One of the coolest things about being a creative entrepreneur is that all rules and standards of a traditional nine-to-five day job are thrown out the window. For example, we don’t have to work nine-to-five. And the word “nepotism” is replaced with “collaboration”. In fact, working with family can act as a shortcut to solving problems and growing your business faster than you can imagine.
I first started working with Tara at an ad agency. We were often self-conscious about the fact that we were siblings and tried to play down our sisterly sympatico when it came to our working relationship. But now, as creative entrepreneurs and business partners we see this as one of our biggest strengths. We haven’t worked with any sibling teams (yet) we have had the pleasure of working with a few of husband / wife duos. So while we often refer to our Braid Method as “brand therapy”, when it comes to working with spouses sometimes it feels a bit like marriage counseling too. It’s fascinating to see how aligned and in-synch these couples are – and it’s equally as interesting to see where the disconnects in business vision surface – and helping them bridge those gaps.
Sometimes I like to fantasize about working with my husband – I imagine brainstorms over breakfast and celebratory make out sessions after an awesome business victory. But on the other hand, I can vividly imagine some pretty intense days that would turn into cold nights, completely obliterating any sort of work / life balance. Cold nights might be a common occurrence for the Twin Cities-based creative entrepreneur duo, Ben McGinley and Laura McGinley Holway, but only weather-wise. This husband-wife team is striking a balance and keeping work and life inspiring (and temperaments occasionally high) with McGinely Motion, their partnership that provides video promotion plus strategic consulting for working artists. So I asked them a few questions, and they shared some great advice, on what it really takes to work with your spouse.
How did you guys meet?
Ben: Laura and I have been working together in some kind of capacity since 2005; we have worked together at restaurants, in theaters, on film sets, and most recently as creative consultants and story people for freelance-types. We met each other on the job and so work has always been a natural environment.
What is the hardest part about working with your spouse?
Laura: The hardest part is that we spend a lot of time together scheming big things and working on problem solving – which can be pretty intense. We both have a tendency towards stubborn control freakdom, and we don’t always speak the same language. I’m very big-picture and idea-generating oriented, and Ben really sees the details and steps necessary to make something happen.
Ben: The hardest part of working together is we spend a lot of time together. While this is a positive and healthy thing, we can quickly grow burnt-out on each other’s company.
What is the best part about working with your spouse?
Laura: The best part is that we get to share the joys and pains of putting ideas into action. Whether collaborating on a performance piece or a business plan, it’s been endlessly satisfying to share the process of making things. Few people know my strengths and weaknesses the way Ben does, and he’s great at calling me out when I need someone to. Although we have very different work styles, we complement one another well. And, Ben’s just really fun – it makes the hard stuff more enjoyable. Also, it’s really awesome to be able to take a break and make soup or go on a walk with your favorite person.
Ben: We are sickeningly in-synch with each other. We’ve got a shorthand vocabulary we can use and this makes the process of making things happen very efficient. Laura is great at getting the best ideas on paper; I’m great at taking all those ideas and simplifying them into a cogent, concise narrative and then, ultimately, hands-on producing the final deliverable.
When it comes to working together, how do you manage the ever elusive work / life balance?
Laura: Over time we’ve both become better at identifying what we need to feel a sense of balance. Exercise, time to plan and cook meals, and social time are essentials. We sit down and schedule everything ahead of time, and once it’s on the schedule it becomes non-negotiable. Scheduling helps us make space to take vacations, take workshops, and stay connected to our artistic community. We’ve learned the hard way that if we don’t make time for it, it just won’t happen. It’s really about advocating for priorities and adjusting those priorities as needed.
Ben: The other thing that helps us with work/life balance is that we are as obsessed with food, travel, and art as we are our jobs. We have to make time for those things because without them I am not a very pleasant person to be around. If we’ve got some extra cash on hand, we’ll buy plane tickets to go somewhere in 4 months. We found that if we never made time for vacations, we’d never go on them. This sounds like a simple, ‘no doy’ notion, but trust me we learned the hard way after we realized once that we hadn’t gone on a trip for over two years.
Laura: We recently moved into a larger living space, where we each have an office. This has made the boundary between work and life clearer: when the door to the office is closed, we’re more likely to put thoughts of work aside and focus on other aspects of life. Obviously, it’s not always that easy.
Ben: I’m only in my home office if I’m working; otherwise, we’ve got our ‘family space’ where we’ve got comfy couches and our Apple TV. Working from home is also excellent because if we’ve got a light day we can steal away for midday walk or late afternoon gym visit.
Laura: Lastly, I think it’s important to remember that there won’t always be a healthy balance of work and life. Sometimes I waste a lot of energy panicking when things aren’t in balance. Instead, it’s more beneficial for me to hunker down and work hard, and remember that crazy out-of-balance times (caused by a heavy editing schedule or the madness of tech week) aren’t forever, as long as you remember the balance that you’re aiming for. Temporary madness is ok.
Any advice for couples who are thinking about working together?
Ben: Working with your spouse is hard. I think a lot of people assume that Laura and I work together easily, and that’s not the truth. But, we’ve slowly gotten better at collaborating by learning to value the other’s perspective, by being patient, and by talking openly about how to improve our working relationship.
• Over-communicate everything. Our saving grace is that we’re both pretty hyper-communicative. We talk through our fears about working together, as well as our expectations.
• Designate roles, just like you would in any collaboration. It’s important for Ben and I to each have responsibilities that are our own, and these often play to our individual strengths.
• Make space for projects and activities (or even dates with friends) that don’t involve the other person. Seeing other people is key. And, taking time apart makes me appreciate Ben even more.
• And, like they teach in theatre improvisation, practice saying ‘yes, and’ when working through problems. Meaning, add onto and refine your partner’s idea, rather than being a nay-sayer. It makes for more more efficient problem solving. And, it makes you practice listening.
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