Working with your spouse—on a project, on building up a company—can be a gift if you know how to navigate it well. Some of the most successful working business partnerships are also spousal relationships. Ken and Kerri Courtright, spouses and business partners for over twenty years, share tips to keep your time and relationship productive. The things that work and don’t work in business partnerships also hold true for spousal relationships. Let Ken and Kerri teach you how to best go about a future working with your spouse successfully.
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Working With a Spouse
This episode is called Working With A Spouse. I thought this would be a good title since Kerri and I spoke at Greg S. Reid’s Secret Knock for the second or third time. Every time we get off stage, we have a little crowd around us and inevitably the question comes up, “How do you work together? How have you worked together for twenty-some years?” We figured that it would be a good episode if we could put our thoughts together. From previous episodes, I am sitting next to my beautiful bride, Kerri, my business partner for many years. We’re going to share a couple of nuggets each on what we think are not only the foundational principles of working with a spouse, but what specifically have we done that has allowed us to stay and grow a company together, and raise a family through a business. It’s a tremendous life that we have and we’re looking forward to another 25 years.
I’m going to start off. The first one is this. If you’re working with a spouse, one of the underlying principles for both parties are you have to give them space. What I mean by that is when I wake up in the morning, my commute is grab a coffee and go downstairs. Kerri’s commute is grab a coffee and go into her office. Throughout the day, we can sense how the day is going based on what each of us is working on. Kerri can definitely sense when it’s a good time to approach me with a new idea. I can sense when it is or isn’t a good time to approach Kerri with a good idea. There’s a phrase when you’re either going to uplift or maybe critique an employee called, “Right place, right time.”
There’s a lot to be said for that. The same goes for working with a spouse. Just because something isn’t necessary for you doesn’t mean it’s a necessary or appropriate time for them. Even though you’re a spouse, you have to understand you’re still a business partner and you have to respect your partner’s time and their state of mind. It’s like a great business relationship between maybe a president and a VP or two VPs in different branches or different divisions, maybe Midwest and East Coast. They respect each other and they know when there is a time and there isn’t a time to encroach and approach each other. That was my first nugget. It’s still business and in a business relationship, you have to give your business partners a little bit of space.It's great to work with your spouse because you're working with your best friend, someone who always has your back. Click To Tweet
The second one is understanding each other’s strengths. On one hand, this is easy because you’re spouses. On the other hand, it isn’t easy because you’re not talking about personal strength. You’re talking about business strength. I’m definitely going to get back to this when I talk about a couple of other nuggets. When I’m talking about business strength, I would strongly recommend to couples to get Michael Gerber’s book E-Myth. It stands for the Entrepreneur’s Myth. In that book, halfway through, he has a physical outline of what a company looks like. It’s got CEO at the top, COO, CMO and CIO underneath. It’s got different divisions. There’s another reference to even a small one-person business has an organizational chart. It happens to be that one person or that one couple is the head of sales, marketing, accounting, research and development, and installation if you’re in the physical business.
The bottom line is the book E-Myth does a great job of outlining even in a small company what are the divisions that must be in place for a company to succeed. It might be a good idea to take your spouse, grab them by the hand, go out to dinner and open that chart and say, “Based on our personalities, what areas do we fit in best?” Look at it not from a personal relationship standpoint but from a business standpoint and divide the responsibilities based on those strengths. My two nuggets to start with are you’ve got to give your spouse some space and you’ve got to understand their strengths. It goes for both parties of the relationships. I’m going to turn it over to my beautiful bride, Kerri.
I absolutely love working with my spouse. I get to be with my best friend all day long. Someone I know that has my back and has nothing but the best intentions and wants everything wonderful for me and for our family. Those of you who are even thinking about working with your spouse, it is rewarding. Studies show that the chances of you staying married are exponentially higher than the rest of the average. That right there is a good reason to work together. I have a few other things. Remember when you’re working with your spouse, the best thing to do is to be on the same page.
For us, we both know where we are headed as a company. We know which direction we’re going into. As Ken mentioned, our offices are separate. Mine is upstairs and his is downstairs. We also have different responsibilities. We make different decisions throughout the day, but we trust each other. We know that each person when they’re making a decision for the company and their area, that it’s for the same goal. We are headed in the exact same direction. I trust him because we are on the same page and we’re also on the same team. Uplift your spouse. Do not talk about your spouse negative in public, especially not to a client or talk down to your spouse. When that information gets out there, people who want to have wanted to work with you might choose not to.
When you talk negative about your spouse, you’re only hurting you and your company. You are hurting the perception of your company. You need to remember that you are on the same team and have a unified front. If you have a disagreement, you disagree in private, not in public because you are on the same team. The growth and the direction of your company depend on the two of you. Remember that you are each other’s biggest cheerleaders. I’m sitting in Ken’s office and I see statue after statue and plaque after plaque of accolades that my husband has received. In previous episodes, he told you some of mine. For each of the wonderful things that we do individually, we are right there encouraging each other to continue to be the best that they can be, whether it’s speaking, dancing or whatever it happens to be. When Ken does well, our company does well. When I do well, our company does well. It’s not a competition. We are each other’s biggest cheerleaders. To that, it makes the success of your company even grow exponentially.
