9 Epic Tips For Running A Trades Business With Your Spouse

Business is a crazy ride that many couples (especially in trades) choose or end up on together. In this "Ultimate Guide" learn how to make the process easier, more effective, and more fun!


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by Daniel in Staff, Time

9 Epic Tips For Running A Trades Business With Your Spouse

Business can be a wild roller-coaster. Yet it’s a ride many couples (especially in trades and construction) choose or end up on together.

There’s something about being in business with your one-and-only that’s very different from any other partnership.

So I’ve put together this “Ultimate Guide”: 9 practical tips to help you make the process easier, more effective and more fun!

# 1. Creating shared goals leads directly to greater happiness.

Many small-medium sized businesses lack any real direction. The first step is to get together to think about your long-term vision and set concrete goals. (If you don’t know what you both want, you’re unlikely to get there.)

Trisha Harp has studied the business/love combo and shares what her research found: “Entrepreneurs who set shared long-term business and family goals with their spouses scored higher in every area of satisfaction than those who didn’t…

Entrepreneurs who set shared business goals were 17% happier than those who didn’t, and 27% who set shared family goals reported higher levels of satisfaction. Of those who set shared family goals, 98% reported being still in love with their spouse.”

When I’m business coaching a husband and wife team, we look first at the big picture to get clear direction on where they’re heading with the business. They often tell me afterward: “We’ve never really talked about this stuff – and we needed to”.

Stay on the same page moving forward

To stay aligned, review your profit & loss, cashflow, and your key performance indicators regularly. This will give you both an accurate picture of how you’re doing and help you plan direction, set upcoming priorities, and keep you focused and in control.

The best way to tie all this together is to have “monthly board meetings” away from other staff. This kind of planning is important if you are to lead your company and team effectively, meet your commitments, make sound financial decisions… all of which affects more people than the two of you.

Your business doesn’t care if you’re sleeping together. The results it gives you will hinge only on how well you run things.

# 2. Basically, the things you need for a great marriage are things you need to succeed in business together, too.

In a recent Small Business Success podcast married business owners Lamar & Ronnie Tyler share about the importance of foundational respect, trust and communication.

Set a baseline of respect

They suggest implementing a “couples code of conduct” for work by asking “what lines aren’t we going to cross so that this doesn’t bleed into our marriage?”

I’ve used this concept in the past with business owner couples I work with, and they find it helpful, too. You can get agreement on things like:

  • Always have respect for each other, in and out of the home.
  • Never disrespect each other in front of other staff so that staff will have that same level of respect for your partner.
  • Discuss things in the same kind and professional manner you would when talking to other key staff members.
  • Either of you can call a “time out” if you feel things are getting out of hand or unproductive. You’ll step back, then revisit it later as the two of you against the problem and think about the most logical way to proceed. The enemy is the problem, not each other.

Trust your partner to follow through on their responsibilities 

You each need to “own” your part and be accountable for your responsibilities within the business. This means you do what you say you’re going to do. Sticking to your word breeds trust that things are going to get done.

It’s equally important the other half steps back to give you the space to follow through, even if their way of doing it is different than yours.

Of course, this starts at home. If your partner can’t trust you to do the small things they ask of you at home or follow through on an agreed promise, it may be difficult for them to trust you to handle the bigger things at work.

Successful teamwork is built on trust.

One idea I’ve found works well is having a short 5-minute “goals check-in” between the two of you at the start or end of each day. “Here’s what I’m working on. What are you working on?” kind of thing. It’s a great way to stay focussed and accountable.

Be intentional about communication 

Ronnie & Lamar share more great tips:

  • Don’t bring things up at the last minute or while you’re cooking dinner. Instead, be intentional – set aside times for regular catch ups to discuss business. And plan the weekly schedule in advance.
  • When talking to your spouse, take responsibility to make sure what you’re saying is clear, they’re hearing it, and have understood your point.
  • If you’re the one listening, you’re accountable too, to make sure you’re fully grasping what they’re saying. Repeat it back, so it’s not lost in translation.
  • Prioritise each other – even when busy.
  • Be honest about the good and the bad. Be supportive even when things seem to be going wrong.
  • Don’t compare yourselves to other couples. Just ask: “What works for us?”

If your spouse isn’t actively involved in day to day business, make sure there is space for them to be heard, especially when you’re making decisions for your trades company which may affect home life as well.

