dinner table. Revisit the issue the next day during ‘office hours’ if it needs a solution.

6. Recognise that your spouse needs some me-time

In any relationship, even in those where spouses are not business partners, it is important to remember that everyone needs time for themselves. It prevents the relationship from getting stale. This can have a positive effect on both, you and your spouse’s mental health and give you a chance to ask him, “So how was your day?” You will have a talking point outside of work, and outside your common social life.

7. Remember to add a separation clause

You probably haven’t thought about this but it’s important to be prepared to face every situation, including a separation. A separation clause will ensure that in the event of your separation from your spouse your business won’t suffer and that you don’t stand to lose any money. This clause could include division of the company shares between you two, your responsibilities with respect to the venture, etc.  

Final words

When you launch a joint business, you will be wearing two hats: you will be co-workers and spouses at the same time. Keep the two separate and be disciplined about maintaining them; it is difficult to avoid talking shop when you are home, and it is hard not to be tender at work in a way you would not be with other co-workers. But the point is to have a clear understanding of when each relationship takes priority – that is, when to be business partners and when to be a married couple.

In his ‘Hearts and Crosses’ O Henry explores, at a subliminal level, what could go wrong when husband and wife become business partners.

While Webb looks after the ‘backend operations’ – overseeing the upkeep of the livestock – his wife manages the ‘business end’ – keeping a tab on the market, selling stock, and bargaining for the best prices. Trouble begins when Webb, egged on by a friend, says he wants to be the one taking the ‘big decisions’. His wife’s appeal that he’s performing a job few others can do does not cut ice; he sees himself as playing second fiddle to a woman, and in front of a hired hand he declares, “I will be a man.”

There are many lessons to be learned from ‘Hearts and Crosses’, even today, for couples who jointly start a business, but who may not be aware of what it could lead to the collapse of the company or even a breakdown of the marriage.

So how does one prevent such an eventuality? Here are some professional and personal tips for couples who decide to go into business together.


1. Always have an emergency fund in place

If you two quit your well-paying stable jobs to start this business, you would probably have put all your savings (read eggs) in one basket. Now, this can be a huge risk. You do not know whether the business will be a success or how much time would it take before you make a profit. Without a stable earning, it’ll be very difficult for you two manage your finances if things go south. Hence, create an emergency fund that you can use to stabilise your finances at such times. If you two are thinking of starting a business, this is an ideal time for you to create an emergency fund.

2. Divide tasks and responsibilities

Assign specific roles to yourself and your spouse, according to your respective expertise. Execute your part of the deal, and do not interfere in his day-to-day business decisions/ workings. This is where Webb slipped up: he did not honour the lines and his wife’s expertise.

3. Discuss issues professionally

Do not start advising him about every small problem that may crop up; this can be annoying and interfere with the smooth running of the business. If you were employed professionally and had a business concern, do you think a colleague would run up to you with unsolicited advice every time there was an issue? It doesn’t work that way in the real world. Make a list, schedule a meeting, and discuss them all at once – just as you would do in the outside world.

4. Be clear about finances

A healthy business spells a solvent, comfortable life for your family. So, work towards ensuring solvency. For this, money management is essential. If your business can sustain separate salaries for each of you, it is an excellent situation. If not, calculate how much you can take home for the two of you without hurting your business too much, and cut your personal expenses to suit this take-home ‘pay’. Just like a professional outfit, treat all business travel expenses as exactly that. Remember, the money invested in the business and kept aside as working capital may be your money technically, but it’s not for the taking anytime you need it for your personal expenses. Keep the two separate.

 

Indian couples who took the business route together

1. Venture – Chumbak, a destination for lifestyle items and accessories

The power couple - Shubhra Chadda and Vivek Prabhakar

2. Venture – Babyoye, an online store providing baby-care items

The power couple – Arunima Singhdeo and Sanjay Nadkarni

3. Venture – Amagi Media Labs, a tech start-up which helps with targeted advertising for television, over-the-top services etc.

The power couple – K A Srinivasan and Srividhya Srinivasan, along with another founder


4. Venture – Cashkaro, a site that provides cash backs, coupons, etc. to its customers.

The power couple – Swati Bhargava and Rohan Bhargava


5. Draw a line between work and home

It is boring (and, from a marital point of view, unhealthy) for a husband-wife relationship to revolve entirely around work. Take a joint resolution: no talking business after a certain time; even if you work from home, shut the ‘office door’ mentally and don’t go back in. Watch TV together, or play Scrabble – not every evening perhaps, but occasionally, this can be fun. This also means that an argument that happens during business hours is not to be brought up again at the dinner table. Revisit the issue the next day during ‘office hours’ if it needs a solution.

6. Recognise that your spouse needs some me-time

In any relationship, even in those where spouses are not business partners, it is important to remember that everyone needs time for themselves. It prevents the relationship from getting stale. This can have a positive effect on both, you and your spouse’s mental health and give you a chance to ask him, “So how was your day?” You will have a talking point outside of work, and outside your common social life.

7. Remember to add a separation clause

You probably haven’t thought about this but it’s important to be prepared to face every situation, including a separation. A separation clause will ensure that in the event of your separation from your spouse your business won’t suffer and that you don’t stand to lose any money. This clause could include division of the company shares between you two, your responsibilities with respect to the venture, etc.  

Final words

When you launch a joint business, you will be wearing two hats: you will be co-workers and spouses at the same time. Keep the two separate and be disciplined about maintaining them; it is difficult to avoid talking shop when you are home, and it is hard not to be tender at work in a way you would not be with other co-workers. But the point is to have a clear understanding of when each relationship takes priority – that is, when to be business partners and when to be a married couple.