Flashback Friday: “Keeping Business in the Family – Literally!”

By: Mike Birdsall, an EO San Francisco member and co-founder of Birdsall Interactive

I never planned to own my own business, and I definitely didn’t plan to work alongside my wife. But in 1994, that’s the situation I found myself in. When I tell people that my wife, Maureen, and I work together, they tell me I’m crazy … and then they want to know how we do it so well.

Last summer, we celebrated 25 years of marriage, and we’re inching toward two decades as business partners. We started with three goals: Have a great lifestyle; spend as much time with our kids as possible; and earn enough money to pay our bills. Some days, weeks and months are better than others. And yet, throughout it all, our goals haven’t changed. In fact, they still provide us with the direction we need to stay personally and professionally successful.

I truly believe that we could have never built our business—or stayed in business as long as we have—if we hadn’t done it together. It helps that we complement each other: Maureen is the creative genius and runs the projects, while I handle the sales and business operations. Ultimately, our success stems from clear lines of responsibility and division, a lesson that took us a year to learn. Here are some other lessons we discovered when it comes to working with a spouse:

  • Manage Your Ego: This is a big rule of ours— always check your ego at the door. A power struggle at work will roll over to home, and one at home will come to work with you the next day. That whole “win the battle but lose the war” idea really is true. Does it really matter that you get the credit for an idea if your spouse is angry at you?
  • Pay Attention to Sensitivities: Everyone has down days, days they aren’t fully focused or projects that aren’t especially exciting. By being proactive and staying alert to your spouse’s sensitivities, the work flow—and the overall work environment—will be much easier. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and that helps us step in or aside much quicker.
  • It’s More than Just Work: Although you’re working throughout the day, it’s important to talk about things other than work when you’re home. Not only will it create a balanced divide between work and home life, but your kids will appreciate it! I remember one dinner where Maureen and I were excited about a new business idea. When there was finally a pause, my 6-year-old asked—no, requested—that we talk about something other than work. Bright kid!
  • Make Time to Play Together: This is a hard one, especially when you spend so much time working together. Don’t forget that you are partners at home, too. Enjoy each other and continue to work on your non-business partnership. We’re always looking for new things to do together, even if work gets busy. Our latest “together task” involves riding our new scooters!
  • Constantly Reinvent: If it’s not working, change it. You’re the boss, and you can do anything you want! We constantly look at what’s not working and see how we can do things differently. It might seem simple, but the more we adapt, the more successful we become in both our business and our partnership. It’s all about staying open-minded and available to change.

We’ve heard it all before: “No way could I work with my spouse!”; “Are you serious?”; and “You must be out of your mind!” But for us, it’s awesome. And it works. Sure, there are some bumps and bruises that come with the territory, but that happens in any relationship. I’d like to think that we’ve built a business that no one else has— one built around love, trust and respect. Every day I go to work, every night I come home. I’m blessed to be working with my best friend and partner.

Mike Birdsall is a co-founder of Birdsall Interactive, an interactive web design agency, and FanConneX, an in-venue mobile application for sports fans. Fun fact: Mike and Maureen have two boys, and have spent countless hours at ice rinks watching them play hockey.

This article was originally posted on the Octane blog on 26 April, 2013.

Categories: Business/Finance Tips Entrepreneurial Journey Lessons Learned

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