For some, the question asked in the title of this article may represent a nightmare scenario. But working in a business with your life partner could actually be a dream come true – if you know what you’re getting into. Think about it: Who knows you better than your life partner? Who do you trust more than your life partner? Who shares your financial interests more than your life partner?
Entrepreneurship is flourishing in those over 50 years of age. A 60-year old who starts a business is three times more likely than a 30-year old to start a successful business. This creates a new breed of senior entrepreneurs… and it also opens up an opportunity for a senior couple to start a business together. For some couples, working side by side seems like an ideal solution, a way to combine being your own boss with spending more time together. The first thing couples learn, though, is meshing their personal and business lives is a special challenge.
My wife Sharon and I started a small service business in our late 50s. We both left professional careers and we were interested in creating a “bridge” business – one that we could run for a relatively short period of time until we were ready for “retirement.” We envisioned retirement as a time when we could live more flexibly, combining work with volunteering and leisure time.
The transitional business we chose was somewhat unusual – a mobile dog grooming business. Sharon was a sales professional, but she had a lifelong love of dogs. She retooled by going to dog grooming school and working in a retail environment for several years. When we moved from Massachusetts to Asheville, North Carolina (another part of our “grand retirement plan”), we thought a mobile dog grooming business would be a good fit for us. It looked like an attractive business model; unlike a traditional retail grooming operation, the groomer drove around in a specially equipped van, grooming one dog at a time at an average price considerably higher than a retail groom and without the overhead or business hours of a retail shop. Sharon would be able to groom dogs on her own schedule and be her own boss. I would be the “behind-the-scenes” person, using my marketing and management experience to run the business.
We operated the business together for seven years, made a nice profit and as an extra bonus, we were able to sell the business when we were ready to call it quits. The experience was very gratifying, though not without its challenges. Admittedly, it was easier from the beginning because, truth be told, we had worked together in two other businesses, one of which I owned.
If you think this sounds like something you and your life partner might want to pursue, here are five tips based on our experience to help make your journey easier.
1. Share a Passion
Your business is likely to be more successful if you share a passion. It could be anything: an interest in art, a love for animals, a concern for the environment, or just about anything. It’s important to then determine if that shared passion can be translated into a viable business idea: something people want to buy. The best way to do this is develop a business plan that proves what you want to do can be turned into a sustainable business.
2. Fill Each Other’s Gaps
We learned that we each had particular strengths and weaknesses when it came to running a business. It would be easy for these qualities to become irritants, but instead we worked collaboratively to fill each other’s gaps. Everyone is good at some things but not so good at other things. If you can learn to compensate for each other’s weaknesses, accept each other’s strengths, and work toward a common goal, your business will benefit – and so will your personal relationship.
3. Set Goals Together
When you set goals together, you automatically internalize them. Writing down goals and agreeing on them makes them real. You want to set a goal that makes you reach a little, but is still achievable. We set goals for lots of things: the starting date of our business, the number of clients we wanted to acquire, our anticipated income each year, and even how many years we wanted to run our business. Our goals helped us visualize our success.
4. Build Your Knowledge Base
In any business, you learn there are things you know and things you don’t know. When you encounter something that goes beyond your joint areas of expertise, you either have to quickly acquire the knowledge you need or get outside support. If you always have a thirst for knowledge, seek out answers, and view co-owning a business as a learning experience, you will be more likely to succeed. Thankfully, we could laugh about it when something went wrong with the grooming van – and yours truly had to be dispatched to try and fix it!
5. Maintain Your Perspective
Fully expect that your business will have its ups and downs. That’s why it’s important for both of you to maintain your perspective and keep yourselves grounded. You want the business you operate as a team to enhance rather than detract from your personal lives. It should fulfill a personal dream both of you have and take your relationship to a new dimension. Running a business will be challenging and sometimes it will seem overwhelming. Maintaining your perspective and not taking yourself too seriously will help it be fun and rewarding.
We enjoyed the experience so much we wrote a book about it to help other Boomer-aged couples turn the idea of working together into a dream… not a nightmare.