Recognise their contributions and all the ways they support you behind the scenes. Be open to help them buy in: “This is what I’m doing. Here are my results.”

# 3. Seek out other couples in business to put things in perspective.

Befriend other couples who know from experience what the roller coaster ride of owning your own business is like, the risk involved, and how it affects your relationship, lifestyle, family, schedules, and finances.

One wife, Becky, puts it like this: “Entrepreneurs are weird, and [others] can help give some perspective about what “normal” really looks like in this crowd…

After I spoke with some of the other wives, I realised that NONE of them filed their taxes on time, they all filed for extensions. After that, I didn’t feel so annoyed anymore when Derek filed in October.”

While I can’t recommend paying the IRD late, I think we can all relate to what she is saying about the “unique challenges” of being in business.

# 4. Set priorities and boundaries for a well-balanced life. 

Running a company can easily become all-consuming – with every waking hour sucked up by the business – and work/home becoming increasingly blurred.

So discuss in advance where the lines are going to be.

Schedule blocks of time for the important things like family and friends, holidays and recreation, health and fitness – instead of giving them the “leftovers”.

Regular time off is necessary not only for your relationship but also for your sanity and physical health (which the sustainability of your company depends on). After all, the reason you first went out on your own was probably to make good profits so you can provide for your family and have the lifestyle you want.

Establish ground rules for your time

Set the rules for how you’ll allow the business to impact your relationship and lifestyle. You might agree on things like:

  • Keep work at work (and home at home) as much as possible.
  • No work-talk during dinner.
  • Non-work hours (eg 5-7pm) or the time of night work-talk will stop.
  • The time of night computers/devices will be shut down.
  • Coffee dates, walks together, or dinners out once a week.
  • An agreed-upon rest day/family day (eg Sunday) with no work stuff till after 5pm on that day.

Have uninterrupted time with your family every day

It doesn’t always have to be a lot of time, but it does have to be regular and uninterrupted. During this time, your smartphone is turned off or put away; no checking emails or social media, calls go to voicemail.

Make family dinners a priority, and a habit. Find the time to sit down together, create a device-free zone, listen to each other, and talk about family stuff, not business.

Put holidays on the schedule

Even if it seems hard to find the time or money for a holiday, find it. It won’t make or break the business, but it will make things happier at home (and help your stress levels).

Family holidays build memories and ensure you don’t miss out on your kids growing up. Trips don’t have to be long or expensive, but you will need to book time out on your calendar to make sure it happens. Plan a getaway every 3-6 months as a good rule of thumb.

Maintain separate hobbies to create space

When you are together literally 24/7, it’s a good idea to take a break sometimes. Keep up your own interests, go to the gym, meet up with friends.

Make sure you also have physical space. Especially if you work from home, have separate workspaces (and not the dining room table).

The real key to freeing up your time is to have solid systems and staff so you feel comfortable leaving jobs and your biz can run without you always being there. This is even more important for couples – you need time off together or it’s bad news for romance.

# 5. If you have kids, be aware of how and when you talk about the business. 

Obviously, there’s still going to be plenty of biz-talk when you’re at home together, but check in regularly to assess the impact it’s having on the kids.

One mum talks about how her daughter’s behaviour changes alerted her there was a problem: “It turned out that my husband and I were acting more like business partners than parents at home…

We didn’t notice that dinner had become the time when we discussed business matters while we reviewed the work day. And in the morning we planned the work day at the breakfast table.”

The article goes on to offer sound advice: “A casual remark can snowball into working through dinner and talking over the kid’s heads as they eat. Take a breath and defer the conversation until later.”

So, be mindful of the Mum and Dad role you need to play at home.

Ultimately you want to be a good example to your kids of what it means to be self-employed and make good money with all the freedom and options that come along with being your own boss.

Recognise your season

If you’ve got young kids, cut yourself some slack, enjoy your little ones and set yourself up to win by getting as much help at home as you can.

Real world ideas: Set realistic goals. Be flexible. Be strategic about completing the important tasks first. Wake up super early and tackle paperwork while the kids are asleep. Delegate tasks like admin, cleaning, phones, marketing grunt work, and accounts.

# 6. Divide and conquer to be the best team you can be.

When it comes to structuring your roles within the business, Steve Distante (who runs a company with his wife) shares a nugget of experience: “Our success lies in respecting one another’s “super powers” and working within those zones as often as possible.”

