How couples who work together, stay together

To celebrate Valentine’s Day, My Business asks a number of business owners how they ensure their relationship survives the ups and downs of operating a business with their beloved.

Love is in the air, in the words made famous by John Paul Young. Each year, couples everywhere unite – either to celebrate the day of love that is Valentine’s Day, or to jointly curse the consumerism that suggests love and romance are a once-a-year affair.

Many couples spend the day together, however, not soaking in a hot tub or on a romantic getaway, but by toiling at work to continue building the business they jointly own and operate.

My Business is dedicated to trying to help everyone in business get a grip on those cumbersome tasks and see the light during those difficult days. Yet given that working with the same person you go home with each night presents a whole new set of challenges over and above those every business owner faces, we thought it only timely to seek views on how business owners keep the romance alive and the conflicts to a minimum when working alongside their Valentine.

Here’s what they had to say…

Bernadette and Scott Finney, Nucifera ProductsScott and Bernadette Finney

Bernadette and her husband Scott (pictured right) have been in business together since they were married some 25 years ago. Scott’s primary business is in contract aerosol filling, but in 2015, the couple launched a new business called Nucifera Products, initially manufacturing and wholesaling organic coconut oil cooking spray as a healthier alternative to other cooking oils.

More recently, in December 2016, the couple extended their product range to a coconut oil personal lubricant, called Private.

In both instances, Bernadette says their innovations have come about because of a personal desire for better, healthier and non-allergenic product options – and it is this shared desire that helps them develop and market their products together in business.

“I think if we had done something like Private when we first got married, it would have been very difficult to navigate as a couple. But for personal reasons, I feel lucky to be with someone who has the same personal passion and drive – we did have to sink a lot of funds into the product. I feel really fortunate that we work together,” says Bernadette.

Another key benefit of working with your partner, Bernadette suggests, comes down to trust.

“Being in business together is also the trust factor – there is no question of individual motives,” she says.

Bernadette’s tips

Listen to each other: “I think there is a time to speak and a time to be quiet. I’ve just learnt to shut up and learn to listen to what he has to say. Once I’ve digested and taken on board the points he’s making, a lot of what he is raising is very valid, so that helps diffuse any blow ups.”

Have a trusted mediator if you reach a stalemate: “[Our daughters] have actually been really good. If we can’t get to a place where we both agree, they bring in a younger mindset and we listen to their points of view.”

Communicate openly, as you (should) do in your relationship: “I never make decisions on my own, big or small; it alleviates unnecessary arguments, both at work and at home.”

Switch off: “We try not to talk about business over meals, and plan date night once a week.”

Sebastian Alvarez and Jessica PaceJessica Pace and Seb Alvarez, In An Instant Photography

For photographers Seb and Jess, working together isn't such a problem given that the nature of their business means they are essentially 'partying' together.

“The good thing is, with what we do, we’re a photo booth, so we want to make sure we’re having a great time; if we’re not, guests feel that bad vibe,” says Seb.

As such, Seb says that both he and Jess have become very good at taking a deep breath and a reality check to overcome minor frustrations rather than let them fester and become bigger problems.

“Jess started in business in 2009, and then we started going out the following year, but I’ve known Jess for about 10 years. The business has really been hitting its absolute stride in last two or three years,” explains Seb.

“When I started within the business, I was just helping Jess snapping polaroids while she used the digital camera. For me, it was about bringing up my game and being at par with Jess. That initial period – I was throwing my personality into the mix to, and Jess wasn’t used to it, so we had to figure out how to have both of us at the forefront. There was some initial ... not tension, but a lot of ground to cover.”

When it comes to taking a break from work to enjoy each other's company, Seb says the solution is fairly simple: leave the tools at work.

“The matter of switching off is putting all the devices aside. So it is pretty easy to just leave it at home and enjoy each other’s company,” he says.

Seb's tips

Respect your partner at work as you would at home: “Your partner is your work colleague and your best friend, so there is that beautiful respect you have to take on with you.”

Communicate openly: “Not every idea is a great one, but it’s still a good idea regardless, so we try to foster that open communication forum between us.”

Felicity and Paul Rogers, Cargo CrewFelicity and Paul Rogers, Cargo Crew

It was around 2002 that Felicity Rogers founded her custom uniform business, and from the very beginning, her husband Paul would lend a hand when needed. However it wasn’t until three years ago that he joined the business officially, as its operations director.

“He used to help me tape boxes at night and always do all that stuff from day dot, so he’s always been a big part of the business,” says Felicity.

The couple also has another member of the family working in their ranks, with Felicity’s sister Narelle having joined the business around 2008.

“We always say that we’re a combination of left and right brain: Paul does much more operational and technical and my sister and I are very creative thinkers, so I think it works well.

“We all know exactly what each other brings, and how much we need each other.”

Felicity’s tips

Define your roles: “Within the business, all the three of us have quite different focuses, so it’s not like we’re working directly with each other, day in and day out. Obviously as a management team, we come together … but as individuals, we’re very much focused on our individual areas.”

Plan your down time: “It’s definitely hard to have the drawing in the sand as far as stopping talking about work when we’re home at night. To be honest, it doesn’t happen, so there is always ongoing conversation both at home and at work, so that is a challenge.”

Embrace your closeness: “I think the advantage of that is you can be very open and honest like we can as a family, as family members.”

Julia Sampo and Ryan SteynRyan Steyn and Julia Sampo, Empower Construction

Julia and Ryan were almost destined to be together as both business and romantic partners.

In 2008, Julia was studying a degree in business at university, where she met Ryan. A year earlier, Ryan had established Empower Construction, a construction business specialising in lightweight construction. The two hit it off, and became a couple.

Ryan was quickly finding, however, that he was in need of some help with his business, at which point Julia came on board. She began doing some office administration, however after Julia finished her degree, an opening was available in management. She worked her way up through Empower Construction to become general manager.

As a working couple, Julia finds that she can be more supportive of Ryan than with other colleagues.

“Often in regular circumstances, when you go home you speak to your spouse about work … they're not often able to relate because they were not there,” she says.

“Whereas I find we're able to offer each other much more support, because we have experienced first-hand what the other person has experienced.”

Julia's tip

Separate personal and work time: “[We] make sure that we have personal time separate to work time. It's hard to often not talk about work or to not have your life revolve around work.”

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