Each Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal productivity, personal development, or business/entrepreneurship book of interest.
When I look at my life, it becomes quite clear to me that if I ever wanted to start a small business (and, no, I don’t quite consider my solo writing gig to be a small business, although big swaths of this book do apply to my wife and I), I would need the blessing of and a lot of support from my wife. She really is the cornerstone of so much of my life – without her working hand in hand with me, I would never be able to get any significant project off the ground.
Honey, I Want to Start My Own Business has the same perspective: a successful small business owner that’s married already has a business partner. Only by working in concert with your spouse can you really hope to achieve great success in business, whether it’s through direct support (i.e., your spouse is helping you with the business) or indirect support (your spouse is understanding of the challenges and helps you find the space you need to get things done).
Let’s see what insights Azriela Jaffe has to offer us in this book.
1. Exploring Self-Employment Alternatives: Considering Family Issues
Two big things stood out at me in this first chapter.
First, in a completely unusual move for a book on this topic, there were three pages of additional suggested resources on the topic of exploring your self-employment options. This book didn’t profess to have the answers on finding the right small business for you – it sticks right with the target area, which is how that small business will relate to your relationship with your partner.
The bigger one, though, was a list of fifty questions to consider if you’re looking into self employment. Before I quit my desk job and started The Simple Dollar, I really believed I had considered every angle of the decision, but this list of fifty questions spurred dozens of discussions with my wife. A sampling:
38. How does this business option mesh with your partner’s work and livelihood? Is it synergistic, harmonious, and complementary? How will it conflict?
42. How will this business option improve, solidify, or sustain your relationship?
43. How could this business option jeopardize or deteriorate your relationship?
48. Do you hope to pass the business along to your children?
These (and many others) were all issues I hadn’t really considered before, and they were well worth considering.
2. Combining Marriage and Entrepreneurship: Three Models of Joining Together on the Entrepreneurial Journey
This chapter discusses three potential different models for a entrepreneurial household: full partnership (where both partners are involved in the business), dual entrepreneurship (where both partners are involved in separate businesses), and a supportive spouse (where only one partner is involved in the business). Each type is given about fifteen pages of coverage, outlining the specific considerations for that type of relationship.
Obviously, the third one (a supportive spouse) applies best to my situation, and most of the description there is pretty apt. My wife and I find a lot of creative ways to be flexible around each other’s needs, and that’s really the key to being a supportive spouse.
3. Financial and Family Planning: Planning Ahead to Avoid Disaster
Here, Jaffe offers ten guidelines for financial and family planning:
1. Acknowledge the existence of risk.
2. Identify your risk personality and that of your partner’s.
3. Clarify how much you and your spouse are willing to risk materially to be self-employed.
4. Form mutual agreement about material risk.
5. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst-case scenario.
6. Establish guidelines for money management and decision making.
7. Allow the differences between how you and your partner handle money to work to your advantage.
8. Discuss money issues at a time and place that will be productive.
9. Define your boundaries for personal sacrifice.
10. Plan for the details of entrepreneurial family life.
These ten guidelines make a great deal of sense and deserve some careful attention during the early stages of any self-employment or entrepreneurial initiative. Each one is given a few pages’ worth of individual attention in the chapter.
4. The Joys and Challenges of Working at Home: How Working at Home Can Work – and When It Can’t
This portion of the book felt the most familiar to me in my current situation. It was a real and honest assessment of the good elements and the bad elements of working from home, not just a whitewashed projection of how things should be or ought to be.
For example, in my own situation, the flexibility that working at home has given to me has been tremendously enjoyable, but that flexibility has a powerful flip side – it also means that interruptions become much easier. This chapter actually projects such a phenomenon, as well as the interesting challenges of working at home with little kids who don’t understand (and shouldn’t be expected to understand) the need for “work time” and for “play time.”
