• Sarabeth Flowers Lewis

11 Tips for How to Run a Freelance Business With Your Partner

Updated: May 21, 2019

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness” -Kahlil Gibran

Long before Alexander and I got engaged, he told me that he wanted to run a business with his future spouse. I remember having a strong reaction,

“What a TERRIBLE idea. I would never do that.”

I had the impression that working with your spouse would be suffocating. How could we have a healthy relationship if we shared everything all the time? I didn’t have any good models for what it would be like.

Fortunately, I changed my mind.

By the time Alexander invited me to quit the corporate world and work with him, I was 100% open to the idea. The day we got married is essentially the day we started running our freelance writing business together.

After our honeymoon, we wrote our way through Central America and then Western Europe — getting paid to do it. Now we’ve settled back home in Austin, Texas.

*As a brief disclaimer, we’ve only been married since August 2017, so we don’t want to come across as “marriage-advice gurus.” We're not experts. This blog reflects what we've learned in our first year of being in business together. It's been a steep learning curve, one that we're still on.

Finding Meaningful Work With Your Spouse

Most days pass quite peaceably and we go to sleep after a great day of work, wondering how we struck gold. There’s a deep joy in what we’re creating together.

Then there are occasional days that feel really confusing — when communication breaks down, when the distribution of labor feels unfair, or when one of us is being a grump.

But the difficult days seem to provide the best opportunity for understanding ourselves and our business better.

And the truth is, for us, all of this has been infinitely worth it.

Like most of life, there are pros and cons to sharing a partnership in both life and work.

Here are 11 things we’ve learned in the past year that might be useful to those who are considering starting a business with their partner:

1. Make time to cultivate your own inner life (for the good of your relationship)

If you go into business with your partner, be prepared to spend all your time together. Sure, this all depends on your line of work and your family life (kids, no kids, etc.) but for our freelance copywriting business, we sit next to each other all day, every day.

Esther Perel, a Belgian psychotherapist and expert in modern relationships, writes about the preconditions for mutual desire and love: our conflicting human needs for both mystery and deep knowing. She writes,

Our need for togetherness exists alongside our need for separateness. One does not exist without the other. With too much distance, there can be no connection. But too much merging eradicates the separateness of two distinct individuals. Then there is nothing more to transcend, no bridge to walk on, no one to visit on the other side, no other internal world to enter.

In the beginning, I didn’t fully understand how we could have a healthy relationship with so little space between us. Working with your spouse means that you have less of a private life than other couples who work separate jobs throughout the day.

“This is a big challenge,” said Andrew and Dorothy Bennett, Austin-based photographers and videographers of Bennett Creative. “We spend so much time around each other that we have to be proactive about going on non-work related dates.”

Bennett Creative | Andrew and Dorothy Bennett | Austin, Texas

Andrew and Dorothy Bennett

“For separateness, we are blessed with different sleep schedules," Andrew adds. "I get up earlier and usually get a couple hours in the morning to myself. It’s also nice being our own bosses, because Dorothy will take off mornings to write and be at home whenever she needs to.”

For the particular idiosyncrasies of our relationship, being both colleagues and partners works for us. Alex and I typically work on separate projects and even keep individual client accounts, which means that we have our own interior worlds throughout the day.

We do discuss emails or read copy out loud to each other, but otherwise we tend to spend hours in our own writing bubbles. Effective writing requires quiet and solitude; the nature of our work does provide us some space.

Meaning: Make space for separate work — even if you’re in the same room all day.

2. Lean on each other’s strengths...

As a team, we tell clients that they are hiring two pairs of eyes for the price of one.

We edit each other’s work and discuss projects as they unfold. We’re much stronger together than if we were writing solo. In addition, we have never had a problem with giving each other critical editing feedback.

This openness and trust is absolutely a cornerstone of our business and relationship.

“It is as though forged together we form one presence, for each of us has half of a language that the other seeks. When we approach each other and become one, a new fluency comes alive.” - John O’Donohue

Meaning: Having a business (and life!) partner to depend on and give you constructive feedback makes your business exponentially stronger.

3. ...but keep a balance so you’re not asking too much of your partner

Like all collaboration, there are unhealthy or co-dependent iterations of working together. If Alex works on projects all day while I take breaks to go to yoga and grocery shop, I need to be aware that he’s carried more of a load than me.

Humans are typically givers or takers. Opposites tend to attract.

So if you’re an inherent giver, I recommend giving your partner the gift of communication. Asking for the things you need is the best way to fix the issue of giving too much.

If the workload feels unbalanced, that’s probably because it is.

Conversely, if you’re a taker, remember that you need to intentionally go out of your way to take initiative when it comes to emotional — and professional — labor. Receive feedback from your “giver” partner and be honest about putting in your fair share next time.

Meaning: After an argument or problem, you may need to revisit the status quo with your partner to learn how you can be more balanced next time.

4. Aim for an equitable division of house and work labor

Similarly, if you share a home and professional work, keep in mind that there is labor around the house that needs to be done in addition to meeting work deadlines.

Laundry accumulates. Dishes pile up.

When you work from home, if the house gets out of hand, your workspace can suddenly feel chaotic and full of distractions. Getting housework done after-hours is key to having a ready workspace the next day.

Alex and I have developed a division of labor that works for us… most of the time. We share the writing work and the housework. I cook, he does the dishes. He typically starts articles, and I finish them with final edits. We’re always refining it.