biz ladiesLife & Business

Biz Ladies: How to Run a Business with Your Partner

by Stephanie

Biz Ladies: How to Run a Business with Your Partner

Today’s Biz Ladies post comes to us from entrepreneur and food editor Rachel Hofstetter. During their own wedding planning, Rachel and her (now) husband Lorne decided that they wanted to connect their guests in a more intimate and entertaining way. They decided to create a magazine-style guestbook for each of their wedding attendees, and thus sparked the idea for their newest joint venture, guesterly. Today, Rachel shares a bit with us about what it’s like to launch, run and maintain a business with your significant other and how to make it all work seamlessly. Thanks for sharing your personal insight and knowledge with us today, Rachel. —Stephanie

Read the full post after the jump…

It sounds like a dream: Boy meets girl (or any variation of this classic love story), falls in love, and lives happily ever after. But today, there’s often a new step in the fantasy: boy meets girl, falls in love, starts a business/side hustle/ big deal project together, and wait…how do we get to happily ever after?

When I was interviewing successful food entrepreneurs for my book, Cooking Up a Business, I was surprised by just how many of my favorite companies were run by a duo who weren’t just business partners, but life partners. There was magic in these love-linked teams, and I loved seeing how they navigated both business and personal relationships together.

It’s a good thing I had some go-to role models, because I was so inspired by the entrepreneurs I wrote about that I then left my job as a magazine editor to start a business—with my (brand new) husband.

Luckily, the couples in my book had shared some of their practices and mindsets that make working with your partner both fulfilling and doable (and ultimately, make your relationship stronger as well!). Here’s what we’ve found makes a big difference. I would love to hear your own suggestions in the comments!

Biz Ladies: How to Run a Business with Your Partner

1. Pick a concept that you both love

It might sound obvious, but you should both LOVE and believe in what you’re creating. Having a collective vision and a “why” will keep you both motivated and passionate after your 100th late night in a row. It might be one person’s idea, but you should both think it’s world-changing, life-changing, and important—and feel equally invested in its success.

For example, my husband Lorne would never, ever have thought he’d start a wedding business, but he’s now fully invested in ours. That comes from our “why.” Lorne and I grew up on opposite sides of the country, and we knew our wedding guests would be coming from far and wide, and all areas of our life. So we came up with one key word that would guide our whole wedding planning focus: inclusive. We really wanted to celebrate and connect everyone, so we created mini-booklets that featured each guest and mailed them out a week before the wedding. It helped create just the inclusive atmosphere we strive to embody in all areas of our lives.

When friends began asking us to create the same booklets for their weddings, guesterly was born. Because we both believe in the concept so much—we’re helping people celebrate their friends and family and be inclusive—we’re aligned around the mission. And that means we both LOVE what we’re creating.

2. Brag on your partner like they’re a rockstar

Alex Hasulak and Maddy D’Amato, the founders of Love Grown Foods, are my dream-team inspiration: They started their granola company while they were still in college, and quickly grew it into a breakfast line that’s carried by 8,000 stores across the country. And whether they’re together or separate, they’re always sharing positive news and accolades about each other: “Maddy is so great at this.” “Alex was such a rockstar at that.” It doesn’t sound sappy or conceited when it’s true—just enthusiastic.

I saw this repeated with Kara and Theo Goldin of Hint Water, and Mary Walder and Dale Rodrigues of Mary’s Gone Crackers. Even though Kara and Mary were the ones doing the interviews for the book, they both made sure that their husbands’ contributions to the companies were sung from the mountains. The end result? Even if one partner is naturally more in the spotlight, both feel appreciated, recognized, and immensely important to the business. And it reflects well on both of you!

3. Find and own your wheelhouse

Chances are that each of you has a particular area you’re especially good at (or especially passionate about) when it comes to your business. And if not, find one! Then own your wheelhouse and take on a divide-and-conquer approach. Mary and Dale from Mary’s Gone Crackers are a great example of this. When they first started, Mary, who loved food and baking and came up with her (now famous) cracker, figured out how to make her crackers on a large scale and learned about operations, equipment, etc. Dale, on the other hand, handled finances and investors. Their roles have evolved as the business evolved: today, Mary leads product and brand development, while Dale leads all things financial and acts as CEO. They still consult and work together, but their day to day is based on divide and conquer.

It also helps to determine if each of you is what’s known as a “magical thinker” or a “logical thinker.” Magical thinkers have big bold ideas and want to explore everything—they’re amazing at seeing new ideas. Logical thinkers are more straightforward and are focused on getting stuff done. Both mindsets are important, and there’s a good chance that you and your partner approach life from one of these perspectives—something which becomes even more obvious when you go into business together. Just as you find and own your wheelhouse when it comes to what you do, it’s helpful to know how each of you think. Big ideas + get stuff done = winning team.

4. Create and guard non-work downtime

When your work and life are completely intertwined, sometimes it’s next to impossible to separate them. When I was writing Cooking Up a Business, I heard lots of strategies and reasons why it’s important to carve out a little non-work time. One strategy: a monthly date afternoon (seriously…the entrepreneurs in my book say that, on average, it takes about four years before a business calms down enough that you can start taking regular weekends!).

I understand: Because our business is such a high priority right now, we kept re-scheduling a date every time something (semi) urgent or (semi) important came up last minute. Nights were pushed later and later. So we now start with lunch and hang out all afternoon, thereby guaranteeing a proper amount of time to unplug and try something new (a bike ride around town, for example). The best part? I plug date afternoon and a few nights off into the calendar at the beginning of the month, so we can look forward and prioritize them. And while we can talk big picture guesterly stuff, no nitty gritty work talk (or planning, or to-do listing) is allowed!

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  • This is such great insight. I just started an ice cream sandwich company with my wife. Luckily we fall into the do-er and dreamer roles very easily. Now (as the do-er) I need to plan those days/hours off and remember to not put together a list of things we could be doing right at that moment. Thanks so much, I’m sharing with my Wife/Dreamer/Champion/Business partner.

  • Hi,I looked on the “guesterly” site and couldn’t find a link to an example…….
    Ir would be great to see an example book….did i not see the link or are there no examples…just sign up?:-(

  • Hi Ruth,
    There should be a box at the bottom of the page that lets you sign up for a free sample book. I can’t post the direct link here, but please let me know if you have difficulty finding it! Right above the footer bar.

  • I just stumbled across this site and so far absolutely love it. Thanks for a great article. I run an Etsy shop that currently has me considering on hiring someone, most likely my husband. I think the best thing about this article is creating the non-work downtime. It’s very true that when you have a small business, even when just one person is 100% involved in it, it takes up their life. Fostering a work life balance is key.

  • Working with my wife from home on a handmade artisan business has taught me a whole lot – especially that there has to be time when we are not at work – and that we ultimately exercise control over who does what and when – not customers, clients or deadlines.
    It was a revelation to realize we could hand up the ‘closed’ shingle when we wanted and not feel guilty about it. The business is ours – not the other way round!

  • Hi. This is such an inspiring story to me. I am about to start a small business with my business partner. I’m hoping one day he could be a life partner, too which I think it is possible to happen.