There’s no two ways about it, running a business is challenging, and that’s without the added complication of your spouse also being your co-founder. Fundamentally, like all things in life, it’s about learning how to find a healthy balance: between marriage, parenting, employees, and yourself.
Before Underwaterpistol, I worked as a photographic agent in London for 10 years selling the work of photographers to ad agencies, fashion brands and magazines. During that time, I met Gary and after a few years of not taking things too seriously, we decided to get married and start up an agency, as you do!
The industry was moving away from traditional portfolios and starting to move online, creating a far greater reach, at considerably lower costs for photographers. So we set about creating websites that displayed their digital portfolios. My core responsibility was on business development, as I had the contacts in the industry, while Gary used his background and experience to design and build the websites.
The differences in our approach to work added a nice little layer of stress to each decision making process. We weren’t sitting in a meeting room surrounded by work colleagues, making informed decisions based on data and analysis. More often than not, we were trying to come to an agreement at our kitchen table, while I‘m trying to get dinner on the table for 3 hungry kids.
We learnt the importance of assigning responsibilities according to who is most capable at any given time, and to avoid making decisions based on preference, or emotions. The trick is to make important decisions together without trying to rush them to ensure we are both heard.
The ultimate goal is to ensure minor situations don’t escalate into major problems. So rather than agreeing to disagree just for the sake of avoiding conflict, we acknowledge the problem and work through it together as best we can.
But in times of conflict, which inevitably happens in business, I force myself to understand the intention behind whatever it is that we are disagreeing on - putting myself in Gary’s proverbial shoes if you will.
It’s very easy to slip into default mode: treading on each other's toes, speaking AT each other rather than to each other, and forgetting that you’re in a work setting.
As cliched as it may sound, one of the biggest lessons I have learnt over the years along with maintaining good communication, is to listen and be flexible. You need to listen to be able to respond and nothing is ever set in stone.
Communicating what we expect from each other, not only from a professional, but also a personal perspective, is critical to staying sane in moments of chaos.
Ultimately, I never want our children to feel like they come second to the business, but I also want to develop myself professionally and achieve things that I never thought I would ever be capable of...without feeling guilty!
“Marriage, in its truest sense, is a partnership of equals, with neither exercising dominion over the other, but, rather with each encouraging and assisting the other in whatever responsibilities and aspirations he or she might have.” Gordon B Hinckley
Drawing a clear line between personal and business just isn't realistic. To me, a successful partnership, either a business or marriage, is when two partners become one; the real trouble starts when they try to decide which one!
Here are my tips on how we manage our relationship while running a successful business.
Personal and professional respect go hand-in-hand when running a business with your spouse. If you constantly disagree on how to run the business, the chances are you will start to lose respect for one another.
It’s very difficult to maintain a marriage once signs of disrespect start creeping into your business life. And the sad reality is that once respect is lost, it’s very difficult to get it back. As long as you define your roles clearly, it’s much easier to respect each other’s boundaries.
Each person has to have the authority to be a decision maker within their role. It’s really helpful to have an independent arbiter for occasions when you reach an impasse.
This can apply to so many aspects of life. Agree on roles that are suited to your skill-set. When you are getting started, it’s easy to take on responsibilities that aren't necessarily in your skill-set, or perhaps tasks that you don't even enjoy.
For most businesses, this sacrifice is necessary to success. However, once you are in a position to re-evaluate your areas of responsibility you should do so.
Staying in a role that doesn’t reflect your best work can not only be detrimental to the business, but ultimately the marriage. It might be difficult to admit that you are not an expert at certain aspects of the company, but the end goal is to build a successful business and you need to leave your ego at the door.
You both need to be equally committed to the business. Even if one might appear to be the driving force, the reality is that both partners need to dedicate an equal amount of energy and time to grow the company.
If one is focused on growth, while the other is content with the way things are, it won’t be long before resentment and anger starts to build up, which will only have a negative effect on your marriage or your business, and in some cases both
You need to share a vision for the future of the company. What many people often forget in marriage is that even though you have both committed to spending your lives together, you are still two different people.
It’s important that you communicate with each other about your vision for the company, and create an environment that allows for healthy communication. A company can’t scale when the visions of both founders are not aligned.
Running a business is stressful enough at the best of times, and that’s without the added pressures of raising kids and maintaining your marriage. By knowing when you need to put the business to one side and prioritise your relationship or family life, you are already on the path to success.
The trick is not allowing your entire life to revolve around your business. Unless it is absolutely essential to discuss important business matters during quality family time, it’s best to make a mental note and follow it up in the morning.
Try to remember why you got together in the first place because you love each other and you have shared values. So give each other the benefit of the doubt and be a master of forgiveness, because it can go a very long way.
Sometimes I look back and wonder how we managed to keep our heads above water, let alone run a business. Consequently, I’ve learnt not to allow challenges or setbacks to define me. Once I was able to embrace adversity, it empowered me to achieve more than I ever thought possible.
Finding the balance between respecting your spouse as your equal but also as a colleague is still something we are fine-tuning. I am eternally grateful for all the obstacles we have experienced as a couple. By using them to our advantage, it’s forced us to adapt rather than throw us off course.
After all, they do say that the most beautiful diamonds are created under the greatest pressure!