The concept of “work-life balance” has new meaning when couples form a business partnership. Choosing to spend practically every waking and sleeping moment together is a big decision, one that presents challenges right along with the benefits. The Front Porch talked with several local couples who are working through the issues for the common good of their relationships and their businesses.
Characteristics of Couples Who Work Well Together
Before moving to Denver, Scott and Kim Lewis worked together at a university. Now, the couple is opening Anytime Fitness in Stapleton this spring, sharing their common passion for fitness and wellness. Kim feels one of the most important characteristics co-working couples should have is a passion for what they are going into. “If one of you is passionate about it but the other is just going along to be supportive, not sharing that enthusiasm, it isn’t going to work.”
The ability to turn your differences into strengths is also key, according to Scott. “If you both have the same strengths, you’re going to have a gap in your business, so recognizing that those strengths are complementary is important,” he says. “What she’s really good at, I’m not and what I’m really good at, she’s not as strong at.”
The Reality Can Be Different Than You Imagined
“Our plans were informal and are always changing,” says Sally Petterson, who owns Stapleton Roasters with her husband, Ryan. “But you can do that when you start your own business and don’t have outside investors. We winged it and figured it out as we moved forward with the idea.” For example, the Pettersons went into their partnership thinking that owning their own business would allow them freedom to travel and spend more time with their boys, but the reality was only half true. “As owner-operators without outside employees, everything falls on us,” she says. “We have to really plan for the times that we travel, and pay someone to manage our business in our absence.”
Sometimes, the different strengths that are supposed to be complementary can clash. Initially, the Pettersons thought their partnership was ideal because Ryan is a CPA, knows numbers and risk assessment and Sally is more of the saleswoman and people-person. Sally says that at first, she felt Ryan was shooting down some of her ideas when in reality he was utilizing his risk assessment skills. “And that’s so valuable, but I was taking it all personally,” she says.
Work Life Will Affect Home Life
Whether working together all day or splitting time between “day jobs” and the family business, home life will change. Park Hill residents Doug and Karen Kingman, who own Kingman Estates Winery, have found they eat out a lot more. They also found they had to divide the chores in different ways than they were used to. When one of them needs downtime, the other supports that by picking up the workload or shifting things to another day.
For Kurt Pletcher, who with his wife Sarah and their neighbors Tim and Genefer Thornton, owns Four Friends Kitchen in Stapleton, working with his wife was a wakeup call. “Frankly, I never realized how much I didn’t help with our personal life until Sarah jumped in at the restaurant and then it was clear how much I missed her when she had to focus on the business,” he says.
Genefer says it started to feel like all of her conversations with her husband Tim revolved around the restaurant. “It became exhausting,” she says. “We finally found our groove of talking about the important things at the restaurant, or even just giving me a few minutes to vent … and then putting it away and focusing on the other parts of our life.”
There Will Be Challenges
As Genefer describes, trying to create a division between home life and work life can be one of the biggest challenges. “There have been a few times when one of us had to just stop and say, ‘OK, no more restaurant talk, agree?!’” says Kurt. Sally Petterson and her husband can relate but have found a solution. “We’ve embraced it. We can laugh at each other, as in, ‘Oh, you were awake at 3am thinking about marketing? I was awake at 4am wondering if we should create a prettier bag!”
Musicians Josie Quick and Tom Carleno of Park Hill perform together and give private music lessons from home and are together 18–20 hours every day. All that togetherness can have a limit. While they feel their similar personalities help them co-exist well, Tom says, “Neither one of us is good at handling stress, so we have to give each other space.”
The Kingmans try to not take each other for granted. “We often are hardest on those we love because we, at times, don’t have the same inhibitions with them as with others,” says Doug.
But There Will Be Benefits Too
Working together, and all that goes with it, can be a good example when couples have kids. Sally and Ryan Peterson feel they are teaching their 7- and 10-year-old sons a lot of life and business lessons. Says Ryan, “We want to show them that you can always change course in life and follow your passions.”
Working together can also bring out the best in each other, pushing the other to be as good as they can be. For Tom and Josie, this came to fruition when Josie served as producer on Tom’s solo CD. “She knew how to get me to play my best in the studio and helped keep me focused.” The album wound up getting rave reviews, airplay around the world and winning an international music award. “Since we’re in a creative field, whenever an idea hits we can immediately go bounce it off each other,” adds Josie.
Karen Kingman feels she and her husband have gained increased respect for each other’s professional capabilities. “That’s something often not seen if you don’t work together in a business setting,” she says. “We have an opportunity to share the joys and frustrations of striving to make a business successful and in doing so have come to rely on each other more than ever before.”
Kurt Pletcher agrees. “It’s really cool to see someone you have known so well in one part of your life work in another part, in this case in the business. It just adds to the list of things you like about your partner.” Kurt’s wife, Sarah, now sees her husband as a business mentor but also a more equal partner in life. “Prior to this business venture, we operated in quite different realms. I truly believe that taking this risk together has strengthened our relationship in so many ways.”