Lets face it business with your significant other is not always a smooth story. Vicky and I have been partners running our own online business for the last year.
It works reasonably well because we both have similar goals and desires to be self employed and location independent.
There really are only so many things that fall under that umbrella so if we both want it it makes sense we would team up.
As a result, we’re together nearly 24/7 and out of necessity are forced to get along and find agreements as to who does what.
For the most part, it works smoothly, which is good, because there really isn’t any other way to go about it for us!
In an ideal world, however, would I still choose to go into business with my girlfriend (and not just Vicky, but ANY girlfriend).
I think the answer is “no” and here’s why.
Added Stress On The Relationship
Do you ever notice that when things are going wrong they seem to be going a lot worse, than how great things are going when they’re going right?
This might just be human nature. Perhaps we’re just hardwired to always exaggerate the negatives in life.
Either way, with business, as with anything, sometimes things are going to be going well, and sometimes they are not.
As it turns out, when things are going well, I never really feel like it brings Vicky and I closer together, but when they aren’t, it definitely pushes us farther apart.
I can recall several times where deadlines were approaching or clients were complaining about this, that and the other, and it generally made me an all-around unpleasant person to be around.
In fact, as it turns out this isn’t anything new.
I have read several psychological studies, which conclude that when people are thinking about money they tend to be a degree more nasty, irritable, and short with whomever they are interacting with.
I will raise my hand voluntarily and say “yes, this has happened to me”.
I’m certainly not proud of it and it is something I am constantly working on, but sometimes the best solution is to remove yourself from the situations that trigger it, which means removing the relationship aspect out of the business.
Either way, relationships are stressful enough as it is, and inviting a business into them where people are constantly thinking about money, deadlines, and everything that could be going better but isn’t, is only going to make them more stressful.
Difficulty Earning Enough Money
Earning money online is incredibly hard. Many people try and fail.
Vicky and I have been reasonably successful for the last year, but when I look back, there are only a handful of months where I really felt like we were earning a lot for the two of us.
For example, if we are earning $10k per month, that’s a nice salary, especially considering we are earning it entirely online, but between the two of us, it’s actually only $5k per month per person.
Again, not to say that $5k is shabby, but I think we can agree it doesn’t pack the same punch as $10k per month now does it?
It is certainly less than what I was earning at my previous job, and it is overall less what Vicky and I combined were earning before we quit our jobs.
The fact that everything you take in ends up being for the entire household means that you have to earn that much more in order to have the equivalent income of a household that is working two traditional jobs.
Moreover, when we were making $10k per month, while Vicky was definitely helping out and alleviating some of the work, I still felt that I probably could have been earning that same income myself (this is more a function of the nature of how the income was being earned, as it was primarily outsourced and thus not so dependent on what Vicky or I were doing).
In this sense what could have been a very healthy one person income was a modest two-person income.
If you are thinking about starting a business and, like us, are approaching it from the zero to hero model, you are definitely going to need to put in that much more effort to earn an equivalent household income online.
Moreover, working online doesn’t offer much in the ways of dependability.
It’s hard enough for one person to bring in money consistently, let alone two people.
How great would it be to have that one steady paycheck coming in?
Again I think of our own income, and while I know that we are earning a fair amount month to month, I can’t but help to think about the stress it causes to feel that every month we have to hustle to bring in the money to fund our lifestyle.
There are no guarantees – not in our business anyways.
Every month we start from scratch to make end’s meat.
For us, at least, it is difficult to plan 6-12 months ahead and we shy away from big purchases because you just never know.
Of course, anyone can lose their jobs, but there is an added degree of volatility when working online.
Since Vicky and I both work from home (wherever home is at the time), we’re surrounded by each other 24/7.
Sometimes the distance predicated by work can be nice.
People need a bit of time apart. It’s good to develop your own social circles (and then perhaps mix them later on to create large ones).
