Without my wife, business partner and general partner in crime, Gian, there would be no Louder.Online. From day one, we’ve created the agency together as a true partnership, built on our mutual desire to do work we care about while living a life we love.
But when I tell people my partner and I own a company together, I get a lot of different responses. A surprisingly high number of people tell me that they couldn’t imagine working with their spouse day in and day out.
And although I don’t know if our success is replicable, I can attribute it — at least in part — to some decisions we made early on about how we’d navigate working together as business partners. Here are a few of the specific steps we took, in case you’re thinking about going into business with your partner:
Focus on separate aspects of the business.
Between my background in IT and Gian’s work in sales and marketing, we both brought different skill sets and strengths to the business. Recognizing that, we knew from the start that we’d focus on different aspects of the agency’s operations, rather than stepping on each other’s toes or duplicating work unnecessarily by trying to handle the same responsibilities.
So, now, while I’m heavily invested in the strategy side of our operation, Gian takes a more active role in selling our services and managing client relationships. The way you allocate roles in your company may be different, but the only way you’re going to be successful is if your own approach to delegation comes out of a complete understanding of both your operations and your individual suitability for its different needs.
Trust each other’s judgment and expertise.
Since we decided to delegate different areas of the agency so proactively, we also had to agree to trust each other’s decisions and avoid second-guessing each other’s actions.
At times, that’s been pretty tough. Even though I focus on strategy, Gian is skilled at marketing as well. And while she took the lead on client management, there have been plenty of times I’ve had differing opinions on how specific situations should have been handled.
But what we’ve both had to learn is that even if you’d handle something a different way, that doesn’t mean the other person is necessarily wrong. In almost every situation, there are multiple courses of action that could be equally effective. So, although we’re happy to offer each other feedback when it’s requested, allowing ourselves the autonomy to act in what we each view to be the company’s best interests prevents a lot of unnecessary disagreements.
Prepare ahead of time for disagreements.
Speaking of disagreements, they’re virtually inevitable when you work closely with someone. You don’t have to be a married couple to experience this — I’ve observed that disagreements are just as common in traditional business partnerships, family businesses, and so on.
But knowing you’re going to disagree on things means you can put procedures in place ahead of time to make resolution easier. A few you might want to consider, based on our experience, include:
• Agreeing to not bring personal drama into business challenges.
• Creating a framework for explaining both sides of a disagreement so that you can focus on the merits of each idea, not on how they’re delivered.
• Practicing active listening and de-escalating conflict.
• Centering discussions on what’s best for the business or its clients, rather than for each of you.
• Agreeing not to put employees or other team members in the middle of your disagreements.
Your list might look very different, and it’s likely something you’ll want to add to over time. There’s nothing fun or sexy about learning to manage conflict effectively, but it’s vital if you’re going to establish a successful working relationship with your partner.
Establish boundaries when you talk about work outside of work.
This one has been hard. When you work with your partner, it’s easy to bring work home with you. But if you can’t keep this impulse in check, you can forget about maintaining any kind of work-life balance.
When we launched, Gian and I made an agreement to keep work at work. At first, she had to remind me all the time to respect that limit. Now that I’m better at holding myself accountable, I see how valuable having that differentiation has been for us. It’s a guideline I’d highly recommend putting in place if you find yourself working with your partner.
Working together hasn’t always been a walk in the park. We knew it was going to be challenging when we first started, but we were also both committed to doing the hard work together and addressing issues as they came up. We started our business together, and we both recognize that any success we’ve seen from it stems from the strengths we both bring to the table.
At the end of the day, there’s no one else I’d rather share this adventure with.
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Author: Aaron Agius, CommunityVoice