My Biggest Challenge as a Spousepreneur

I just came up with this line about Spousepreneurs before a speaking engagement this past week

Dual-flex career couples who are creating their dream lives & families together, making lasting changes in the world.  Hopefully, not too cheesy, but it perfectly describes what I speak about when describing my life with my own family.

When I speak about Spousepreneurs, it’s from personal experience.  My husband and I are business partners too and have been married for 15 years.  Between the two of us, we have 3 businesses and 2 more in the works.  I am on two pretty time-consuming (yet exciting) boards and so is he.  We are always dreaming about what business comes next and which one deserves more attention right now than the others.  It’s a huge juggling act between soccer games, a new puppy (as much work as a new baby, right?), hanging out with the extended family, church, trying to stay healthy by eating right and working out, as well as volunteering for causes you and your family feel passionate about.

But at any moment, we change our plans to fit what’s best for our family.  This is the future of work for all of us–flexible work on both sides of gender, which is definitely a culture shift for the traditional suit-and-ties, but a lot more fun.

However, the biggest challenge for me is not big…it’s all the little things that fall through the cracks.  It’s the…

  • Orthodontist appointment I forgot to make for 3 months and now my 9-year old has to keep his braces on a few months longer
  • Bills that are a few weeks late because they got lost in my email
  • Acquaintances who I haven’t been able to get to know better and schedule coffee with
  • Permission slip for the new sitter to pick up the kids from school that I forgot, and she’s sitting in the car pool line
  • Emails I have to send to coaches of the kids’ team about why they missed practice
  • Missed follow-ups for new clients
  • All the social media stuff I “should” be doing if I read the regular marketing propaganda
  • It’s the special vitamins I told my mom I would buy for her, and I keep forgetting to get them when I am at Whole Foods
  • AND on and on…

All the little things add up to something big, and if I keep thinking about this, I could add probably 10 more bullet points for the week.  But I always go back to the title of that little book that we all bought many years ago just because we liked the title, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff”.  It’s so true and so important, yet so simple.  Why can’t we do this?  It’s a muscle that has to be developed for all Spousepreneurs, and we are still beginners at it too.  As I get older, I realize how the big things are more important to focus on…

I love my first boss’ favorite rule:  “Let’s get 80% of it right and then the other 20%, we will figure out along the way.”  

I’d love to hear about your biggest challenge as a Spousepreneur… Or even your tiny ones that make up to a big one.  If we focus on the goal of having the life we want and the life & family flexibility that we desire to have, all the big and little challenges are worth it.  Share your thoughts with me…I’d love to hear them!

The Impetus for Spousepreneurship

  • Why did you start working with your spouse?  spousepreneurs
  • Was it intentional? Did you fall into it together? Did you meet while starting up the business? 
  • Why do you like your current arrangement together?  Are you accomplishing your goals by working together?  
  • What can you do differently in your partnership to shift the dynamic toward your vision for yourself, your relationship and your business? 

My husband, Dan, and I did not intentionally say to each other,”Let’s start a business together” or “let’s be entrepreneurs and have our own businesses”.  We just did it.  Most of you probably have too.  You trust each other, you know what each other is good at, and you know you can count on your partner to be motivated toward the same goals.

Some of you (the enlightened Spousepreneurs) have chosen this path intentionally.  I LOVE THAT!  I hope more of you out there will do this too.  However, it takes lots of planning and I dare say, that coaching can help guide you through the process.  You can design together your “partnership agreement” so that you both are clear about how you want this to go and you can design into your strategy, check-ins with an outside party (maybe it’s another couple who are Spousepreneurs like you are).

The key is to keep learning and growing and evolving as your business, your life and your family evolve.  We are not stagnant beings so there may come a day, when being a Spousepreneur isn’t fun anymore, and that’s when you need reexamine your partnership agreement to see if anything needs to change and be updated.

More on this later…but if you have some answers to those questions at the top of the blog, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

As a little bonus here, follow @WeFoughtAbout on Twitter–it’s a couple who shares everything they fight about.  So funny!



Spousepreneurs: What is Your Trigger?

