We’ve been busy around here; we’ve been learning how to be business partners.
It’s been a while since I’ve checked in on the blog. Last month I wrote about my grand plan for weekly check-ins, and well, I think we all know how that turned out. But I’m not getting down on myself for not sticking to my plan. We’ve been busy learning how to be business partners.
When Evan and I first started telling people of our plan to work together, the number one question we heard was “do you think you can work together?” This was usually followed by a self disclosure of, “because I could never work with my husband/wife. We would drive each other crazy.”
This part – essentially, how we would get along – was never a concern for us. If you’ve read our UCSD Love Story, you know that we’ve basically been a functional team since 2001. We’ve spent years learning how to navigate life together, and we both felt incredibly confident in our ability to work together professionally. In many ways, running a business was the natural next step for us.
But being business partners is different than being husband and wife. And running a business is different from running a household. There are many similarities, but it’s not the same.
Working together has added a new layer to our relationship.
In our old lives, we didn’t spend much time interacting with each other’s “work personas”, but now we’re getting to see these people in action all the time – sometimes it’s inspiring and other times it’s frustrating.
We’re coming to the business with very different skills and experiences and learning how these can fit together. Evan has nearly two decades of experience doing web development; I’ve never worked in tech before. He’s been working as a one-man show for ten years; I’ve always been part of a larger team. He’s learning how to lead, while I’m gaining knowledge and building my confidence in a new field.
We have new challenges and new stresses, but we’re also more invested in each other than ever before.
When I think about it, it all sounds pretty chaotic. So, what are we doing to minimize the chaos? And how are we fostering our professional relationship?
We’ve created work spaces in separate places
When we decided to work together, one of the first conversations we had was about where I would actually work. Evan has a small office in our home, and while there’s technically room for my desk, we both knew this was not ideal. We would have been back to back in the office, invading each other’s physical and mental spaces, and probably creating a lot of unnecessary interruptions for each other.
Instead, we opted to build my workstation across the house in our bedroom. Having our own spaces has helped us to create healthy boundaries and be more intentional about how we spend our work time in the house. It’s built my confidence in my own work as well, since I can’t just turn around and ask a question whenever I feel like it. I mean, I can, but I would need to get up and walk across the house to do that, so I usually end up finding my own solution or holding my question for a more opportune time, which saves us both from an extended interruption.
We’ve set weekly business meetings to talk about all things business (and a few things life)
In the spirit of minimizing interruptions and maximizing our work time we’ve set up weekly meetings to address what I would call the “big rocks” of business and life: new clients and proposals, ongoing projects and their statuses, marketing ideas, finances, upcoming meetings, childcare, etc.
These meetings are long – usually 2-2.5 hours, but they have been super helpful during this time of transition. They have helped me to learn the business and given me the space I need to ask questions, seek clarification, and express my concerns. These conversations have also help us to prioritize our work and ensure that we are on the same page every week.
We are open to constructive feedback and learning from each other
Evan’s way better at this than I am, but we’ve both done a really good job at just being open to what the other has to say and hearing it as constructive feedback. There have been several times that I’ve critiqued Evan’s approach to a client or project proposal. These aren’t easy conversations, but he’s been open to hearing what I have to say, knowing very well that this type of peer review is exactly what his business was lacking for so many years.
On the flip side, I’m carving out a career in a new field and learning every day. I don’t have the experience that Evan has on so many levels. Sometimes I make mistakes or need more instruction and guidance than we thought. Making a career change is a humbling experience. So is running a business. We’re getting through this transition period by providing each other with patience and grace.
We’ve embraced the language of us
Evan gets all the credit for this one. I would still be calling it Evan’s business instead of our business if it weren’t for the fact that he changed his language on day one. As soon as we made the decision to work together, he was using the phrases our business, our projects, our clients…you get the idea.
At first this made me uncomfortable because it wasn’t really my business yet. And all those projects that happened in the past, they were his, not mine, right? But once I got over feeling uncomfortable, I realized this small change made our partnership real. Real for me, real for Evan, and real for everyone we talked to.
By no means is this a road map to building a successful business with your partner (but hopefully I’ll be writing that blog post one day). Minimal Chaos is still a work in progress. We’re learning as we go and making changes every day.