Written by: Sasha Akhunova
Dylan and I are getting ready to celebrate our 10 year anniversary. We have grown up together, moved across the country, lived in a 200 square ft apartment, and now own and operate a business together. I recently spent some time reflecting on our relationship and wanted to share some insights and lessons that I learned along the way on how to work and run a business with your spouse that I thought I would share with you in case any of you are considering doing the same.
DEFINE EXPECTATIONS AND ALLOCATE RESPONSIBILITIES, BUT STAY FLEXIBLE!
Let’s face it. In addition to the excitement that comes while working on a creative project or connecting with a great client, running a small business comes with an endless array of tasks, side projects, and shifting priorities. From video content development, to maintaining a social media presence, to email follow-ups, to managing the budget, to planning for growth… we easily fill our daily, weekly, and monthly to-do lists. So who does what and when is the due date? The key factor that has helped us be a successful team is getting together each week and setting our goals, defining our objectives, and then allocating the responsibilities. At the end of this, we both have a clear understanding of what needs to be achieved and who is responsible for each task and when each task needs to be completed. This has not only helped us stay productive, but also allowed us to be accountable for our work, avoid getting overwhelmed, or blame the other for an unfinished to-do list. However, be sure to stay flexible! Working with your spouse or significant other means that you know and understand what the other is going through. While we do allocate each task, we also talk through any challenges that we are facing, work out of the same to-do list, share ideas, and offer feedback to each other. This allows us to re-allocate our responsibilities as needed or change our approach to get things done!
COLLABORATE WHILE DOING THE DAILY THINGS.
One of our favorite ways to brainstorm ideas for our business and share feedback is to talk through them while doing our daily things: over a cup of coffee, while cooking dinner, or running errands. We debrief on our projects, provide suggestions, talk about what is next, and share our ideas for how to make Leelo better. Sometimes, we just talk about all of the other business ideas we have. Nothing is off the table, while we are setting the table. Such comfortable, casual settings allow us to not only work through our daily challenges, but get into a creative flow, and develop our smart goals as well as our stretch goals. We have started doing this organically over the past several years, but what really transformed this from a fun conversation to a business collaboration is always having something nearby to write things down. We made it a habit to have a stack of paper with pens on the table while we are cooking, a notebook in each of our bags, or a laptop open nearby. Every time we come up with something noteworthy, we write it down to follow-up on when we are in the office. We also make a practice of doing this when on our own. We have a white board in our apartment that we frequently use to jot things down if an idea comes to mind as we are running out the door or about to take a shower. We revisit these ideas once we are together.
TAKE CARE OF EACH OTHER AND GIVE EACH OTHER SOME SPACE.
I think everyone experiences times when they are not feeling motivated or inspired. While we feel so grateful to do the work that we absolutely love every single day, we experience those moments too. As frustrating as those days are, those are also the times that I am so thankful to be working with my spouse. Those days are the perfect times to take care of each other. You not only get to help your partner in business feel mentally healthy enough to get back to work and regain their productivity, but you have the opportunity to grow your relationship with your partner in life. Understanding how to take care of each other is another challenge. Dylan and I are very different people. We think differently. We work differently. We get motivated by different things. When I feel unmotivated, I need to remember my WHY, to clean up my space, and to meditate. When Dylan feels unmotivated, he needs to go on a run, to listen to music, and to watch an inspiring movie. Remember that what helps you get out of a bad mood, may not help your partner. When your partner is in a bad mood, do the things that help! If you have things that help you both, even better.
However, sometimes the best way to take care of each other, especially someone who you spend every single moment with, is to give each other some space. Give each other the time to be alone to reflect, to enjoy a hobby, or to just rest. For us, this allowed us to get back to work feeling not only more refreshed and motivated, but also more connected with each other.
ALIGN YOUR GOALS AND RE-ALIGN YOUR GOALS.
Dylan and I have spent the past ten years together. We have frequently discussed what our goals were in life and where we wanted to go. While these goals in general did not contradict (we wanted to live in the PNW, travel, and add value to the world doing something we loved), they were not always aligned with each other. We did not have a shared vision for how our life would be. That is why I firmly believe that the day we revisited our goals and realized that for the first time they were aligned, was the day we realized we will be successful in not only working together, but as a couple. In order to own a business together AND to live together, you need to make sure that you both have a vision for where you want to take your business and lives. How do you want your company to look like in the future? Where do you want to live? What happens if you start a family? You do not want to spend two years owning a business together only to realize that you want to take it in entirely separate directions. The good news? If and when you do arrive at a shared vision, it does NOT mean that that vision is permanent. Priorities change, you grow and you learn, and you want different things. What is critical here is communication. Revisit your goals together and talk through the parts that do not seem to align, and then re-align them. After all, you’re a team.
DO THE MATH, BUT KEEP THE SPARK.
Let’s talk about finances.When I finished my masters degree, I had a whopping $50K worth of debt and that is with working throughout the duration of my degree and support from my parents. Whether or not your college degree is worth the financial and psychological burden that that much debt causes is an entirely different conversation, but when I graduated, my initial inclination was to not let Dylan worry too much about it so as not to put stress on him or on our relationship. Guess what? That does not work when you’re a team and it especially does not work when you run a business together. Prior to starting this business, we finally got on the same page with a shared budget and a shared strategy for all of our finances. We now do the same for our business. We go over our budget, discuss what needs to be saved and what areas we should invest in weekly. We do this together and make sure that we both agree on how we should use the money. We also keep our business and personal finances entirely separate because a) it makes it easier from an operational perspective and b) it allows us to consistently work towards our personal and professional goals. This means that when we have a successful month at work, it does not mean that we are spending it on a vacation and when we have money left over in our personal budget, it does not mean that we are spending it on new camera equipment. This may not work for everyone, but for us it allowed us to invest in our business, while also investing in the other things in our life that spark joy.
Speaking of sparking joy, owning a business is exciting, but also exhausting. So while you’re setting goals, talking strategy, motivating each other, and balancing the books, be sure to keep that spark alive in both your business and relationship! Owning your own business is so rewarding, so if you start feeling lackluster about what you’re doing, change that! Add a new service, change your workspace, take on a more challenging project. Because if you’re feeling that way, chances are your customers and employees will start feeling that way too. The same goes for your relationship. You’re together 24/7 and the stresses of daily life and work can take a toll. Be sure that throughout all of this you’re still going on dates, scheduling time to rest and not think about work, and having meaningful conversations that are not about getting through your to-do list or next business venture. For us, scheduling the time to just be a couple and not business partners has allowed us to stay passionate about our work and each other.