I didn’t go into business with my husband – we got married four years after starting the company. For seven years, we were a couple in business together. People often asked me how we did it, and I usually answered about how well we kept work and home separated. But, in truth, we weren’t all that successful as a business couple, and we divorced in 2013. The subsequent severing of ties was painful and costly.
I mentor a couple of female entrepreneurs, and they’ve both asked my advice on going into business with their husband. I advised against here. Here are my ten top reasons why.
1. Baggage. There’s already baggage in any relationship, stuff that’s almost impossible to keep out of the office. Imagine an argument with your sales manager about the pipeline. Now, imagine the same argument with a spouse who didn’t unload the dishwasher when he was supposed to. Too many people in my office overheard dishwasher episodes, and laundry episodes, and lawn-mowing episodes. That kind of thing is never good for business.
2. Money. Unless you’re wildly successful right off the bat, there is a good chance that you might need to reach into personal funds to keep the business afloat. In 2009, after the financial crisis, we lost our only revenue-generating contract, and were forced to cut our workforce, but kept key personnel on salary. Payroll money had to come from somewhere. That kind of cash injection can put a strain on any marriage, especially if it costs a vacation or an air-conditioning repair.
3. Compatibility at home doesn’t equate to compatibility at the office. We got along so well before we went into business, we assumed working together would be easy. It wasn’t. He wasn’t used to my style, and I wasn’t used to his. We were different people at the office, and we didn’t like each other.
4. Suitability for the job. Guess what? He isn’t always perfect. Neither are you. When you put a spouse in a position of authority in your company, you promote the illusion that they’re capable of the job. The truth is, your spouse is likely not the most qualified person to be an executive. And your employees will never tell you.
5. Fear of putting things in writing. Who wants to make their husband sign something? Implicitly, doing so communicates a lack of trust. But it’s a critical step, and too few female entrepreneurs insist on it.
6. Things can always go bad. More often than not, they do, whether you’re talking about a regular marriage or one complicated by a business relationship. What happens if things go south? I confess I didn’t have a plan. And things got ugly.
7. Different business goals. We had a ten-thousand-foot view of where we wanted to take the company, but couldn’t agree on the way to get there.
8. You’re risking his life savings. Or he’s risking yours. Not only does the risk add to the already heavy burden of the entrepreneur, but any capital loss might be impossible for the relationship to survive.
9. You don’t want to go to bed mad. Enough said.
10. You don’t want to wake up mad. Ditto.
I’m not saying it’s impossible to be in business with your husband. It’s just a lot harder than most people realize.