Can your marriage survive the start-up? 5 tips for entrepreneurs by Meg Cadoux Hirshberg author of, "For Better or For Work: A Survival Guide for Entrepreneurs and Their Families."
The biggest illusion about entrepreneurship is that it is a solo activity.
If the business succeeds, it becomes a heroic narrative in which the entrepreneur, by dint of hard work and persistence, grasps the brass ring. But that’s never all there is to the story. Like it or not, the family is sucked into the vortex that any business creates.
Launching a business is like adding another member to the household—one that regularly cries out for time, attention, and cash.
Only the entrepreneur can care for it—but the family hears and is affected by the squalling.
The start-up phase—which often lasts for years—is usually the most stressful for couples and families. Financial insecurity is at its peak, and the entrepreneur’s level of distraction at its worst. Fostering peace and harmony in the household is not easy under these circumstances, but there are ways that entrepreneurs can reduce the strain and anxiety. Here are a few:
1. Ensure that business-building also has benefits for the spouse. Invite her to accompany you on work travel, tacking on a day or two to sight-see. Your spouse’s contributions and the importance of her support should be recognized publicly and with employees. Why not name a product after her?
2. Have frank discussions about timelines and financial risk. Create a “stage-gate” process by setting some benchmarks—either in time or money—that will trigger a review of your progress and a discussion about whether to proceed. For entrepreneurs, profitability is usually “right around the corner.” The spouse needs to know that he won’t be rounding corners in the afterlife.
3. The couple needs to decide up front which of their personal goals they are willing to sacrifice, and which ones are non-negotiable. What about having a child, buying a house, getting a dog, taking a month in Spain? Be careful not to push important personal goals further down the spreadsheet until they fall off the bottom and roll under your desk with the pen caps and paper clips. If you can’t make headway on big life dreams, find ways to bootstrap your personal life. Buy a condo instead of a house. Travel to a less exotic location or—better yet, swap houses with someone to make the exotic vacation more affordable.
"Creating a business will, by definition, take a distorted amount of time away from other aspects of your life. Harboring the notion that that isn’t going to happen is just not realistic."
4. Do what you can to integrate your life and your work, instead of keeping them separate and parallel. Use your business skills on behalf of a cause that both you and your spouse care about. Just because you’re not business partners doesn’t mean you can’t collaborate on a venture that matters to you both. Organize a fundraiser, launch a nonprofit, identify opportunities for the company to help in the community. You’ll come to appreciate one another’s talents afresh. And that passion for giving back can translate into greater passion for one another.
5. Treat your spouse like your number one client. You win customers by offering not simple attention but true attentiveness. As a businessperson, you are solicitous, observant, mindful, and aware—eager to both anticipate and fulfill clients’ needs. Remember that your spouse is your number-one life client and most important connection. Court him—with a thoughtful gift, a just-because hug, morning coffee in bed. Make it clear you want to keep his business, too.
Creating a business will, by definition, take a distorted amount of time away from other aspects of your life. Harboring the notion that that isn’t going to happen is just not realistic. The path is inevitably bumpy, but with some thought and attention, you can help your spouse and family enjoy a smoother ride.
Meg Cadoux Hirshberg is married to the founder of Stonyfield Yogurt and writes the “Balancing Acts” column in Inc. magazine. Her new book, "For Better or For Work: A Survival Guide for Entrepreneurs and Their Families."