“Seriously. Are we really husband and wife now?”
The question sounds like a refrain that a couple might utter while standing at the altar. But for my beautiful bride of 27 years, it comes up nearly every evening as we transition from business partners to life partners.
Friends, family and clients are fascinated (and dumbfounded) that Michele and I operate K+L Storytellers AND are wife and husband. “We’d be divorced” is a common response we hear through a haughty laugh and swig of a vodka-esque drink.
One point for sure: It’s not always easy. In fact, it can get darn right nasty as business and marriage roles often intertwine, making neither very fun.
So how do we make it work?
There’s not an easy answer. One advantage we have is that our children are older. They are not tugging at Mom every 15 minutes. Another advantage is that we’ve been in business together on and off since 2003. The nature of the business has shifted, from public relations/communications to storytelling and content.
Our business, like so many others, took a massive blow in late 2007 through 2011 when our clients were cutting costs in their own fight to stay afloat. As a result, I returned to the corporate world, which stabilized our family and financial lives, but also strengthened my education. I worked with younger people who mentored me in SEO and social media. I teamed with marketing professionals who guided me on brand strategy. I sat next to data scientists who analyzed and heralded the importance of the numbers behind PPC, website visits and posted content clicks. I learned from other business owners on how to grow a business, engage new clients and how to better manage cash flow.
And then, through no fault of my own, I was laid off on my 58th birthday.
After countless job interviews and with no contract in hand, Michele asked if I wanted to rejoin the company. I was humbled and embarrassed because it was the only offer on my plate. But I was hardened in my resolve to help build the business back to peak form.
We are doing that. Together. As business partners. As wife and husband. As “The First Couple of Story,” a phrase used to introduce us recently as we shared the speaker stage. If that’s how people see us, we’re all in.
We comfort in knowing how the other person thinks, how we best work and what makes the other person’s head explode. We know we’ve always got each other’s backs. We can avoid landmines by staying out of each other’s way and trusting the other’s skills. We’ve learned to take emotion out of our strategy discussions (not easy for my Italian partner), and we’ve become better listeners.
One absolute key to our business success is to physically and verbally shut it down at the end of each Friday. It’s satisfying to play husband and wife with a martini (me) and a glass of Malbec (Michele) in hand on the back terrace at the end of the week. Wouldn’t you agree, Babe? (Full disclosure, Michele ignores me when I let this slip in a business setting. However, I often notice a hint of a smile.)
Tomorrow, Aug. 31, is our wedding anniversary, and I am more sure than ever that in business and in life, I picked the right partner.