The Entrepreneur’s Wife


As the old saying goes, “Behind every successful man is a strong, wise and hardworking woman.”

But that’s the whole point. It’s an old saying – dating back to the days when the man went out to work and the woman stayed at home. Now the chances are that both partners are working full time – and the entrepreneur is just as likely to be the woman.

So how important is an entrepreneur’s partner? Does the success or failure of your business depend not on your brilliant idea, your stellar crowdfunding or your strict control of the KPIs – but on the person you come home to at night?

It’s a subject I need to tackle – however great the personal risk! And bear with me: I’m not being sexist, but I don’t want to disrupt the flow of the post by constantly writing he/she or him/her. So I’m writing this one from my own standpoint and the pronouns are used accordingly.

First things first: being married to an entrepreneur is difficult. There are long hours, holidays that are interrupted by vital phone conversations and – as I wrote in the last post of 2014 – plenty of nights when you’re ‘there but not there’: when your body is watching Silent Witness and your mind is back at the office worrying about the cash flow.

Your wife can be bemoaning the problems one of your children is having at school, the fact that the kitchen wall is about to fall down, or the problems and frustrations of her career – when you suddenly jolt back to reality and say, “I’m sorry. What was that again?”

The bad news is, it may not improve.

Being married to an entrepreneur can put different strains on a relationship no matter how long the business has been established – and no matter how successful it may be. Different stages bring different pressures.

One day the husband comes home. “I can’t take any more,” he says. “I was determined to be at the Nativity Play this year. The boss says I have to be in Frankfurt. No more. I’ve resigned. I’m starting on my own in the New Year.”

Sadly, that may not be what the wife hears… “The dependable amount of money that goes into our account every month is going to stop. I’m going to be working a lot of late nights and we’re not going to have a holiday for three years. And there’s no guarantee it’ll be a success.”

You might not like what she’s thinking either. Oh £$%&. I was going to work part time. Spend more time with the children. Well that’s gone. Or… £$%&. That means I’m going to have to take that promotion. Longer hours, more driving, more stress, less time with the kids. But we need the money. Thanks, pal.

The decision to leave the security of a job and start your own business isn’t just about you: it affects two lives. You’re certainly changing your own career path – but you might just be changing your wife’s as well.

Three years on there’ll be another tipping point. The business has survived so far. The cash flow has evened itself out. There are even a couple of employees on the payroll. But now there’s a problem. A major customer has gone into liquidation; the business is under real pressure. Oh well, the wife thinks, if the worst comes to the worst he can always go back to Giant Corporate plc.

Across the lounge her husband is also deep in thought – and he’s worrying about two things. First of all his customer. But secondly, himself. Because he knows he can’t go back to Giant Corporate. He knows that the last three years of running his own business have changed him. In effect, he’s become unemployable. And it’s not something he shares with his wife: no wonder there’s a certain tension between them…

Ten years later it’s all very different. The business is a success. Money isn’t a problem any more. Everything in the garden is rosy. Except success can undermine a relationship every bit as much as failure. I was talking to a partner in one of our bigger firms of accountants about this. “I can’t count the number of marriages I’ve seen ended by success,” he said. “Suddenly the girl he married when he was 23…” He didn’t need to finish the sentence.

Being an entrepreneur is tough – but being married to an entrepreneur can be even tougher. Your wife needs to understand that being an entrepreneur is part of you – every bit as much as being right handed or having brown eyes is part of you. She needs to understand risk – and she needs to be able to live with it. Hopefully TAB plays its part in minimising that risk, but running your own business will always bring risk – especially if the bank are eagerly clutching the deeds to your house.

And that’s why your work/life balance is so important. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, when you’re planning your diary for this year, get the really important dates in first – the dates when you’re with the people you love. The entrepreneur’s wife pays a high price: make sure you repay her in full.

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4 comments

  1. Great blog Ed! I would like to add that without a supportive ‘other half’ many entrepreneurs, particularly those with a mortgage and children etc, wouldn’t be able to set their business up in the first place. Having someone in the background who is quite simply funding the foundation of your dreams is a real tangible benefit. We should be forever grateful for the opportunity that they provide and when we achieve success accept that it is success driven by both people and not just the entrepreneur.

  2. tommortonharrogate · January 30, 2015

    Excellent post, Edward (as usual), Time spent crawling is seldom wasted!!

    Couple of points —
    a) wouldn’t a female entrepreneur be an entrepreneuse?
    b) I reckon it takes less than three years to become unemployable — more like two weeks……. ;0)

    Tom

  3. simonjhudson · February 5, 2015

    That’s my story, right there. Apart from the marriage problem; thankfully I’m as happily married as ever.
    Did I quit Mid-sized Corp? – yep, and rather messily.
    Did I come home and declare it to my wife? Yep, except she pretty much knew it was coming since I had kept her in the loop (a rare act of wisdom).
    Did she have to work her pretty derriere off to pay the bills while I got the business going? Darn right she did.
    Do I sometimes blank her? Afraid so – sometimes because I have things on my mind. Sometimes because I just need some ‘Not Listening’ time.
    Am I largely unemployable now? Absolutely. And I wouldn’t impose myself on anyone either – I can be a challenge.
    Am I in a better place? No… WE are in a better place. Our work life balance is certainly no worse than it was – being in an uncaring Corporate also stretches things (been there), at least with your own business you get to choose (though Hobson’s choice is often in play) and know who will benefit. The freedoms lost on one hand are often replaced with different freedoms in the other.

    As an entrepreneur the difference between work and personal life is badly blurred. That works both ways, it makes sense that ones life partner is seen as part of the business, whether in a formal capacity (mine’s also our finance director and company secretary – because she is spectacularly good at that stuff) or an informal one offering the emotional support, understanding, sounding board and frank feedback obtained from probably the very best mentor you know (Ed notwithstanding).

    And it means I get to support her too, which is nice…

  4. edreidyork · February 5, 2015

    Great set of observations, Simon – thank you. The “Hobson’s Choice” comment is absolutely right, but the “knowing who it will benefit” element is impossible to underestimate, isn’t it? It makes it all so much more do-able.

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