Successfully running a business with your better half: the do’s and dont's
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By: Poppy Louw
This year, my Valentine gifted me with a pile of paperwork, a handshake and a peck on the cheek.
For the past 10 months, my fiancé, Kabelo Molepo, and I have been informally operating a cookies business that we started from our apartment during the Covid-19 national lockdown.
Initially, I was happy to play the role of supportive partner and let him manage a significant part the business on his own.
But over time, I realised Daddy Bae’s Kitchen was, in fact, a business venture that would allow us to create a legacy for our young family and future generations, as well as the privilege to one day achieve financial freedom in our lifetime.
After considering the financial, emotional and personal investment I had made into Daddy Bae’s Kitchen, I concluded that it was as much my business as it was his.
It took me almost a month to pluck up the courage to ask Kabelo for an equal share of the business. I guess you could say I did not want to rain on his parade, because business was more his “thing”.
He happily accepted my proposal. At the end of January, we registered the business, with the two of us as the company directors, each with 50% shares.
We celebrated Valentine’s Day by cooking lunch together with our five-year-old son, Leano. As he napped after lunch, we got down to business.
In order to protect the family legacy, we agreed that the shares would be transferred into a trust, should we ever break our relationship.
I was a young teen when I watched my father slip into a state of oblivion after he was cheated out of tens of millions by his closest friends in an elaborate scam.
This was one of the reasons why I promised myself to secure a good, honest job and keep away from business.
I feared getting into a business partnership, only to be cheated out of what is rightfully due to me.
Additional to this was the fear of failure. I admit I was a little afraid and believed that keeping our focus on the immediate future was the best method for us to increase sales and expose the brand to as many prospective clients as possible.
However, Kabelo’s dream for the business is much bigger than simply baking orders from home. Had he not been thinking big, I would not have bothered to formalise our business arrangement and committed to doing my best to make it work.
One of the greatest challenges about our small business, particularly because we started it to provide in the household, is keeping money in the bank, rather than spending it on household essentials.
It was heartwarming to see the positive impact that contributing to the household had on Kabelo. He chipped in with bread, eggs, juice, vegetables and meat.
But dipping into the business account for household items is not sustainable and we have had to stop using it as a crutch.
Which is why we appointed a team of business consultants to provide us with bookkeeping and legal services. If we want to be a legitimate business, with a healthy bank balance, we are going to have to be disciplined at how we go about it.
We have committed to weekly check-ups, using Friday evenings as an opportunity to unpack the week that passed; the challenges we encountered; where we are at mentally; and to spend quality time together.
We regularly watch the sunrise in the public garden of our apartment building, have picnics in our apartment, and we also cook together (more he cooks, and I keep him company in the kitchen).
I am fortunate to have a partner who is patient enough to hold my hand through parts of the business I may not understand, such as the art of baking and the process of perfecting a cookie recipe.
For him, there is more to the process than searching for a recipe online, trying it out and moving forward. It can take him up to three weeks before he is happy with a product he is willing to sell.
Giving him the space to operate as freely as possible allows him to reach the peak of his creativity.
I have also had to learn to work around issues without taking everything personally, which I admittedly fail at sometimes.
One of the ways I do this is by taking a step back and reminding myself that although I always aim for perfection at everything, I do not “know it all” the way I think I do.
Respect for each other’s personal expertise, role and contribution to the business was our most recent discussion.
We agreed that we will give each other the freedom to be ourselves and avoid silly disagreements that take away from what we are trying to achieve.
There is no rulebook on how to run a business with a loved one, let alone your partner.
Open and honest communication, and prioritising our romantic relationship, make it possible for us to engage better, not only as a couple and as parents, but as business partners.