Going Into Business With Your Spouse

Majority of people, if asked if they could work with their partner, would respond with a very definite ‘No!’. Andrew and Angela Smith are one couple that prove that some partnerships not only work but flourish. They claim their like-minded Aussie ‘can do’ attitude, sheer dedication and focused direction have been the answer to their success. “Having travelled around Australia for 13 months and working a ski season in Canada for 12 months together certainly helped us form a solid foundation” explains Angela, “No better way to reveal ones true character, warts and all” they share with us. They whole-heartedly align with the cliché “what doesn’t break us makes us stronger’.

Andrew’s career began at 21 and today, still owns and operates one of the leading maintenance plumbing companies in Sydney, Dr.DRiP Pty Ltd. Having begun as a one man business in a small second bedroom in a flat below his parent’s home in 2000, he has taken it, with the assistance of wife Angela, to a thriving multi-million dollar business that operates from a warehouse in the central location of Artarmon. Andrew’s first admission is that there’s truth in the saying – ‘Behind every successful businessman is a strong, loving and supportive female’.

It was a big ask to expect Angela to turn her back on her own marketing career working with multi-national companies to join the growing Dr.DRiP business back in 2004. World’s collided when Angela’s corporate background and Andrew’s trade background were brought together and some adjustment was required. “I came from managing millions of dollars and a team of people and hence was use to making my own decisions. Andrew was use to having total control and had to learn to let go a little”, laughs Angela. They have admitted that the early days of working together day in, day out, was challenging. “We had to constantly work on our ‘professional relationship’ to ensure the lines weren’t blurred between home and work” shares Angela, “a challenge we continue to face on a daily basis”.

The birth of their first child Hannah was the tipping point to stop working the 80 hour weeks and basically ‘get a life!’. After an unsuccessful search for a mentor in the trades arena to help them get their life back, they ended up taking the advice of a number of mentors who where masters in their profession. Together they re-structured Dr.DRiP to result in a ‘lifestyle business’, one that removed Angela from the business and works with as little as one day a week of Andrew’s personal time. This new found knowledge and skill-set won Andrew the title of Australian Small Business Champion Entrepreneur for NSW/ACT (2008).

One extraordinary outcome of this freedom was the birth of their second business Tradesman Inner Circle Pty Ltd. Australia’s #1 mentor & coaching business offering membership to tradesmen. “We share our proven profit driving marketing and business techniques to work less, earn more money and live a better lifestyle” explains Andrew. This business has fulfilled Andrew’s dream to educate and mentor others to succeed as he has done. It is this business that consumes both Andrew and Angela’s time, in addition to balancing their two children, Hannah (4) and Isaac (8months) and a home on the northern beaches of Sydney. “Thankfully Andy is really hands on” Angela shares, “he is more often than not the chef in our house and enjoys daddy day-care days with Hannah. They love their time together!”. “We are lucky that, depending on what’s happening, we can juggle our responsibilities” Andrew comments, “because everyone with their own business knows, 9-5pm doesn’t exist, especially when there are kids swimming lessons to attend!”.

So when asked what their 7 business survival tips are when working with your partner, they had this to share: “No one person is better than the other especially when you equally bring value to the table” says Angela. “Particularly when your strengths are so completely different” adds Andrew. They both agree the number 1 overall tip to survive working with your partner would be the use of tactful and effective communication. Let’s take a look at Andrew & Angela’s top 7 survival tips:

1. Complete a life plan and business plan together – “We have always had a business plan and ‘smashed it out of the park” says Andrew, “we knew it was imperative to have a clear direction for the business but realised we needed this in our life too. We could see that 5, 10 years could easily go by and we would say to ourselves “what have we done in the past 5 years?”. “To have a shared vision for your future is critical to your combined and individual happiness in both your life and your business” says business” says Angela.

2. Defined & separate work space – separate desks or even offices – “Working in a very small single bedroom with no windows together was a huge challenge at first. We had to add an extra desk to isolate a specific and dedicated work area. It wasn’t working to share a desk – we needed to be there at the same time!” laughs Angela. “Our move to Artarmon was a dream resulting in a clear defined work space”.

3. Clear lines of responsibility that relate to your strengths – “This was an interesting one when I first came to work with Andrew. He had a tough time ‘letting go’ of some jobs he once had control over. Lines had to be drawn in the sand about who was responsible for what so that it was VERY clear” shares Angela. Everyone should know what their true strengths are. If not, have your work colleagues and family tell you what they think they are. You might be pleasantly surprised.

4. Agree on a daily/weekly meeting for allocated ‘work discussion’ to eliminate daily distractions – You need to agree on when/how to discuss work. In the beginning a morning meeting for a strict half-an-hour to discuss our priorities worked well. This made our working time more productive with less daily distractions. Today we work with a web-based project management tool to track our daily priorities, in addition to share a common web-based calendar to collectively see our weekly commitments. This of course is rounded out with our weekly team meeting – nothing goes past a face to face.

5. Keep your cool! – don’t raise your voice – “We are faced with challenges with the business every day, so keeping a level head to make quick decisions is important. Flying off the handle doesn’t do anyone any favours!” says Andrew. “I hear so many stories about other bosses yelling and screaming at their team – to what end? Certainly doesn’t help staff morale and more importantly doesn’t make for a happy home when the victim has been your partner!”.

6. Listen to each others point of view – no interruptions – “I am always interested to hear Andrew’s opinion and point of view with regard to a situation as more often than not he has a view that I had not considered and at times, can change my thinking” shares Angela. “It is important to let your partner have their say with no interruptions. A rule we know is critical to productive collaboration. I still have to tell myself to zip it!”.

7. Don’t make it personal, keep it professional – “Remember: When the business closes for the night, you have to go home to that person!” says Angela with a smirk. “Keep your comments strictly about the work, even if you are angry about something that happened at home. Remember the line in the sand is drawn – work is work and home is home. Don’t cross the two over. Ever” shares Angela. “If you wouldn’t say it to an employee, then don’t say it to your partner”. “In all honesty, we are blessed to have the relationship we have” Andrew comments and Angela agrees, “not only do we work well together, we are best mates”. “And you know what they say” Andrew says with a cheeky grin, “happy wife happy life!”.

For more information about Andrew and Angela Smith, visit: www.drdrip.com.au

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