Love & Startups: A Survival Guide for Entrepreneurs and Their Spouses
What Successful Couples Should Know About Love and Business
Marrying an entrepreneur can lead to lonely dinners, late nights, empty seats at family events and financial concerns. When Nicole Cottrell, CEO of the online support group Love & Startups, first got married, she identified her husband's constant need to launch, grow and sell businesses as a character flaw. But Cottrell soon realized that it was the thrill of new ideas, not an inability to finish a project, that actually drove her husband, who she calls "a pure entrepreneur."
"Entrepreneurs are really about solving problems. They are visionaries and they live to get other people on board with their ideas," she says.
Once Cottrell realized that the traits that made her husband an entrepreneur were also his most endearing qualities, she made it her life's mission to help other spouses in similar situations.
That's when she came up with the concept of a "Unicorn Marriage."
The Startup of a Love Startup
The Unicorn Marriage Club, a key component of Love & Startups, is a company Cottrell began after speaking with other spouses of entrepreneurs and realizing they shared many of the same challenges.
"I was at a party when a friend was telling me about her struggles with her husband," recalls Cottrell. "She wanted him to give up his business endeavors and find a day job."
That's when it hit her: Asking an entrepreneur to stop solving problems and chasing ideas is like caging a wild bird. "It's not right," she says.
Cottrell designed her program to help people like her friend thrive without asking a spouse to give up his or her entrepreneurial dreams. The program is a sort of SWOT analysis (Strengths, Opportunities, Weaknesses, Threats) of the marriage, something Cottrell believes can help couples better communicate their needs. It uses time-tested tactics like family meetings and date nights, as well as ideas from the corporate world, such as writing a mission statement and planning around natural business cycles. The goal is what Cottrell calls a "lean marriage."
"I chose that phrase because it's simple and nonthreatening, and entrepreneurs are familiar with it," says Cottrell. Marriage and business have similarities, she says. "In both, you want to focus on the acts that deliver the greatest return on investment rather than wasting energy on the things that don't matter."
So how can couples identify what matters and then take action to strengthen their relationship? Cottrell offers six tips for enthusiastic entrepreneurs and their patient partners to thrive together.
1. Support Each Other
"Entrepreneurs are head-down, in the game, and they forget that other people, including their partner, may be risk-averse," says Cottrell. Entrepreneurs can make their spouses feel more secure by inviting them along for at least part of the ride. "I want to hear every detail about my husband's businesses," says Cottrell. Gauging a partner's comfort level and sharing what works for them is key.
Of course, any information shared can help a spouse support his or her budding business owner better half. "Entrepreneurs need people to believe in them," says Cottrell, pointing out that this can come in the form of asking questions about the latest endeavor or showing pride in their ideas in front of other people.
2. Commit to Date Night
For many entrepreneurs, their business becomes their baby, and as with new parents, the first thing that usually gets placed on the back burner is a couple's date night. As difficult as it may be, however, it's important to carve out dedicated time together, says Cottrell.
"My husband and I prioritize this because it's our chance to reconnect every week," she says, noting that no topics are off-limits. "Sometimes we talk about our businesses, sometimes we talk about the kids. What matters is we're making the commitment that our marriage is important.
3. Ask "How Am I Doing?"
"My husband tells us all the time that our family is his priority," says Cottrell. Monthly family meetings ensure that actions are in check with those words. Kids might request to see both parents at an important school or sports event, and both partners can discuss if they are getting enough couple and family time together. "It takes practice," says Cottrell, "but you have to ask for what you need."
4. Make Every Moment Count
Like a growing number of busy professionals, Cottrell no longer buys into the work-life balance myth. "It's more like seasons," she says, referencing the cyclical nature of most businesses. You might have a slow week or a month, followed by weeks where you hardly see your entrepreneurial spouse. "Spend the time you have wisely," she advises. This might include shutting off your phone and computer for 24 hours to be present with your spouse. "It shows how important you are to each other," she says.
5. Write a Marriage Mission Statement
By setting priorities and discussing your needs beforehand, it's easier to focus on what matters when you have that time available. Cottrell recommends a marriage mission statement to help. "Your mission statement can be your guide to tackle challenges together, and will focus on your strengths, too, reminding you both how awesome you are as a couple."
6. Two Entrepreneurs: Better Than One?
What if you decide you like the entrepreneurial life so much you want to join your spouse in business? These same rules apply, says Cottrell. "Remember, your marriage should always be the main priority."
Dawn Allcot is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared on websites that include Forbes.com, Mint.com, AOL Careers, Yahoo! Finance, Parent Society and more. Dawn's writing credits cover diverse topics from paintball to personal finance.