Supporting a partner when they decide to take on the great adventure that is starting a company can be difficult and extremely rewarding at the same time. Luckily for me, I can look at this situation from both sides of the fence because I have started a company with the support of a partner and I have helped my partner through his own start up.
Starting a company is an incredibly difficult time – not only for the person who is pursuing their dream, but also for the family that supports them. Despite this there are several things we can do to help and prepare them.
From the outset understand that there will be so many thoughts going through your partner’s mind that it will be hard to always know how they’re feeling. Mainly, alongside the obvious excitement of starting something new, there will be worry and a little bit of fear; they’ll think they’ve put themselves in a tough situation and they’re going to be in for a rough ride. This is all normal. They’ll experience sleepless nights, bad times and possibly no money coming in, but they’ll also experience passion for a new project, excitement and drive. Imagine all these feelings floating around and you might be able to understand why everything else will play second fiddle to the new venture.
Even while supporting your partner and trying to understand how they’re feeling and thinking, make sure you take time to enjoy the situation. For you it should be exciting to see someone you love trying to live out their dream, hearing of all the potential benefits to you and your family from the new venture, and it should thrilling to point your lives in a new direction.
Starting your own company is brave, commendable and risky so you need to ensure your family is supported throughout. Make sure you can live off one income for the foreseeable future, know what cutbacks you’ll be making in regard to both money and time, understand all off the sacrifices you may have to make and prepare for worst case scenarios. I’m not saying this to be negative, but if you prepare for the worst case then, should it happen, you can provide the mental and monetary support your partner will need without adding pressure and stress to the situation.
Depending on your relationship you may end up knowing the ins and outs of every little achievement and downfall or you may be shut out completely. I suggest discussing beforehand what level of involvement you want in this. I personally love to hear about my partner’s company and due to me already running a few companies I can understand what he is talking about and help him where I can, whether it involves accounts, organising, contacts, etc. Depending on your situation however you may not want this pressure if you will be running the household as well, for example. As long as you’ve both discussed it beforehand and know where you stand, it will be less stressful in the future.
Planning and be organised for different eventualities means when things go to plan you can really enjoy it. It is amazing when you share the first deal with them, or the first payment or whatever it may be. It’s an absolute pleasure for me to watch and be involved in this. Of course, I also hear about deals that didn’t come off, cancelled meetings due to other companies going bust, etc. so always be prepared for anything. Your partner may need to get it all off their chest and have a rant at someone or they might be looking for some advice and want to be told to have the night off, drink some Prosecco and deal with it all after a good night’s sleep. Whatever the case may be, support them however you think best and follow your previously discussed plans.
I know I keep reinforcing this point, but be prepared for anything; good and bad. How will you deal with your partner bringing home zero income for an extra 12 months than was originally projected? The last thing a person needs when they are going out of their tiny mind worrying about how they will keep a company afloat is their partner (who they undoubtedly already feel paranoid about letting down) getting stressed over how the bills will be paid, or why they haven’t been home to put the kids to bed for eight weeks. These sacrifices need to be agreed in advance and boundaries need to be set, whilst remembering to remain open minded and understanding when new things crop up.
Your partner should also have enough respect to stick to any plans you have both made but do give them a bit of leniency with this as basically anything can and will happen and there isn’t much that can be done about it in the early days.
I personally expect, I think reasonably, respect for my position, the support I give daily, running the household and looking after our child in my partner’s absence and I deserve some degree of appreciation for and acknowledgement of the role I play. I don’t expect a thank you every time something gets done, just the odd conversation and acknowledgement of everything that’s going on.
There should never be an element of jealousy when it comes to this side of starting up a business; you must support them. If you are jealous of the business meetings and the potential and what will come next, then maybe this isn’t the relationship for you. You can not begrudge them a sale or want them to cancel a meeting to take you for a meal, it just isn’t going to happen. If you think this will be a real issue for you then discuss what you expect from your relationship beforehand to make sure everything is on the table from the beginning. I personally go on at least one date a fortnight with my partner. We mainly talk about business the whole time despite our attempts at small talk, but at least we spend time alone together, out of the house, and we make sure we are both happy, drink too much and laugh a lot. It’s so important to have some time to yourselves, get anything you need to off your chest and start a new week fresh, with new potential and a happy evening behind you.
For your partner to be successful you should expect that they will live and breathe their business. The only scenario your partner should envisage is the new company becoming a huge success and for the money and time invested into it to be worthwhile. They will never work as hard as they do at the start and it will probably, initially, be for zero income but should they be one of the lucky ones who make it through then they will hopefully be financially free and have more time to spend with the family so that starting a company becomes the highs and lows of a distant memory, something to forever learn from.
It isn’t all doom and gloom so while the bad times are the worst, remember that the good times are the best. Starting a business and remaining happy with someone is as challenging as starting a family and you should approach it in the same manner. Understand that it’s hard work at times but the rewards and satisfaction of achieving something will always outweigh the lows.
Hopefully everything goes smoothly and the new start up is a success. If it doesn’t work however, know that they will be more disappointed than you ever will be, so put them first. It’s a chance to allow your partner to be the star of their own show so let them have some time in the limelight for a while. And if they make it work then make sure you get yourselves that dream holiday you’ve always wanted (at their expense of course!).
Lastly, I would say to keep them grounded and help them be as realistic as possible. Sometimes you will see the positive in a situation when the only thing they want to do is throw in the towel. Talk them through it and plan together. You may see that money is going out faster than it’s coming in. Be the voice of reason and help them to see the truth of the situation, possibly suggesting a new forecast if they are dramatically off course. Don’t be aggressive with this, just volunteer your help and support and point of view, and if your partner is the amazing person you think they are then they will respect this.
Best of luck to you all – it will be hard work, but with teamwork, preparation, a strong will, the drive to do better and some good luck, there will come a time when you are sat in your house looking at your family thinking “we did it, we’re actually living the dream and we did it together.”