Build around your strengths

Identify your strengths and abilities in business and leadership. Divide tasks accordingly. Assess who is better at, for example, scheduling the jobs for the week, or handling initial inquiries from clients, or dealing with staff, or following up late payers.

Use this knowledge to your advantage by planning to hire staff to assist you with the weak areas. Now you’ll be clear on what personality and expertise will best fill the gaps.

Getting the right people in the right roles is the key to efficiency in your business. This includes the two of you. Tests like DISCMyers Briggs and Strengths Finder can help if you need further insight.

Get specific about who’s doing what

Here’s something I’ve found crucial with tradie couples: That roles and responsibilities are clearly defined. Otherwise, some things get done twice, and others don’t get done at all. This causes a whole lot of wasted time and arguments.

Decide who is doing what and then trust each other to get it done. Don’t nag, nitpick or micro manage.

For each area of the business it should be clear:

  • Who is in charge
  • Who has the final say
  • Who staff are to report to

David & Carrie McKeegan explain how they make it work: “In our particular case, we each own a specific KPI (key performance indicator) for the business. David staffs our accountant team and ensures each one is performing at the highest level while Carrie focuses on new customer acquisition numbers…

While either person can and should input on approach and strategy, there is no question on who makes the final call”

# 7. Gratitude goes a long way. 

It’s common-sense someone who feels appreciated will do more than expected.

Did you know this is backed up by science? A survey of 4 million employees shows regular recognition and praise increases productivity, increases engagement within teams, stick-ability, increases loyalty and satisfaction scores from customers, and even better safety and fewer accidents on the job.

Another study found the happiest couples have a ratio of 5 positive interactions to every negative interaction. Apparently, happy couples pick up their partners attempts to get attention and give it 86% of the time (as opposed to 33% in couples who broke up). A smile, grunt or head nod to show you’re listening all count as positive interactions.

No doubt your spouse works harder in your company than any employee would.

Don’t take him or her for granted – look for the good. Tell them you recognise and appreciate their hard work. As the co-boss, if you don’t praise them, who will?

If you are feeling stuck in a rut and conflict is an issue, seek help. Don’t keep plodding along miserably. Bring in a good business mentor who can give an independent viewpoint and new ideas and approaches.

#8. Transfer of information can be a real sticking point.

You both need to understand a little about each other’s jobs and how they affect each other. This can be a game changer.

For example, cashflow hinges on when jobs are completed, and when they are billed. The job isn’t really finished until the invoice has gone out, the client is happy, and the money is paid.

Often (not always), it’s the female partner that’s handling the accounts. If the information she needs isn’t getting through (because he doesn’t fully understand what she does and why it matters, the urgency and the repercussions), all we end up with is hella frustration and no cash in the bank.

There needs to be good systems in place, time set aside for this to happen, open communication, clarity, good record keeping between each other, an interest in what each other is doing, and respect for the vital detail roles in the company.

# 9. Fix cashflow problems before they affect your sex life.

If you’re building a business with your partner, I’ve got some good news:

According to a Danish study of 1,069 couples who established joint enterprises, starting a business together provides significant income gains for the couple.

The same study also found that couples in business together are no more or less likely to separate, divorce or have kids.

And some bad news:

Remember Trisha Harp’s research about the benefits of shared goals? She also had this to say: 

“Our research shows that 87% of respondents have experienced cash flow problems at some point in time with their company… When entrepreneurs experience these cash flow problems, their sex lives decrease.”

Need I say more?

Let’s wrap this up.

Working together can be fantastic and bring so many benefits: connecting you on an even deeper level, better financially, and something you can share in together, if you have the right structures in place.

Focus on building shared goals, building your relationship with respect, trust and open communication, find other couples in business who get it, have uninterrupted family time, be mindful of the kids needs, play to your strengths, define clear roles, use gratitude, have systems for transfer of information, and whatever you do, stay on top of cashflow issues.

There are always ups and downs in business. Fair to say, sometimes it can be really tough for couples. You are more invested in the business and at home, and the stakes seem higher. Though you’re on the same team, it’s easy for things to get too intense.

Need to take the pressure off and get back on track? Book time to chat with me here


Get my new guide and find out the 5 simple steps to make your tradie business grow financially and get more cash in the bank. It's all steak, no popcorn.

Get it now