Most Batswana who grew up in the 70s and 80s remember that neighborhood mom and pop store built from the ground by an enterprising couple to become the hub of the community.
These were owner operated general dealers, restaurants, bars, bottle stores and photo studios, but most importantly, they helped enhance the sense of community. The business owners and most of their customers were on first name basis and credit was extended on trust.
This business model was built around mixing business with pleasure – which refers to combining your social life with your work life.
This sounds like a definite winner. Most mom and pop stores have however closed their doors. The general dealers and restaurants have become obsolete, pushed out of business by impersonal chain stores. Some even went down, taking marriages with them.
While most people are entrepreneur couples with same jinxed brush as the ill-fated mom and pop store, marriage counsellors insist that we should not be quick to throw away the baby with the dirty bath water.
Although Albert Gaopelo, senior marriage counselor at Olorato Marriage Counselling in Gaborone gives a big up to couple entrepreneurship, this comes with an equally big but.
Gaopelo told Sunday Standard Lifestyle that, “having a business with your partner has its advantages. By opening a business with a spouse, the profit that would normally be shared between partners would instead go entirely to your family unit. If you and your spouse are invested in the success of the business to improve your family’s financial future, the common goal will serve as an incredible motivation to make the business flourish. Communication is a key part of a healthy marriage, as well as an integral part of a positive business partnership. Starting a business with your spouse requires you to enter into a new type of partnership with the person you trust most.”
It sounds wonderful, great, cozy and idyllic. Although Gaopelo says it can be all that, in the very next breath he bursts this bubble.
He points out that when spouses work together, the stakes are very high; careers, personal lives and families are at stake if the union on the job doesn’t work out. One of the common issues that couples in business together often face is not being able to separate their personal from their professional lives. For some couples, this is the root of their conflicts.
Explains Gaopelo: “If you and your partner work and live together, the likelihood that business-related stress will affect your home life is likely. For instance, you’ll probably find yourself talking about business-related issues at the dinner table, or addressing family matters during the work-day. Although it can be beneficial to have your spouse completely understand your work-related stress, it can also create tension when you spend too much time together, or are under significant pressure due to your business.”
Starting a business is a risky endeavor, and the doors are as likely to close and they are to stay open. When couples decide to go into business together, they place all their eggs in one basket and the heightened risk adds to the entrepreneurial stress. Without a second outside income, a few slow business months could really hurt the family’s financials and even the marriage.
Gaopelo elaborates: “With any new business, there’s a chance of failure, especially in the first few years. There are many factors that could cause a business to struggle during the startup phase. It is important for partners to understand their individual roles in the business and also be professional, but overall communication is the most important factor of all.”
In Botswana, it’s not uncommon for a business to be run by a husband and wife, sometimes the business leads to marriage and in others the marriage produces the business.
Gaopelo’s insight is shared by Kgomotso Jongman of Jo’Speaks in Gaborone: “When a couple work together, they are not likely to fall in a situation in which one of them shows an apparent disinterest over the other’s job. Both of them have a clear perception about what the other has in terms of experience and knowledge. This also helps the couple to have great honor and respect for each other. While there are some benefits’
Like Gaopelo, Jongman’s endorsement for couple entrepreneurship comes with a but. She points out that it is important to strike a balance between business and family life. This may be a big challenge as most couples fail to grasp that when they get home at the end of the day, the family is their priority and the business that was discussed over the boardroom table should not be taken to the dinner table.
Jongman told Sunday Standard Lifestyle that, “there are some drawbacks too when both partners own a business together. These are often reasons why couples prefer to work in different organizations. Occasionally, the lack of personal space strains the relationship between the husband and wife as they meet each other both at home as well as the office. Though a married couple should spend their free time together, there are situations in which spending too much time with each other can badly impact the quality of time spent. I think most importantly couples should remember to not forget to take time for each other. Dinner, movie nights, even just a walk at the mall. This is not a time to discuss business this is a time to connect and reflect on your relationship and how far you have come as a couple. Listen to one another and to be very respectful. Incorporating this into your ‘working relationship’ will allow each other to feel heard and appreciated when difficult discussions come up that may have an effect on the business. Going into business with a spouse is essentially like another marriage, you need to work together to produce the best outcome possible.”
Although being in business with your significant other has its advantages the bad seem to outweigh the good. With time, most couples find that the only thing they have in common is work, and the only thing they talk about is the job and their co-workers. Power struggles – you might start competing with each other, feeling jealous of each other’s success or envious that one is doing a better job or getting more attention than the other. This can have a negative effect on the marriage/relationship, and cause resentment between you if you don’t discuss it after work.
Couples might assume that spending time together can only be good for their relationship, but too much of a good thing can also be detrimental. Couples who work together may have difficulty maintaining separate identities or being able to recharge away from their spouses. Every couple’s situation is different, and a business partnership may work great for some and go down in flames for others. Communication is the pillar of a strong union and a strong business partnership.