Six years ago, my brand-new husband, Charlie, and I launched Right Bee Cider, a mere six months after our wedding. The most common questions I get asked have nothing to do with cidermaking itself, but are focused on our partnership. “How is working with your spouse?” “My partner and I are thinking about doing something similar, what advice do you have for us?” Though I don’t believe I’m in any position to offer advice, here are a few things that work for us.
Assess your communication.
The incredible stress of starting a business will expose and magnify any existing issues you may have in your relationship. Be sure to take an honest look at your communication before you jump in.
Get comfortable with criticism.
This one is tough. No one likes criticism, especially from one’s spouse, but you must be able to objectively handle it for the betterment of your business. You need to be comfortable and secure enough to take your partner’s evaluation without getting your ego bruised. A lot of people think they’re really good at this (myself included) until it happens.
I was used to communicating effectively with Charlie, but we’d never been in a position before where he was critiquing my job performance. It was very challenging to learn to listen and not become defensive. Once you really get this down it will be so beneficial for your business and your relationship as a whole. Also, the reality is that there is no time for your feelings to be hurt, so take the heat, deal with it and move on. We all have room for improvement — all members of your team need to be on their A game!
Be realistic about “leaving work at work.”
Short answer: You can’t. Work is life and life is work and there will be no separation, especially in the early phases. It’s better to be aware of this going into it. Business issues will dominate your conversations, your “date nights” will revolve around business activities and you’ll work on anniversaries and holidays. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing! Things may look a bit different, but you’re still spending time together on a shared goal.
Embrace the team.
For better or worse, you’re in this together. This is a double-edged sword because the highs are higher and the lows are so much lower. The challenge is that there is no rest from the soul-crushing stress. You’re both in it, marinating in it constantly, but the great and unique thing is that because it’s a shared experience, there is no “How was your day at the office?” recap. You truly understand what the other person is going through.
The best piece of advice I can give on the “team” aspect of running a business with your spouse is that you are either a rockstar spouse or a rockstar business partner in any given day. It’s impossible to be both at the same time. You need to be patient enough to know that your partner can only be one or the other as well. Once you have a mutual understanding of this, you can better focus on the tasks at hand. Remember, you have the same goal, you’re on the same team!
Celebrate the small wins.
My dad is also an entrepreneur, and he gave us excellent advice when we started our business to “celebrate the small wins.” There are many ups and downs when you’re running your own business, many can even happen in the same day, but if you really celebrate even the smallest of wins, you will be better equipped to handle the inevitable challenges that will come your way.
Did someone leave you a great review? Did you get a new customer? Did you sell your product into a new account? Did a bottling day run smoothly with no hiccups? Great! Celebrate however you like. Whether it’s giving your team a pat on the back or plastering it all over social media, the positive energy is incredibly beneficial for the morale of your team.
Finally, I frequently get asked if I could go back in time, would I still have started Right Bee Cider with Charlie had I known how challenging it would be?
We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, and I think that was a blessing in disguise. We’re six years in, and it’s still a challenge every day, but I’m proud that we had the courage to take a big risk to create something together. Despite the difficulties, I love the adventure of running a business with my husband. Now… back to work!
Katie Morgan is the co-owner of Right Bee Cider in Chicago. She first fell in love with cider while studying at Cambridge in the UK. When her now-husband Charlie surprised her with a hard cider for her birthday, she finally found something that matched the crisp, dry ciders she’d come to love. She’s affectionally known as our “Queen Bee” because she runs the show. Whether it’s sales or customer relations, event planning or staff training, dealing with licensing, finances or social media, she’s busy keeping the cidery running. If you have a question about anything RBC, she’s got you covered.