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When Krista started our photography and design business shortly after we graduated from college, I didn’t think it was something I would also do full time. But I admired her grit in starting the business. As anyone who has ever started a business knows, there are a lot of false-starts and obstacles along the way. Krista has always been able to take that kind of stuff in stride—much more than me.
What most appealed to me was the problem-solving and experimenting that goes along with entrepreneurship. That and a budding interest in film photography ultimately lead me to consider joining her full time. But while those were two driving forces, there was plenty for us to consider before deciding it was best for us and the business.
We’re frequently asked about working as a husband and wife team…
I’m going to do my best in this post to address these questions.
This is question #1: Do you want to work with your spouse? It’s okay to say no. It probably means spending an extra 8-hours together each day—and that’s a lot of extra time. It was definitely an adjustment for me and Krista. (On the plus side, Krista basically gives me away during lacrosse season when coaching gets me out of the house for a few hours each day.)
There is no on-off button for the workday. If you were arguing about something during the workday, it’s hard to forget it as you move into your post-work hours. And the same is true in other tough situations. Maybe you don’t hit your goals for the month or didn’t book as many clients as you wished. Normally you would have the “outside” perspective of your spouse to comfort and encourage you. But when you’re both “in it,” it’s harder to have that optimistic, outside perspective.
There are a lot of things we love about working together. We have a lot more freedom and flexibility in our schedules. Our schedules match up, and we’re able to go on fun adventures together. We both love getting a good night’s sleep, so we’re able to go to bed early, get up early, and enjoy some quiet time together each morning.
There are number of other practical things we had to consider—you know, like financials and insurance—beyond whether we wanted to work together. Insurance was the biggest expense we had to add since most of it was being covered by my employer.
A business can only grow so much with one employee, so it’s not as easy as doubling your revenue so you can support an additional person. Let’s say you make $1,000/week working on your own, but you think you could make $2,500/week if you had help. Of course it’s going require some time training so that jump won’t be immediate, plus you add certain expenses like insurance. So then you think you might be able to reach $1200-1500 on your own if you push yourself. The dilemma becomes making the decision to hire someone knowing that, at least in the short term, it might mean less income. And it’s not just hiring someone you can let go if things aren’t working out; it’s hiring someone who usually accounts for X% of your family’s income.
So to make us feel better about the financials, we started building out our emergency fund in the year before I joined Krista full time. This provided us some peace-of-mind as we made the transition. We recommend people have a 6-month personal emergency fund and a 6-month business emergency fund before bringing a spouse on full time. Of course this isn’t a hard rule, but we found it helpful in dealing with some of our fears as I came on full time.
We had a slight advantage since I was a teacher. I could join Krista full time in June and still be paid throughout the summer since we are paid for the school year from August-July. It was nice being able to help Krista continue building the business, while still receiving my paycheck every two weeks for almost two months.
The downside, however, is that if things weren’t working out, I’d most likely have to wait a full school year before finding a teaching job again since few jobs become available in the middle of the year.
Making any sort of career transition can be difficult, but I think more-so when you’re transitioning to work with a spouse.
Krista had to teach me how to do a lot of things, and she’ll be the first to admit that this isn’t one of her strengths. She’s super intelligent, so when I wasn’t getting something right away she wouldn’t understand why. And I had lots of questions, but the more questions I asked, the less time she could focus on her own work, which was what paid the bills.
There’s not really a good shortcut when it comes to training. It has to happen, and it requires intentionality and support. But it can be super frustrating for the trainer who might feel she’s not getting as much of her own work done, and the trainee, who’s frustrated he’s not as competent as he’d like to be. Taking some time to discuss what that looks like before you get started is helpful.
It also helps to have a good understanding of each other’s personalities. Krista and I are fairly different—she’s an ISTJ while I am a ENFJ. We’re both productive, but what that looks like for each of us is different. I need to constantly be challenged that “done is better than perfect,” while Krista often needs extra convincing to try something new. It’s a good combination, but it requires clear communication and expectations to avoid misunderstanding.
There should be a conversation about roles and responsibilities at the outset, and flexibility when it doesn’t play out how you planned. I intended on taking over all editing-related duties. But after a while we realized that Krista was so much more efficient that it didn’t make sense for me to do it. Instead it made more sense for me to develop content and focus on other business development tasks.
Working with your spouse takes a lot of intentionality and practice. I think it probably took at least 6-months before we felt like we had found a routine, and even then we were still figuring things out. Here are some things I would tell us if I could go back in time:
While the decision to work with your spouse is much more than this article encompasses, we hope if it helps if it’s something you’re considering!
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