Five essential tips on running a business with your partner

What’s it like to spend 24/7 alongside the person you love most? Does it sound like a dream, or like a lot of – well – work? We spoke to three Australian couples who double as business partners, and asked them to share their secrets to a successful relationship – in and out of the workplace.

It helps when your skills complement each other

The three couples we spoke to echoed how important it is to find someone who complements you and believes in your strengths. For all three, it’s been a unbeatable combination.

Kate Lyons and her husband Matt Carnell own Plum Tucker, a proudly ‘family-friendly’ café. “We realised we both had a unique way of looking at business ideas that complemented each other really well,” Kate says. “Matt has a business background, and I have a marketing and creative background, so together we felt we made a great team.”

Kate Lyons and husband Matt Carnell from Plum Tucker

The same rings true for Simon Barrett and Jenny Temple, who opened children’s clothing emporium Lila and Huxley just months after their son River was born.

“Understand what you each bring to the business and get on with it!” Simon says. “Move quickly when you need to and trust in the others’ ability.”

“I think having that trust to back your partner’s ideas is really important,” Jenny adds. “Simon is my sounding board for ideas and direction.” But Simon says his partner has it covered: “I don’t weigh in on what Jen is buying for the stores, her eye is amazing. … I’m more of a realist than [her]. … Jen really trusts her instincts and is prepared to take risks, which I struggle with from time to time.”

Define your day-to-day roles

Alex Vineburg and husband Dave run electric and lighting specialist company Dvine Electrics, with Dave on the tools and Alex managing the books.

Their advice for a harmonious partnership? “Start smaller and slower and build on it,” Dave advises.

“Learn to say no: You can’t make everyone happy. Before starting anything, sit down together and create a business plan including goals, expected milestones and [the] day-to-day tasks that each person will fulfil.”

Alex and Dave Vineburg of Dvine Electronics

Kate agrees. “[You need to] define your roles. We both have clearly defined roles within the café, and this helps relieve a lot of stress. While we may make suggestions at how the other person is handling a situation, we don’t get in the way.”

“We have a rule that we are not allowed to talk about the business in the bedroom.” – Matt Carnell, co-owner, Plum Tucker Café

Separate work life and home life – if you can

“We have a rule that we are not allowed to talk about the business in the bedroom,” says Matt.

“It’s really hard to enforce and we sometimes find ourselves sitting up late in bed talking about ideas for the future, or ways to deal with an issue we have been having, or concerns we have, staff problems.

We also try hard not to talk about problems or issues around our kids… mostly because it just bores them terribly. Our eldest daughter is in charge of coming up with a word game when we sit down to dinner, so we don’t end up talking about work.”

Essential lessons for small businesses

However, the Barrett-Temple’s say keeping work at work is easier said than done.

“We have no boundaries when it comes to work at the moment,” admits Simon. “It’s really common for us both to be up working late at night or first thing in the morning.

“When you’re both passionate about working towards the same goals, it makes it challenging to draw a line. “I think we are both at the age where we know we need to move fast now to set ourselves up for the future.”

No time for romance? Share the love for the life you’ve created

“Romance, what romance?” asks Dvine Electrics’ Alex. “We have two babies under two, a dog and seven employees, along with a house renovation!” Her husband Dave agrees: “We’re too tired for love!”

It’s a similar story for the other couples too. “The little guy (son, River) takes priority, but work seems to come before romance at the moment,” says Jenny.

And Kate agrees that – at least for the moment – their café comes first. “But in the most romantic way possible,” she says.
“It has kind of all melded into one. Our love for the business and life we have created together is what excites us. It naturally comes first because it’s our livelihood and if it suffers then we don’t get to live our dream together.”

Remember to share the wins

No one will be happier for you when success arrives than the person who loves you most, and when that person is also your business partner, the wins can be even sweeter.

“Getting to share your passion with your soul mate is the best thing about working together,” says Kate. “I love working beside Matt every day. I love being able to talk to him, bounce ideas off him and come up with solutions together.”

Jenny and Simon agree. “We recently reported our 13th month in business, which meant we could compare the results from our first month in trade,” says Jenny. “Seeing that the business had grown over 30% for the same time period was an awesome moment for us to share together.”

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