Working and living with the same person can be the most delightful and the couple arguingmost frustrating thing at the same time.  We all know exactly what I am talking about when I say “trigger”…the Emotional Intelligence school calls it the “Amygdala Hijack”, where your instinctive emotional behavior overtakes any sanity and self-control that you may have had in the first place.  Stress causes our triggers to be more touchy and sets us off more quickly. Signs that we are triggered may include:

  • Feeling intense or inappropriate feelings out of proportion to the situation (overreacting)
  • Being De-skilled (all of your competencies and expertise get cloudy)
  • Deer-in-the-headlights: Paralysis or the inability to take action
  • Feeling out of control

As a Spousepreneur, what is your trigger?  It may be a logistical issue that you have when juggling schedules and family time with your spouse.  For me, it’s when we are both working at the dining room table, with our laptops out, pecking away side by side. It sets me off because it reminds me that we are not “being present” with each other and the kids.  It’s hard to avoid, but I usually ask,”Are you going to the office today?” And if Dan says “no, I’m working from home”, I tend to hightail it out of the house to the office.  I don’t know why this is a trigger for me.  I am still exploring it, but it’s very real and I can feel it in my body when the trigger sets me off. And believe me, this isn’t the only one.  There are many others, but the first step is being aware of it.  Then, discussing it at later time with your spouse (DO NOT DO IT RIGHT IN THE MOMENT, YOU WILL REGRET IT).

No Awards for Family Members in the Business

employer feedbackHere is an excerpt from a recent blog post in the Family Business Magazine called “Being Discreet About Praising Kids Work”.

“Family business owners who are trying to bring next-generation members along would be wise to pay particular attention to this research tidbit. The risk of staff resentment is already considerable when a next-generation member comes aboard. Chan and Sengupta’s findings indicate that senior family members who loudly tout a young relative’s accomplishments might exacerbate the problem.

The best way to fight accusations that family members owe their jobs to nepotism is for family hires to demonstrate competence and humility. Their elders can help by maintaining high standards for next-generation members — and by being discreet and judicious with the plaudits.”

Ok, now for my opinion.  (That’s why you are here, right?)  This is a tough subject.  As someone who has worked in the family business, and left because I wanted to get honest performance feedback to grow my career–both good and bad, this is a rub for me.  I also know family members who work (or worked) in the business, were high performers, but never got an award for it and very minimal praise.

NOW, do I completely agree with the quote above talking about demonstrating “competence & humility” while working in the family business?  Absolutely YES.  I am a huge proponent of Next Generation Leaders being above par and working over and above what their “expected” to do in the family business.

This is my soapbox and this is why I am a coach specifically targeted to this niche.  NextGens in family businesses do not get a lot of honest feedback–either good or bad, or maybe more good than bad, or maybe more bad than good.

The point is that having a third party involved to help coach your future leaders is so important because it’s next to impossible for them to get it being the boss’ kid.  The message will always be skewed for them coming from either a family member boss, or a non-family leader.  It’s very rare to have a mentor/boss/leader at your family business who can help challenge and mentor you at the same time.

If you are a Next Generation leader of your family business and want to take over the business in the future, you had better be getting feedback (both good & bad) from an outside source (hopefully, it’s a job outside the business first) so that you get it wired in your brain that growth, change and being open to all kinds of feedback is a necessary path to great leadership.

Firing a Family Member is Never Easy

It’s really challenging employing your family.  Sometimes, it’s the worst possible mistake you could have made.  It always sounds good at the beginning…they know you best, they will be loyal, responsive, and you don’t have to interview anyone!  However, if you get into a sticky situation like a lot of family businesses, you will have to end up firing a piece of your flesh and blood.  This hurts.  Here are a few practical tips that will ease this situation and hopefully, in the near future, you will have improvements on the relationship AND the business side of the equation.fired employee

1) Family Employment Policy:  Best practice for all family businesses is to have some type policy regarding family members.  It doesn’t have to be formal and lengthy (it may just be an educational requirement, like having a college degree) but it should be known, communicated to all family, including the family members outside the business.

If you don’t have a policy yet, but you are experiencing poor performance from a family member, putting off dealing with it will just make matters worse for the business AND the family.