I won’t necessarily say I miss the time apart but it is nice to be able to come home and simply ask “how was your day” and know that you’re going to hear a bunch of new stories about a bunch of new people you haven’t met yet.
Similarly, this puts more onus on us to find our social circles.
A lot of entrepreneurial couples talk about that “going it alone” feeling, where you don’t have the sense of community and structure that a more traditional job supplies.
There are no office fantasy football leagues, work colleagues inviting us over to dinner, or holiday parties – that is, unless we make them ourselves.
Luckily, and again, maybe this is why it works OK for us, Vicky and I are quite used to spending all day together as we were traveling together full time before we really dedicated ourselves to the business.
Still, I don’t think it’s a good idea to assume that just because you and your match are soul mates, you are going to want to spend 24/7 with each other.
I personally know several couples that function great day to day but where all hell breaks lose when they hit the road.
Some couples just need a few hours apart day to day.
No Work benefits
I won’t deny that corporate life had it’s perks.
When Vicky and I were getting ready to take off on our two year backpacking trip, we were able to leverage the fact that my company had a travel/health clinic that was open to both of us.
Many other companies offer health plans that can be used for the entire family, as well as facilities like gyms.
With neither of us in a more traditional work setting, we get none of these benefits.
And of course there is always the what if, the biggest being, what if you break up.
Let’s face it – we’re living in a society where 50% of marriages end in divorce, and plenty of those are after decades of marriage. Business partners can go their separate ways as well but I think it’s a lot easier to make a clean break when you’re not also married.
As I said before, business is going to inevitably cause more stress on the relationship, so you want to make sure that you can handle the load.
Advice For Working With Your Significant Other
Naturally, many people are still going to work with their significant other as it is convenient, and many people will be successful doing so.
If you are one of those people, be sure to consider the following:
Set boundaries – It’s important for each person to have a defined role – something they can claim as being in charge of.
You don’t want to be constantly stepping on peoples’ toes.
For a while Vicky would handle the trip logistics and I would handle the business.
This worked well…for awhile. Eventually, we started making enough money with our business and the responsibilities started multiplying that it required Vicky to work as well.
Now we have X, Y, Z that I’m in charge of and A, B, C that Vicky does.
Draw clear lines between work and play – It’s easy to lose the spark in a relationship even if you AREN’T working together.
If you are, it can dull things down even more.
Let’s face it, a lot of what is required day to day to run a business is not exactly sexy.
It’s important to delegate time for business and time for the relationship.
I know firsthand that working online creates this nebulous work day where you could presumably be doing something 24/7.
Moreover, if Vicky feels like working in the morning and I feel like working at night then we, in essence, spend the whole day apart.
Delegate some amount of time, a few hours every day, that is strictly about spending time with each other (watch a movie, go out to dinner, go for a jog).
Make sure everyone is an equal partner – When Vicky came over to help with the business side of things it was a difficult transition.
I was in a position where I had been running to show for nearly a year.
I knew what needed to be done day to day and how things were supposed to go.
Vicky was still learning the ropes. It was difficult for me not to act like the boss.
But as we all know this is terribly unhealthy, because, well, most people hate their bosses.
If you’re going to go in with your significant other you have to find a way to make everyone an equal and valued partner in the business, otherwise, resentment will start to creep in.
Seek Outside Projects – We don’t really have that one thing that drives our day to day errands – we work on a lot of different projects.
Ideally, it’s good to have a few of these projects involving other people.
This is very consistently with several of the points I already mentioned.
The first is that it defines clear boundaries; if you have a project that you are working on with two other mates, then it is clearly your project.
The second is that it introduces new people into the mix, “coworkers” so to speak, and allows for more interesting discussion with your significant other when they ask “how’s it going with Paul?”.
What Do The Experts Say?
Of course, Vicky and I are not the only couples who also work in close proximity.
I decided to ask a few friends of mine who are in similar situations if they could give their thoughts about the benefits and hardships of working with your significant other.
