Couples are behind some of the UK's best success stories, but what unique challenges do you facing going into business with a romantic partner?
Share this article
As I meet Couplepreneurs – couples that both live together and run a business together - around the UK and increasingly across the globe, I know that this is an economic segment that is growing and one that is under-valued, unrecognised and somewhat unknown.
There are a huge number of myths that surround this movement and growing phenomenon (a recent survey we conducted show that 52% of Couplepreneurs had set up their business together in the last 5 years so definitely seeing more of them) and I intend busting these open. One of these is just how they do it as so many people refuse to believe it can work successfully.
Couplepreneur businesses are thriving – and you may not know that Go Ape, Eventbrite and Micro Scooters are all couple owned businesses. Once upon a time, however, all these companies were run only by the couple and over time they started to bring in additional people to help them.
Tots to Travel, The Drum, The Cheeky Panda, Etch and Digme Fitness are just some other business who have a couple at their helm and are all growing phenomenally and have brought in key people and teams to help grow the business.
But what happens when they do start to expand and take on the management of other people? What are the DOs and DON’Ts of managing people and teams? We share some of these.
One of the aims of Couplepreneurs - a global community for couple owned businesses to meet, share and inspire their stories and come together to support and be supported through events, insight, forums and the trusted advisor network within the community – is to discuss key questions like this and share, educate and support couples as they start out as well as throughout their journeys together and bringing in key people to help grow the business.
I asked some of our founding members of www.couplepreneurs.co.uk to share their views as their businesses have expanded and they have taken on teams. They shared some of the things to look out for in terms of what to do and not to do in management those teams.
Show a united front for your team and involve them in business decisions. It’s great to have constructive conversations to grow the business and involve the team and be open about your plans and decision-making. You want the whole team to get behind decisions.
Work harder than you ever have before to support your partner! Running any business requires immense work, time and commitment and as a Couplepreneur you are all in and stronger together.
Julianne Ponan who has been running Creative Nature Superfoods with her partner Matthew Ford since 2012 reinforces this point. Julianne says “You want to see your partner succeed, you want to succeed together, so put the effort in. Not only will the business benefit from your hard work, but the staff will see how hard you are working and respond by upping their game”.
Enjoy yourselves. There is a key theme from all the interviews I have conducted and in meeting all the Couplepeneurs that they enjoy what they do. Julianne from Creative Nature exudes this as I met her and Matt and spoke to them. Julianne adds “You’re working with your partner because you enjoy their company, if you didn’t you would get separate jobs! You don’t want the job to drive a wedge between you”.
Surround yourself by people who are better than you. Liz Bingham who, together with her husband Phil, runs Velo Vixen, a marketplace for women’s cycling kit is passionate about this. Liz tells me “You need to accurately assess what you don’t bring to the table and hire staff who can support you as a pair. Objective input is crucial especially when work and personal life and so linked”.
Be clear around roles and team managementand carry out staff reviews. Setting clarity around roles is key and Liz from Velo Vixen who has been running the business with Phil for 6 years now and has a growing team tells me that ‘It is so important to have clarity over who is line-managing whom and respect those boundaries”.
Staff reviews are so important, and Liz tells us “Ensure that paperwork and legislation is all thorough and professional and that you have staff reviews. It keeps things clear and ensures an air of ‘proper’ business not something that really exists at the kitchen table”.
Keep your personal relationship out of the office. It is critical to success that you talk to each other as you would any other colleague so that everyone else feels comfortable. Nick Cooper who has just celebrated 15 years of running Salt Media with his wife Jo Rees, reinforces this.
Nick says, “Make it clear to the team that just because they tell one of you something it won’t necessarily be passed on by you to your partner – you are not a funnel for all communications, they need to treat you as two separate entities.”
Treat your partner better/give them more perks than the other staff. It is important for the team to see that their efforts are all judged the same, regardless of personal connections. Julianne feels very strongly about this and tells us “If everyone is judged and rewarded using the same criteria, it creates a fair workplace”.
Bring personal arguments into the workplace. Nick from Salt Media is passionate about this in telling us “Do not let issues at home fester and affect work. Your team won’t respect you if you bicker at work”.
The atmosphere at work needs to be good and positive and not allow for any reduction in productivity if you have had an argument and bring that in to the office.”
Be over affectionate and keep it professional. The team know that you are together so maintaining a professional outlook is essential. Julianne adds “Keep it appropriate, keep it professional.
Yes, holding hands, peck on the check at events, but you wouldn’t expect your staff to start making out at a show, so make sure you don’t. Nick adds to this in telling me “Don’t call each other ‘love’, or other nick names in front of the rest of the team, it only makes them uncomfortable”.
Allow for your ‘couple-ness’ to stand in the way of open discussion. Creating great cultures and having openness is a key theme coming out of Couplepreneur businesses. Liz believes this is paramount too and tells me “Staff must feel that there is clarity and that there isn’t a secret couple cabal that will override their decision making.”
Forget those who have helped you – As the business grows from the 2 of you to taking on additional people it is really important to recognise the work of those team members and praise them. Feedback is a great gift. Liz reinforces this is telling me “It is vital to let other share the limelight”.
Share confidences disclosed by a team member with your partner – The business is owned by the two of you but as Nick from Salt Media explains “It is vital that your teams know that they can trust you and confide in you separately”.
Patricia Bacon is an expert business growth consultant and founder of Couplepreneurs a new global network for couples running businesses together.