2) “It’s not you, it’s me”–Job Requirements:  Use this as an opportunity to evaluate a few employees at once, so that this family member doesn’t feel singled out.  Do a cursory evaluation of business requirements and needs, see how your business is changing and use the opportunity to get clear about job specifics and how the family employee is not performing to what is needed in the job that he or she holds. I’ve seen more times than not, the family employee “resigns” when he/she sees that they will not be qualified or capable themselves to do the “new” job.

3) Socialize & Communicate:  This process must be socialized with the family once you have decided on what approach to take.  One-on-one meetings or calls with individual family members is the most effective way to keep already challenging family dynamics from escalating.  Share the process, the new policy going forward, and what you are trying to do to clarify roles at the company so that you can serve your customers better.

4) Utilize your Advisors: If you don’t think this will go well, enroll the help of your advisors.  They have a lot of wisdom and can also be someone to “share the blame” with.  Advisors are there to help you professionalize and improve your business.  They will most likely be counseling in this direction anyway.  If you have an advisory board or council, then this can be the “family employment evaluation committee” and can provide some independence to the process.


Spousepreneurs: The Tipping Point

I love the book, The Tipping Point that Malcolm Gladwell wrote back in 2000.  It’s a classic and is relevant for all types of people, careers, businesses, and organizations.  The tag line is, “How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference”.  The definition he gives is, “That magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tops and spreads like wildfire.” It’s the catalyst for change.

tipping overMany Spousepreneurs who have businesses together say that there was a “Tipping Point” that got them to this place of working with their spouse.  It could have been a tragedy, job loss, business growth uptick (and the other spouse needed help), or whatever, but there is usually something that gets couples into business together.  I’d love to hear what you Tipping Point was.  That magic moment…

However, a lot of the time, Spousepreneurs don’t realize they are Spousepreneurs.  They fell into it.  There isn’t a defining magic moment. The other possible scenario is that they have big jobs that spill over into their family & personal life that is hard to compartmentalize.  Their work, career or business is another chair at the dinner table, even subconsciously.  (Your kids are very intuitive–don’t think they don’t see it.) It effects their family system so much, it takes on the form of a family business–where family and business are usually inseparable.  I know all about this…I am a Spousepreneur.  It’s not always easy.

In coaching we use a concept called “Reframing”.  Reframing takes a completely different look at a reoccurring problem.  My goal in coaching Spousepreneurs is to get them to be positively intentional about their life choices and to work together to be successful at their family, personal, business and life goals.

Family Employment…what to do when Tommy Boy wants a job.

I have been in a number of situations lately where I was asked about Family Employment in Family Businesses.  This always feels like a loaded question.  Either the senior generation has already brought Jr. into the business, or they are worried that they will want too join soon, OR they are excited and optimistic about working with their children and want to bring them in as soon as possible.

I shared my philosophy with a multi-generational family recently.  It’s imperative that you educate your children at a young age about hard work, what makes the business money, and that they will have to work just as hard as everyone else (and in most cases–harder) than other employees to get the knowledge and skills to eventually succeed in ownership transfer to the next generation.

young entrepreneurs quote by mark zuckerburg

A few tips…
  • —Ultimately, you decide on your family employment policy as a family team
  • —Best Practice is to get external experience for 2+ years and show upward potential.
  • —Evaluate needs of the business matched to strengths, experience and competencies.
  • Build Honest Feedback into the process.
  • —Equating outside experience to internal level.
  • —Advisory Boards can help establish criteria and review family IDPs.
  • —Family Members in the business have multiple hats to wear and must understand the differences.
  • —It’s a big responsibility to be an owner AND an employee.  It automatically puts you in the leadership role.
  • — Intentional oversight of development is crucial for success.

Next Generation Coaching is a great way to be intentional about the path to ownership.  Doing an assessment of strengths, talent and experience, and then creating Individual Development Plans for each future leader is important along the way to set them up for success.  Coaching future leaders through this process is imperative to the future success of the family enterprise.  This is my sweet spot, so give me a call if you want to discuss a process like this for your family business team.

Women on Boards in Philly…my hometown!

I couldn’t resist posting an excerpt from an article in Directors & Boards magazine, written by Jim Kristie.  He titled it “A Philadelphia Story…and a women on boards story.”  Two of my favorites topics.   I am sure this is very typical of other cities across the nation too, but the stat at the bottom is astounding…and embarrassing.  I love my city.  I hope this changes!