Here’s what they said:
Ahhhh working with your partner. It’s…well…it’s an interesting path to take. Obviously Josh and I love the fact that we have been able to create and build a few online businesses together, after all nothing else gives you the kind of satisfaction and joy that comes with seeing something you have built together come to fruition and turn into a success.
Nothing else will fill you with the kind of elation that building something from the ground up will.
But that’s only half of it.
I mean, let’s be honest, there are days where you want to strangle each other. Where it’s damn near impossible to bite your tongue, see the other’s point of view, or even be the first to apologize. It’s hard and there is no way around that.
Even the most “perfect” couples will tell you it took a long time, and a lot of failures or obstacles to figure out what works for them.
And what’s more is that no one else’s system will work for you and your partner. Because those people have had different struggles. They have different dynamics. They have different ways of working through their problems.
And that’s okay.
Because on the other side of those struggles, the other 80% of the time you spend working together are filled with moments of “Hell yes! We’re doing this! I freakin’ love you!”, and it’s those moments you need to hold onto.
Remember, that person is not just your business partner; they’re your best friend. They are the person who knows you better than anyone else. They are the ones who see your flaws and still love you, no matter what.
They are the ones who encourage you when you can’t see the light. They are the ones that reassure you that you can do this, together. They are the ones who are in it to win it…with you.
So would I encourage someone else to get into business with their partner? Absolutely. Just make sure you have a solid division of roles that you are each responsible for, and that the other doesn’t meddle in.
That was our biggest a-ha moment in our business—separating who does what and trusting the other to take care of their side of the business. Once we did that, all those struggles, all those tension-filled moments seemed to fade away and gratitude started to seep back in.
Gratitude to be building something that matters to others with the person that matters most to you.
Josh and Caroline Eaton are the creators of Traveling 9 to 5. From Chicago, IL, they quit their corporate jobs, sold (almost) all of their belongings and are currently writing and traveling around the world hoping to inspire others to say yes to their own adventure. You can follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.
Coming from the corporate lifestyle I can see how the medical benefits can be a major plus, in addition to having co workers around to brainstorm with and an office to go into to get away from the house (or your significant other) for a few hours every day.
Josh and I are going on our third year of working side by side from our laptops, and I can honestly say I wouldn’t trade it for any benefits or regular paycheck they could offer me. Of course it’s hard to separate our personal time from our business time, but we are lucky in that we both love what we do and enjoy brainstorming and planning together for what’s next. While some of our projects do intersect, we also have a major portion of our income come from our own side projects. So while we may be working next to each other there will be a good 5 – 8 hours a day where we are each in our own worlds. On the projects that we do work together on we both know each other’s strengths and divide and conquer.
We are lucky that there is such a strong online community for entrepreneurs, so while we dont have co workers in the office next door, we still have a huge group of people we can go to that can relate to the work we are doing and offer advice and help when needed. Starting from square one is never easy, but each new client and project picked up feels like a bigger success, and is that much more gratifying because we earned it all ourselves. As far as earning potential, although we aren’t making as much as we did when we quit our jobs, we are working our way back up there. I feel our earning is based on how much we want to work and how much time we want to put into it. For us it feels great to have that control over our lifestyle and despite the occasional disagreements with each other on how to run the business, we still wouldn’t change a thing.
Tony & Meg traveled around the world for all of 2012 and share their travel adventures at landingstanding.com. They also have their own businesses that can be found at spicepanda.com. Say hi on Twitter! @landingstanding
Working together as a couple is fantastic, but definitely isn’t easy. There is no getting away from a business argument and all of a sudden your “tone” has a lot more importance now than it did to your colleagues back in the corporate world (this probably isn’t true, but your gf/bf is the only one who will call you out).
The key thing is to create some separation between work life and relationship life. Have at least one date night a week where you go out and do something together… without business talk. Spend at least one night making and eating a home cooked meal where there is no business talk. These little things help recharge the relationship and make clear that you aren’t business partners first.