I’m going to play exactly right off of that. We are pulling in exactly the same direction. Kerri and I every quarter know exactly where we’re at and where we’re going. I’m going to bring this back. I’m going to go 90 degrees and say when you’re working with your spouse, and this part is difficult, but it’s incredibly simple once you realize you’re pulling in the same direction. As soon as Kerri and I realized, and it wasn’t until maybe a few years ago when we realized we have to remember we’re working together, but it’s still business. Meaning every division in our company can only have one leader. You notice in professional football and baseball, there’s a head coach and an assistant coach.
When it comes to sales and marketing, Kerri knows I’m the head coach. When it comes to our Forbes recognized events that Kerri is the President of, I do not get in the way. I don’t second guess Kerri’s judgment even if I have a different idea. Kerri runs that division. She is the head coach of that division. In business, when you’re in public, you do not say something negative about your spouse, even if you think it might be funny or “My spouse did this.” It doesn’t work like that. You’ve got to have each other’s back at all time. There’s never a time to pass a negative statement or comment. This is such an important thing because it’s overlooked.When you're working with a spouse, make sure you're always on the same page. Click To Tweet
We were in Secret Knock and there were at least half a dozen couples there. Every single couple, every one of them, I heard somebody say something negative about their spouse. They were subtly jabbing them. When you’re in a business setting and you hear somebody subtly jabbing their spouse, you don’t know if they’re joking or serious. You don’t know if they respect their spouse or not. The world doesn’t see that person as your spouse, they see that person as your business partner.
If you’re questioning your business partner, you’re questioning your business. The front that is displayed and what comes out of your mouth and what shows through your actions with and around your spouse is critical. You cannot take it back. We call it the genetic code. What Kerri and I do, our team does. What Kerri and I do, our employees do. It’s absolutely phenomenal. You have to understand that it is business and you’ve got to assign a captain or a coach of each division.
That means the spouse could be the VP of that division, but one of the spouses has to be the final decision-maker in each division. You’ve got to support that whether you agree with that or not. My final point is this. As a spouse, you’ve got to find a way to celebrate mistakes. In business, there is a division of a company or at least there should be. For our loyal audience, you know that the critical nature of our company puts on research and development. I don’t think there’s a Fortune 500 company that doesn’t have a massive research and development budget and division.
What does that mean? Research and development is a division that is purposefully built to go out and make mistakes. It’s purposely built to try things and break them, market them and ruin things, “We tried ten things and two of them are working, the market appreciates them and are profitable.” 80% didn’t work. You could call those 80% mistakes or whatever. Here’s my question, why is it that the majority of spouses working together, when one of the spouses makes a mistake, why isn’t that looked at as research and development? Why isn’t that mistake celebrated?
In a previous episode, my wife poignantly said, “You better get used to the word no.” She even starts the episode, “Repeat after me, ‘No,’” and everybody shouted back, “No.” She did it again. What’s the point? The point is in business if you want to rock it to the top, you better get used to the word no. Once you get somewhere, you better get good at saying no. How does this relate to spouses in making mistakes? I’m going to ask Kerri quick, and I did not prep her with this question. How many mistakes in many years in this business do you think I’ve made?
I couldn’t even count.
Thank you. I’m going to go with a million. I’m going to go with maybe an infinite number. I don’t know how many mistakes. I remember back in the days we had a chain of video stores. Hollywood Video wrote us a letter saying, “I will give you $680,000 or some odd huge number for a couple of your stores.” I never even showed it to my wife or business partners because if we took that money, we’d have to sell our stores and we’d only have $30,000 left. I made a decision without consulting my partners and that was a terribly huge mistake. Later, we found out that we should have sold. Because we didn’t sell, we lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. We got annihilated.
Did my wife, Kerri crucify me? No. Did she even bring it up again ever in the next 5 to 10 years? I don’t think so because that’s research and development. Ken went down a road, made a snap decision. Was it stupid? Yes. It was incredibly dumb. It’s one of the biggest and dumbest things I’ve ever done in my life. We wouldn’t be here now, we might not even be married if my wife attacked me and wouldn’t let me live it down, “How dare you when we were 27 years old not take $680,000 for a couple of our stores?”If you're questioning your business partner, you're questioning your business. Click To Tweet
If you want a relationship to rock and you want to be in business with your spouse, you’ve got to treat mistakes, which everybody makes, which your spouse and you are going to make the same way every big business treats a mistake. They celebrate the mistake as the word, “No.” It means that the road we were going down didn’t work. It was the mistake saying back to the business and the spouse, “No.” I’m hoping everybody’s catching this because this point of mine is literally the whole previous episode.
You better get used to the world saying no to you. You better get used to your spouse making mistakes because they’re humans and you better find a way to celebrate that. I don’t want to make it sound like Kerri and I are walking around making mistakes every day. I’m saying that once a year, every six months, every two years, somebody is going to be making a mistake that is costly in time, energy and money. Most spouses and most business partners derail because they start focusing on the mistake. Instead of focusing on the repair, on the dream board, on where you’re going, they stopped for a minute and focused on an anthill, which is insignificant. You just have to walk right over it but they sit there and stare at that. We have literally scratched the surface. I know Kerri and I have another 10 to 20 points we’d like to share, but there’s only much time. We don’t want to take up an hour or two hours on any one given episode. For now, we wanted to drop 4 to 5 nuggets of some ideas. I am Ken Courtright.
I’m Kerri Courtright.
We will see you all on the trail. Take care.
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