Tips from Married Business Owners
By Tina Hodges
When someone is devoted to her work and clocking in long, hard hours, some may say she’s married to the job. In our case, we’re married to the job and to each other. Mike and I have been married for 13 years, and for 16 years, we’ve together run our company, Advance Financial, a financial services company based in Nashville.
Having grown up in a household where my mom and dad ran a business together, I had a good idea of the challenges and benefits of working with your spouse. When the water pipes freeze and break on Christmas Day, there’s no question who’s going to the office: You both are. I saw my parents as partners, one mopping up the mess while the other emptied the buckets. I knew it would be hard but also fun and rewarding.
By day, we run a business with more than 70 locations throughout Tennessee and more than 650 employees. By night, we run a family as mom and dad to three beautiful young girls. It is possible to do it all, and do it successfully.
Be extremely honest with yourself and each other about your strengths and weaknesses
One thing that makes our partnership work so well is that we complement each other and we know what the other brings to the table. I am more focused on the details of the business: spreadsheets, plans and timelines are my friends. Mike is a visionary. He focuses on the big picture. He comes up with the ideas and I map out how we will make them happen. It is a near perfect balance of attitudes and aptitudes, and neither of us think we are better or more important than the other. We realize that we complete each other in business, just like we do as husband and wife.
Business moves at the speed of trust. It’s the oil that keeps the business running smoothly. Being married brings an automatic level of trust to our work relationship. We’ve already put in the time building that level of trust outside of work, so it’s easy to bring it to the office as well. Having this not only allows Mike and I to make business decisions quickly, it also reduces the pressure of running a company.
Go into business on equal footing
When working with your spouse, it’s important for both of you to move at the same speed. You must support each other through the growth periods and stay on the same page when making big business decisions. Drive the business equally and exert the same levels of energy. With the two of you in it together, you know you’re getting the right report back from the other person. This takes out a lot of extra steps and sets your business up for success.
In 2013 we opened 23 new stores in a single year, a pretty crazy feat by any measure. We only had 26 stores at that time, so to nearly double our presence in one year was a true test of our ability to trust each other and succeed together. Throughout the process we kept in constant conversation, talking about staff, buildings, necessary resources, everything. I was on the fence about us opening the stores on time, but Mike was out in the field and was able to keep me informed of our progress every step of the way. During the constant push and pull of expansion, we paced each other and made it happen.
View your work partnership as an extension of your marriage
Ask any pair of business partners and they will tell you, at times it feels like they’re married to each other. A marriage is a partnership, just like a business. There’s a constant give and take, and you can’t succeed without this compromise. Everyone has unique behaviors that you must get used to and build off of to make the partnership work. For us, working together gave us a unique opportunity to learn even more about each other. What we learn about the other person in the office environment (and we are constantly learning new things about each other), we are able to also use at home to make our family life more successful.
Mike and I ran a business together for eight years before we started a family, and in that time we were able to discover more of each other’s strengths. The strengths that we have at work, we are able to also use them at home. I don’t expect Mike to map out our appointments or family obligations at home, because he doesn’t do that at work. And Mike knows I will have a game plan in place for our family, because I always have one ready for our business. Once you get into the rhythm, you’ll find that what works for your relationship at home, works in the office. And vice versa.
As we’ve built our professional and personal lives together we’ve found that owning a business has many of the same characteristics as a marriage. And for us, it’s a very good thing we’re married. In learning more about and encouraging each other through this process, we have not only built a healthy relationship but also a business that is having a great influence on the community we love.
Tina Hodges is Chief Executive and Chief Experience Officer at Advance Financial in Nashville, Tennessee. In 2016, Advance Financial ranked for the fifth consecutive year on the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing private companies in the country.