What About Your (Other) Partner?

You are not the only one affected by your business decisions—partners and families are affected, too. In my capacity as a coach for entrepreneurs and business leaders, I've encountered a number of couples. Sometimes a business owner comes to me alone, and I only hear about a partner tangentially; other times partners show up at every meeting and effectively (or explicitly) serve as business partners as well. 

As the economy has gotten slammed by the credit planning (or lack thereof) of Wall Street and consumer spenders, many small business owners are piling on the hours to try to keep up. Sometimes they lower their prices, while others network more than they ever have. Sometimes they do both. Right now, many business owners who enjoyed focusing primarily on the product of their businesses (healthcare, art, etc.) are now having to pay much closer attention to their cashflows and marketing than they used to. Some business owners are looking seriously at whether they want to remain in business for themselves, and are considering part-time or full-time employment to create stability for their income. 

Who's affected by your decisions? Who's affected by your decisions?

When clients come to us and ask for support, one of my first questions to them is to ask who will be affected by their choices about the business' direction. Exercises such as value chains/webs/networks can expose the vendors, employees and end users who will be affected by your product; I invite clients to question who will be affected in your personal life as well. 

When you're working alone, it's easy to cut your partner or spouse out of the decision-making processes in your business, and gloss over your decisions as 'what has to happen' in the business, or what 'the economy' or some other nebulous force outside of your control is 'making' you do. Especially if your partner is not business-savvy, the difficulty of explaining business decision-making processes you yourself might not fully understand could be very challenging. 

Inasmuch as your personal life will affect your business, and vice versa, consider bringing in your partner or spouse, even if you don't 'have to,' as a way to build an ally in your business—someone gunning for your success.

Consider asking your partner the following questions: 

  • What does your partner or spouse want, if anything, out of your business? 

  • Are they excited about your business and ready to support you? Do you agree on what that support looks like? Do you have any idea how much support you will need?

  • What is the impact of what you do and how you work on them? If they're not clear what you're asking, consider topics like hours, reliability of income, and restrictions on their own self-expression in public settings (for example, as a son of a well-networked chiropractor in a small town, my actions reflected strongly on my mother, whether or not I wanted them to, and I also found that I could do far less things in public and expect them to be anonymous—the joke was that she would know who I was dating before I did).

  • Do they feel they are contributing to the business in such a way that they should be compensated in some way? In other words, is there a healthy, balanced exchange between them and your business?

Checking in with your partner about your business experience, especially when stress is on the horizon (or already here), can help your relationship and your business at the same time—and it costs nothing. It can give your partner a sense of control, even if just by the knowledge of what they can count on you for, and can give you an outlet for your own questions about the direction of your business.