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Launching your own business is scary. Watching a spouse launch a business is scarier still, because you’re not in control. You want to support your spouse, but you’re also nervous: How will it affect your finances? The household mood? Is it worth the risk?
Boston’s Meg Bride wondered about these things when her husband, Jim, started an energy consulting company, after years at a large corporation.
Several years later, they’ve fallen into a successful rhythm as his business grows. Here are her hard-won tips. Also, try Life Reimagined’s program, Building a Better Together, to become a master of marriage communication.
1. Consider this a long-haul joint venture.
“My father once said to me, ‘When you jump, you jump together.’ I think of Jim’s business as something we’re doing together, even though I’m not an employee. It will impact both of our lives in ways both positive and negative. Having a united approach is really important,” Bride says. “Expect that growing the business will take longer than you initially planned, and recognize that this will mean sacrifice on the part of both spouses.” Realizing that the business will benefit both of you will make sacrificing that much easier.
2. Speak up.
Ask the questions that are on your mind.What are next steps? When might you hire an employee? Some questions have a concrete answer while others might not; don’t expect a response right away, regardless. Instead, think of the conversation as a way to help your partner innovate. “Your questions help your business-owner spouse to formulate ideas and plans, and they help you to feel like part of the team,” Bride says.
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3. Be transparent about money.
“Jim and I periodically have a ‘business meeting’ in which we create and review a simple informal financial statement so that I get a concrete sense of where things stand. Often, Jim comes home talking about various projects, wins or losses. He has a very good idea of what deals he has going on and what his profits and losses are, but I can’t keep track of the big picture—it’s like having a gazillion Post-it notes in my brain! Our financial statement helps me organize my understanding, and it’s helpful for him, too.” When your spouse starts a business, knowing the financials will give you a feeling of control and eliminate surprises.
4. Value your own perspective.
“Even if you’re in a different profession or field, know that your expertise is valuable to your partner’s business. There have been times when I’ve been reluctant to ask a question or to make a suggestion because my work as a nurse practitioner is so different from Jim’s work, and I wonder if I’m really able to relate. But often, Jim has found the question or idea insightful. Meanwhile, I’ve felt good about contributing to the life of the business.”
“Build in time together very deliberately. A small business is like a newborn baby: It has needs, all the time. It’s vital to the health of your relationship that you don’t let the business take over your personal life—because it could,” Bride urges. “At the same time, it’s OK to talk about the business while you’re out on dates or spending quality time together, as you would talk about your jobs or your kids or other major things.” Just don’t make work the sole focus. You’re partners first; businesspeople second.