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Starting a business with your partner – 10 tips to make it work


To some starting a business with their partner is a great idea. A chance to spend more time together and to share the experiences of running a business.

To others it’s a nightmare. The thought of spending virtually every waking hour in each other’s pocket is simply too over bearing.

If you are thinking of going into business with your spouse, there’s added pressure to succeed. So we asked Vicki Ashman, who co-founded Scrumpies of Mayfair with her husband, to share 10 valuable lessons she has learned about how to run a successful business venture with your partner.

I worked with my husband in an international law firm – and now in our luxury knicker business. From my experience, I have learned that starting a business with your spouse can require a huge shift in the dynamic of your relationship.

For the most part, it really is “having it all” to spend your working day and personal life with your spouse, and for me it has been hugely satisfying and fulfilling to create and run a business together.

However – it is not all fun and games and I have identified 10 important lessons to remember when starting a business with your other half:

1. Respect each other’s unique working practices

Remember that your spouse is not your subordinate – and can’t be told what to do like an employee. Just because you would handle your partner’s responsibilities in a certain way, it doesn’t mean that they have to.

It becomes very dangerous if you try to manage your spouse’s workload and output – this is an issue that often happens in the absence of a supervise and subordinate. Be sure to co-manage very carefully.

Something Ian and I found useful was to hold on to at least one “big office” formality – the weekly meeting.

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It’s important to step away from the distractions of your desk and dedicate yourself to talking through an agenda around a meeting table. This is vital to understanding the overall picture of your business and it means that you are both aware of each other’s workload and tasks.

2. Play to your strengths

You are both individuals and you will have different strengths and weaknesses. Remember that you don’t have to do everything together and divide your tasks accordingly.

3. Don’t forget the niceties

Don’t forget to praise your other half when they do a good job. It is still nice to hear and it’s important in order to maintain job satisfaction. And just because you are married it doesn’t mean you can drop pleases and thank yous!

4. Have your own space

Sharing the office can work – and it can be fun, companionable and productive. However – remember that you each need your own space to work.

There is a limit to the whole sharing is caring idea. Your own desk and IT set up is a must.

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5. Understand how your relationship affects others

A couple can make an intimidating power block. It is your responsibility to put third parties at their ease. It’s important to be upfront about your relationship – especially if you have kept your maiden name and it might be unclear that you are married.

My husband and I once had a lawyer explain for the large part of his interview with us that he wanted to leave his current firm because he couldn’t bear working for a married couple. Awkward.

We gave him the job though, and 15 years later he is still there.

6. Be open-minded

If you are just starting out, try not to take your old prejudices with you. You obviously know your spouse well – but you don’t necessarily know them in a work context.

People can behave very differently outside of their domestic sphere and you might be surprised. Don’t miss out on some hidden talent in your organisation by thinking you know everything about your spouse.

7. Don’t take it to bed with you (too often)

It’s unrealistic to expect that your work discussions will be confined to office hours – but there are limits. 3am in the morning is rarely a good time to discuss business.

If you find yourself discussing work issues around the dinner table remember to include others – children can learn a lot from being a part of business discussions.

8. Don’t forget – not everyone is family

As your business begins to grow and you start to hire employees – be sure to adjust your business and infrastructure accordingly. While the informality of the business was probably one of the elements that attracted candidates to your business – they will also expect a professional set up, employment benefits and proper management and training.

Just because you are happy to forego formal lunch hours and spend them with your spouse – don’t expect others to feel the same.

Put in place a proper system of annual review together with pay and reward structures. These are issues that all employees care about – and if you want to attract and keep the best people – this is vital.

9. Remember that you have another life

Your domestic and professional lives now co-exist in the same arena. Don’t neglect one aspect and forget about the other. Understand that domestic life – children, dogs, supermarket trips, go on regardless of business and these need to be attended to as well as everything else.

Your contribution to your domestic life is just as valuable as anything you or your spouse is doing for the business. Striking the right work-life balance will help you both in the long-term.

10. When the fun stops – stop

Check in with your spouse from time to time to make sure that your goals are aligning. Never forget that the most important thing is each other. If tweaks are required to your business goals, then make them.

If necessary, impose an IT ban for an afternoon a week to do something non-business related together. And if you’re still not feeling it – don’t be afraid to pack your bags and head away for two weeks.

With some ruthless delegation and your trusty out of office in your place, your business will be just fine and you two will be great.

This article has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Vicki Ashman, co-founder of luxury knicker business, Scrumpies of Mayfair.