By: Anna Majavu
New research has found that romantic couples who want to go into business together will only succeed if they have a stable marriage founded on trust and love if they already communicate in a healthy manner within the marriage, and if they share “a common goal for the future of the business”. Even then, the couples will still need to carry out a risk assessment on copreneurship and get legal advice before starting a co-preneurial venture. Couple-owned businesses took off during the COVID-19 lockdown when couples, many of whom had lost their jobs, were stuck at home together and looked for ways to make money for their families.
Interviewing 17 co-preneurs in the Vaal Triangle area, Cindy Nhlapo of North West University found that co-preneurship could work out very well. “Partners in co-preneurial ventures are naturally driven into the roles they occupy by their passion. The freedom that comes with working with a spouse enables each partner to manage tasks they are generally interested in,” wrote Nhlapo. Nhlapo also found that copreneurs enjoyed an open and transparent working relationship, especially when it came to business finances.
Starting a business with a spouse could even make child-rearing easier in the long term. When they first started their business, copreneurs were likely to both be working long hours and struggle with childcare as a result, but once the business became successful, they had more space than ordinary employees to take their children away on work trips and turn these into family holidays. The study also found that co-preneurs had “more flexibility in deciding how and when they wanted to have children compared to when they were employed”.
Sharing both a child and a business also motivated co-preneurs to be successful and create an inheritance. Nhlapo also found that because it was not easy for one-half of the couple to leave the business partnership and stay in the marriage, “there is an incentive to resolve conflict as soon as it arises”. Even so, copreneurs would do well to hire business and marriage mentors to assist with mediation and guidance on rational decision-making at times, she said.
As one business surveyed said: “Another biggest disadvantage was the fighting. We fired each other how many times. One time he fired me the next time, I fired him.” Nhlapo also recommended that if romantic couples hire other family members, they need to employ a neutral human resources practitioner to manage the behavior of the family members at work. “This will also assist in distancing the copreneurs from the responsibility of dismissing family members from the business,” Nhlapo found.
Another problem was that female spouses were likely to run administration while male spouses took charge of operations. “Whatever role a partner assumes in the couple’s household is transferred to the business to a certain degree. Men are deemed leaders of the household, and thus they are responsible for leadership roles in the businesses.” Business staff also often saw the male partner as the boss and the wife as just a helper, even though they were equal co-owners of the company.