Spouses working together in the family business has been commonplace for decades, even centuries. Over the past several years that practice has moved from a workplace to home-based businesses—particularly during the pandemic. While the workplace may have changed, running a successful business while sustaining a happy and healthy marriage faces many of the same challenges. Perhaps even more.
“Over the years, we have coached a number of married couples who were also business partners—or companies where a spouse also worked in the business,” said Adam Sonnhalter, one of the owners of Maximum Value Partners (MVP), a small business coaching practice based in the greater Cleveland, Ohio area. “It really does take a special couple to sustain a business and marriage. It also takes a conscious effort for couples to establish guidelines and boundaries so that business and family life are not negatively impacted.”
Sonnhalter’s parents, John and Terry, ran an advertising agency for more than four decades and recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
Sonnhalter’s partner at MVP, Jack Mencini, recommends defining roles as the key to setting the tone for good communication.
“Spouses can be 50-50 partners in the business but it’s very difficult to run a business with two bosses,” said Mencini. “To the outside world and to staff, somebody has to be in charge. Clearly defining that can set the tone, as well as following some dos and don’ts.”
One of the foremost don’ts is don’t disrespect your spouse in front of your staff. In the eyes of your employees, both of you are the boss and slighting your partner in front of your staff can determine how much respect your mate receives.
A do is always ask if a move or decision is best for the organization. Often times business partner/spouses can make decisions that will make for a more harmonious home life but may not be good business decisions.
Jeremy and Theresa Orsky bought a CARSTAR Collision franchise in 2010. Theresa didn’t work in the business until 2015 when they opened up an additional location.
“We definitely had a conversation about keeping work out of our home life and vice versa. That was challenging at first because we didn’t work in the same building and there would be things I’d want to discuss,” said Theresa. “There were times we needed to have a work conversation at home. We’d agree to a time to talk about work, have that conversation and then go back to our lives.”
Communications was a key for the Orskys throughout their ownership of the CARSTAR franchise, the couple sold their business in 2021. In terms of advice for other couples going into business together, Jeremy offered: “Limit the electronic conversations you have and have real, face-to-face or phone conversations. You can’t always tell the mood of the person by a text or e-mail, and you can avoid a lot of arguments by having an actual conversation.”
As small business coaches, Mencini and Sonnhalter have an additional piece of advice they offer to all spouses who run a business.
“No matter what happens at work, never lose sight of why you got together in the first place,” said Sonnhalter. “That advice served my parents and all the couples we’ve worked with over the years in their businesses.”
For more information about MVP’s small business coaching services, visit or call (877) 849-0670 https://maximumvp.com/. You can also get to know MVP’s dynamic duo by tuning into its podcast, Dirty Secrets of Small Business, including an episode featuring Adam’s father, on your favorite podcast player and its website.