Over my career, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to live a “good life.” I’ve been contemplating how I define and whether I inhabit this phrase that, in a nutshell, describes success. And I’m confident I do. All while living and working with my spouse, 24/7.
When people ask me what I do and I tell them I own and run a remodeling company with my husband, the response is either, “I could never do that,” (said with a shudder) or “How does that work? It’s hard to imagine,” (said with genuine interest). Over twenty five years ago, when we started our business, we didn’t plan for it to be a family business. I was practicing law full time, we had two young children, and my husband was launching the company. In the evenings, we huddled in our home office. I wrote our contracts and did the accounting, while Paul estimated his next jobs. Then, while I was in the midst of a three-week trial and Paul was embarking on his largest project to date, we realized the course we set for ourselves was unsustainable. We sat down, discussed it and decided that I would make remodeling my focus and join Paul in the business full time.
Owning and operating a remodeling company with your spouse is not always easy, but for us it has been rewarding, personally and financially. We’ve grown, individually and together, as we’ve learned how to marry our personal lives with our business. It’s been exhilarating, frustrating, rewarding, mindnumbing, and everything in between. In every sense of the phrase, it’s been a good life for us. Why? Because it has afforded us the ability to live the lives we desire, pursue the creative avenues we crave, and raise our children the way we wanted.
The first few years were full of compromise and adjustment. A few things that we did that made the world of difference in not just surviving, but thriving, include the following:
Create an organizational chart and clearly define who fits where and what he/she is responsible for.
This was hard to do in the beginning because we were the only two on the chart, but even then it had an impact. Putting down on paper who was responsible to whom, on what issues, clarified the chain of command and helped us see our discussions in a business context. We both had to decide what we would be responsible for, while honestly and meaningfully defining boundaries. So, we defined, developed and maintained clear roles for both of us in the company’s management and operations, recognizing and maximizing our individual strengths. And the company’s success flowed from that foundation. It also made it a lot easier to take our egos and feelings out of the equation.
Clearly delineate work from home: everything from the physical space to communications.
Our first office was in our home. While we had a separate phone line for the business, we could still hear the phone ring, even if it was after hours. Although it was difficult, we made the office space just for work. No toys were in there for the kids and we didn’t bring any files or papers into other parts of our house. We didn’t answer the phone after hours (we do have to admit, though, that one of us would often slink into the office and review voice mail if we had a particularly difficult project or client). We also tried not to discuss business after hours. When we moved into our office a few years into the business, it was the best decision we ever made. It gave us the physical separation we needed to really begin to respect a work/life balance.
Agree to and write down ground rules and a set of inviolate, guiding principles.
We began by defining our core values and what behaviors we believed most fully reflected those values. From there, we drafted our mission statement and the philosophy by which we wanted to run our company. For us, family had to come first. That meant sometimes foregoing the larger, sexier jobs so that Paul would have time to coach our kids in basketball. Our core values have informed all the business decisions we have made. When we are presented with a thorny problem, we try to step back and ask ourselves how each solution we are proposing will fulfill our mission and be consistent with our principles. That has been a powerful tool for us.
Find a peer group that is similarly situated.
The fear of impacting our personal relationship was often difficult to overcome – especially when we found ourselves at crossroads about how to manage business decisions. One decision we made relatively early was pivotal to our success. We joined a peer review group, Remodeler’s Advantage. We began meeting with ten similarly situated, but noncompeting remodeling companies from across the country. It was in those meetings, for the first time, that we met other couples who were also running their companies together and were willing to share their stories. It was there, within a container that was confidential and unflinchingly honest, that we found the courage to have the hard conversations about how our business and personal lives intersected and how best to position the former for success while fully supporting the latter. Having others who understood us and our situation made us feel understood and less alone. And having those people a phone call away was invaluable!
Working with your spouse can be a challenge but, if done with a willingness to be open and honest the rewards are immeasurable. At this juncture, looking back over several decades of building a successful business, with my husband by my side, I can unequivocally say that I’m a lucky woman who is living not just a good life, but the best one for me.