City of Philadelphia pic

Here is an excerpt…by Jim Kristie

“I am having a “be careful what you wish for” moment.

I write this having just returned from the City of Philadelphia Mayor’s Office. I was there to witness Mayor Michael Nutter signing into law Bill 130457. This new law “requires contractors seeking to do business with the City of Philadelphia to disclose certain demographic information including gender, race and geographic data of those serving as board members and executive staff.”

Fundamentally, what this bill is all about is an effort to address the gender and racial imbalance on Philadelphia metropolitan area corporate boards. If you want to do business with the City of Philadelphia, the administration is now going to take a long hard look at your board of directors. This is a region where 40 of the top 100 companies have no women on their boards.”

Well, at least now they are required by law to disclose the diversity stats of their boards.  That doesn’t mean there will be change, but that does mean that there will be more attention paid to this issue.

Come on, Twitter…seriously, all men?

Twitter, Women and Boards…

I am loving ‘s article in the NYTimes about the discussion on why Twitter should have at least one female board member as they head down the IPO

path this week.  The comments are even better!

I have experienced 3 different boards now in my very short career as a board member, and I can tell you that from my perspective…boardroom

1) It’s challenging being the only female on a board  (maybe lonely is a better word) and

2) When you do have a good mix of diversity, male and female, and also ethnic/racial diversity AND diversity of industry experience…

THE CREATIVE, BRAINSTORMING PROCESS is immeasurable better and the energy in the room is much more stimulating.  I know there is all this research out there about this very thing, but to actually experience it first-hand is so powerful and exciting! (And the board room is usually low to medium on the excitement spectrum, although I am a bit of a geek when hearing about innovation, growth, HR creativity and strategy issues)

Speaking to my fellow male board members, I am not throwing you under the bus.  Some of you have been incredible mentors for me in this process and do encourage me to speak up and share my voice because it’s different and needed and respected.  And many of you know that women are needed in the boardroom and want us to be there.  Thank you.

I would love to see more mentoring of “young board members” as guests at board meetings to nurture future leaders and board members to aspire to board governance.  This is a topic we discuss often in the Family Business world–good sustainable governance over generations and how to develop future leaders starts young.  You have to start educating the future leaders of your company, including future board members very young–I’ve seen programs in place as young as 15 to develop “Junior Boards” to be mentored by the “Senior Board” members. Unfortunately, I don’t see much of this being discussed in the public company world out there.  Maybe some of you have been a part of a program like this somewhere.  Let me know.  I would love to hear about it.

I have to give props to World Vision US here and my own family company.  They are both developing me as a board member and allow me the same airplay as the other board members and expect me to share my perspective because it provides diversity and different ideas that people 20 years older than me wouldn’t think of.

I would love to see more of my colleagues and friends who are smart, successful women to aspire to be on boards.  This is a topic I do coach women on and am so thrilled when they take that first step onto a board.  That is true excitement in the boardroom!

Here is the article:


What is a Spousepreneur?

ID-10098435I keep getting questions about the subject of my book, “Spousepreneurs”.  I’m not sure yet if that will be the title per say, but it’s what I feel I need to write about.

Here is what I would like to do with the book…

  • To inspire couples in business together to have great relationships, healthy families, and big profits.
  • To help couples define and clarify their family, life & business strategy
  • To support and encourage couples who feel like they are “alone” in the process of growing their businesses and relationships

You are a Spousepreneur if you are a..

  • Entrepreneur and are in a committed relationship;
  • Couple in a family business
  • Couple who have multiple businesses between the two of them (That’s me!)
  • Have a demanding job that creeps into your family life

Eventually I’d like to do some Spousepreneur retreats to get couples to slow down, reflect/check-in on their business & their relationship, strategize about their businesses and get solutions to their business issues, create a bigger vision for their family life and what’s important to them, network with other Spousepreneurs in their city.  Reconnect with their cool, hip, inner self when they first met.

That’s it…sounds pretty ambitious, but every single Spousepreneur that I have coached says it’s challenging and rewarding at the same time and sometimes they don’t have time to slow down.  I hope this will give them space to think about their collective vision and why they do what they do.

Stay tuned…