We're often advised to keep our work lives and personal lives separate, especially when it comes to our romantic relationships. But if you find yourself working with your significant other because the two of you have decided to go into business together, here's some expert advice on how to navigate the sometimes tricky path, successfully.
Vanessa and Nate Quigley are the power couple behind Chatbooks, a startup that takes your Instagram photos off your mobile device and puts them right into your hands as beautiful books, with little to no work on your part. In an age when we're taking everything into the digital space, the Quigleys are disrupting the trend by taking things from the digital back to the physical — and are finding great success in doing so (Kim Kardashian recently shared her chatbooks on Snapchat).
The Quigleys had been together for about 20 years before they ever went into business together. The two met at college when they were just 18 and married at 21. Nate was on a business track while Vanessa pursued singing. By the time Nate got his MBA from Harvard Business School, they already had three kids, so had to do some adjusting while Nate was co-founding startups and Vanessa was starring in operas and musicals. In order for them to both pursue their passions, the Quigleys took turns coming home early and taking care of their growing family. Both extremely ambitious, they were able to make compromises to support each other in their individual pursuits.
The idea behind Chatbooks came when Vanessa had an "a-ha" moment while Nate was working on startup number three. Now a mother of seven, Vanessa dealt first-hand with the struggle of documenting her children's memories while balancing everything else in life. Because so much of how we capture moments today is on our phones, the idea for Chatbooks blossomed to bring the digital back to print. The Quigleys had always mused that "one day it would be so fun to work together," but they had obvious concerns about their personal worlds entering the workplace and negotiating power when both like being in charge. After about six months of Nate begging Vanessa to join him, she finally did.
Now, with their company and marriage both going strong, the Quigleys have proven that it's totally possible to go into business with your significant other, and do so with flying colors. I interviewed the Vanessa and Nate to see what advice they have to offer for other couples venturing into businesses together. They spoke about their initial concerns and challenges, while giving suggestions for setting yourself up for success, in the work place and at home.
1. Play by your own rules
It may seem counterintuitive, but the first rule of advice the Quigleys have to offer to couples going into business together is to not stick to any rules at all. Oftentimes when personal lives make their way into the workplace, there's a tendency to draw up boundaries and behave according to guidelines. These rules can backfire and can add unnecessary pressure when things are already stressful. Instead, the Quigleys say to approach the change naturally, seeing how you and your significant other adjust on your own, and find your own special formula for making things work.
2. Forget trying to achieve a work-life balance
When it comes to the topic of working with your significant other, there seems to be a school that subscribes to the idea that you should try to achieve a work-life balance. This viewpoint advocates keeping private life and work life separate. Surprisingly, the Quigleys recommend quite the opposite. Vanessa and Nate learned quickly not to try to ever work on a work-life balance. Instead, they let things naturally take their own course and see work and life as just living, not two separate entities that need to be isolated. By not setting up boundaries between work and home or stressing out about achieving some ideal "balance," the Quigleys were able to enjoy the possibilities that arise out of the natural fusion. Nate says he thinks of this model of life that integrates entrepreneurship as "the modern family farm." Their relaxed approach was a preemptive strike against the challenge of keeping the two lives separate and ultimately made both worlds more enjoyable.
3. Instead, embrace the fluidity between both worlds
Not implementing a clearly defined boundary between work and everything else allowed the Quigleys to approach their business more like a passion than a job. Rather than agreeing to snap out of work mode at the end of a workday like one would do with a nine-to-five job, they let their work become integrated into their lives organically and fluidly. Before she co-founded Chatbooks, Vanessa never wanted to talk about work at home. There was a barrier between Nate's work life and home life. Now that they're in business together, they have endless things to talk about on the subject of work. In the past, Vanessa says she would become resentful about the amount of time Nate had to spend working. Now that they're in it together, she's just as invested. When he works in bed, she gets motivated and wants to do the same. If anything, their work relationship has enhanced their personal relationship because it's brought about understanding and ignited a share passion.
4. Take a time out
Although you shouldn't exhaust yourselves trying to work toward a work-life balance, make sure you do take a time out from business now and then. While you'll find success in welcoming the business side of life into your personal life without hard set boundaries, it is healthy to allow yourself to break away completely from time to time. However you want to cut out time and space that's completely work-free is up to you. The Quigleys have decided that every Sunday is strictly family day. Again, remember that your best chance at success is no hard and fast rules, but doing what makes sense.
5. Make sure you're both the boss
While the Quigleys are against making any hard rules about your working relationship, they do insist on one super clear "don't." They argue it's imperative to make sure neither you nor your significant other is in charge. Just like any partnership, professional and otherwise, if there's an imbalance of power, chances are it's not going to be very healthy or sustainable. Both Vanessa and Nate love being in charge, so when they approach their positions in their own company, they make sure to keep in mind that they're both CEOs. Always be sure that neither one of you is reporting to the other. It's a partnership. If a hierarchy is created, it will negatively affect both your professional and personal relationship. In the workplace everything is give and take, and there will be times when either one or both of you will have to make adjustments and compromise. But as long as you both respect the other's position as equal players and stakeholders working toward a common goal, you'll be on the road for a successful partnership both at work and at home.
6. A healthy home relationship makes for a healthy work partnership
The Quigleys speak about their marriage as if it were a startup of its own, "The Vanessa and Nate Family Startup." Building a relationship, and especially a family, requires similar disciplines and adjustments required by a professional partnership. By the time the Quigleys co-founded Chatbooks, they had already been practicing the ins and outs of a successful partnership for 20 years.
If you're going into business with your significant other, before you're ever business partners, you're romantic partners. The state of your relationship before it gets professional can predict just how well things will pan out in the workplace. If you have a healthy relationship in your private life, it's going to translate into a great working relationship. A lot of the challenges of working with someone else in a professional partnership will have already been faced and conquered by the time you encounter them in a work setting. By the same token, if you haven't successfully overcome these challenges at home, it's unlikely you'll find success defeating them in a work setting. If your relationship is already struggling, trying to make things work at a professional level is going to result in an unholy nightmare. If you already have a healthy relationship, it provides a strong foundation for creating a professional relationship.
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