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My wife and I run a business together; here’s how we make it work

Building a business with a spouse has its challenges, but it can also yield huge rewards.

My wife and I run a business together; here’s how we make it work
[Photo: Flickr user Les Black]

Let’s get one thing straight. Balance is hard to come by today’s world. When you’re fighting a losing battle against inbox zero and push notifications, finding space for downtime can feel downright impossible.

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This is especially the case for entrepreneurs, and even more so for those who build businesses with a spouse or partner, as I have chosen to do. When I think it’s time to go home and disconnect from work, I find myself in a serious business conversation with my wife over dinner, before bed, or while training for a half marathon. Pile this on top of kids, board members, investors, employees–the list goes on–and it’s a real challenge to maintain a healthy (and happy) work/life balance.

My wife, Laura, and I started our company, Jonas Paul Eyewear, five years ago after having our first child, Jonas. He was born with a rare disorder that causes near blindness, which ultimately inspired us to build this business together. At the time, we were juggling our new venture with our marriage, as well as being in and out of the hospital. We were both stretched extremely thin, and finding balance felt like a pipe dream. Instead of being able to wind down at home, work crept up into every aspect of our lives.

Over the years, we’ve learned how to make our partnership work without going crazy or craving the distance. Here are the key lessons that we’ve learned.

1) Prioritization is key

First and foremost, prioritize the one thing that is most important: your partner and, if you have them, your children. If you don’t put your family first, you’ll probably regret it later on.

But I also stress the importance of prioritization when it comes to daily roles and responsibilities. Couples naturally tend to micromanage, and this can spill over into your business as co-founders. It’s crucial to set clear and separate areas of focus so each person can take ownership without crossing into each other’s lanes.

2) Celebrate the victories, both big and small

Recognize the value of what you are building as partners in life and business, and celebrate the wins along the way. Running a successful company can be highly rewarding, and even more so when you’re doing it with your life partner. We always promote encouragement, both at work and at home, to ensure we’re both present. We also make sure that we recognize the achievements and milestones we’re most proud of, no matter how small they might be. You’d be surprised how far a compliment can go, whether you’re giving them or on the receiving end of one.

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3) Over-communicate

I really can’t underscore the importance of speaking to one another. This is essential to the success of any venture. Don’t bottle things up until they explode. Freely voice concerns, updates, share ideas, and even chat about things unrelated to your work. Of course, not every conversation has to be about your business–it shouldn’t be–but they should all have meaning and purpose. It might be to help you decompress, or gain a better understanding of what the other person is going through that day.

4) Trust your team

As entrepreneurs, my wife and I often have the mindset that we’re the only ones who can or are willing to do specific tasks, which can lead to work that is less productive and doesn’t add a lot of value.

But we found that the more we delegate work and communicate with each other and our employees, the more we find our employees willing to “get their hands dirty.” When you’re passionate about your venture, it can be contagious so have faith in your partner and team.

I get it. It’s tough to let go of control. But think about why you hired your team members in the first place. To free up time to work on the business, rather than in it. Don’t let your control freak tendency take over.

5) Don’t forget to take care of yourself

The stress of managing your own venture is unlike a “normal” career. At times, you feel as though you are carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. Between running your company, being a good spouse, and taking care of your children, it’s easy to let self-care fall by the wayside. But this isn’t good for you or your company. A burned-out founder will not be an effective leader. Front’s CEO and co-founder Mathilde Collin previously wrote for Fast Company, “to give the company my all, I needed to learn when to step back so that it doesn’t suck me whole. After all, building a company is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.” Without taking time to recharge, your company isn’t going to be sustainable in the long run.

I’ve found that having a partner who shares your business endeavors is unique and helpful since we can fully understand our day-to-day, what frustrates us, and what gives us joy. Yes, it has its challenges, but in looking out for each other, we’re able to achieve the level of balance of happiness that we want in our lives.

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Ben Harrison is a social entrepreneur and founder & CEO of Jonas Paul Eyewear, an innovative startup focusing on helping children feel beautiful in their glasses and preventing childhood blindness in the developing world.

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