5. Communication Skills: Understanding Your Partner and Getting Your Point Across
At this point, the book somewhat switches gears and begins to focus on basic relationship issues. Why? Jaffe makes the case that entrepreneurship works best in the context of a strong relationship and that having the tools to make your relationship successful will make it much easier for you to make your entrepreneurship successful.
Jaffe starts off with the idea that communication is fundamental, something I strongly agree with in any relationship. My favorite insight? “Imagine that your partner is an animal from another kingdom. He or she may be nurtured, sustained, and excited by very different experiences than you are.” For example, after some significant time learning and observing, I discovered my wife truly loves very gentle back rubs over the full length of her back – they can actually put her to sleep. So about once or twice a week, she falls asleep to this. It’s a simple thing that takes very little effort from me, but it makes a world’s worth of difference to her. If you can find some things you can do like this for your partner, it’ll make a huge difference in your relationship.
6. Win/Win Conflict Resolution: Resolving Conflict at Work and at Home
What about the inevitable conflicts? Jaffe again offers some strong advice, starting with the suggestion that you figure out how to resolve the conflict within yourself before addressing your partner with it. If you can figure out a healthy solution on your own, you eliminate the need for direct conflict.
If you do feel the need for conflict, figure out what you actually want to communicate and what you hope to get out of the conflict before you go in, and make both of those very clear right off the bat. Be realistic in both, however; your partner has needs and wants, too. The less clear you are about your reasons for being upset and your desired solutions, the less likely it is that you’ll get the resolution that you want.
7. Keeping the Romance Alive: Creative Ways to Protect and Nurture the Intimacy of Your Relationship
Set aside time. That’s the real key. When both members of a relationship have very full lives, it’s often hard to find time to focus on your relationship.
For my wife and I, the way we’ve found to make it work is to simply spend an hour or two together before bed, just talking about things, doing simple household chores, or reading right next to each other. For example, this evening we’re going to spend the hour or two before bed preparing appetizers for a party this weekend, talking and just enjoying each other before we go to sleep.
8. This Isn’t What I Bargained For: Coping with Hard Times and Coming Out Stronger
The book closes with a brief look at crises and some suggestions for fixing them. My suggestions largely match up with hers, but really boil down to having two things at all times, no matter what you’re doing. You should have an emergency fund with several months’ worth of living expenses, and you should have a backup plan for what to do if your current endeavor completely falls apart. I’m very thankful that we have both.
Some Thoughts on Honey, I Want to Start My Own Business
This was a very thought-provoking book for us. Here are a few of them.
After reading this, I don’t feel like I adequately thought through all of the ramifications of my career shift. There were so many aspects of the choice to become self-employed that I didn’t really give enough thought to, and that made me feel both a bit guilty and quite energized to talk through the decision again with my wife. I feel like it really was the right decision in the end, though.
My wife really makes this site possible, in so many ways. It’s easy to forget how much she supports my day-to-day life when I’m writing and working feverishly in the office with the door closed by myself. When I open the door, she’s there, though – her smiling face, creativity, and wonderful deeds make this all work.
I wonder how many couples don’t think about these things at all when making a major leap. I thought we had handled it in great depth, but there were many areas we didn’t even really talk about at all. In a less communicative couple, I can see one person just making the leap largely without the spouse on board, and that just seems like a recipe for disaster.
Is Honey, I Want to Start My Own Business Worth Reading?
If you’re in a long term committed relationship and you’re either considering self-employment or a small business or are already involved in such a situation, read this book with your partner and, more importantly, talk about it with your partner.
Honey, I Want to Start My Own Business has started more conversations with my wife than any other personal finance or business book I’ve ever read (except for possibly the venerable Your Money or Your Life). On almost every page, there was something that came up that I jotted down to discuss with my wife later, and we spent several hours in the car recently mostly talking about how my writing endeavors intersect with our home life, almost entirely fueled by concepts from this book.
This one is a hidden gem. It’s not one that’s on every bookstore’s shelf, but if you can get a copy of it and you’re in that audience, it’s a very rewarding read.