A photographer wrote me for advice. He and his wife are into the business of photography together. I was asked how they can deal with irritants in business that seem to be affecting their home life as well.
I know these challenges very intimately, since I manage the photography business that my husband is in. For a few years, until she decided to be a full-time wife and mother, my daughter was also a photographer in our photo business.
This is what I can say:
On the good side – I heard that couples who are in business together tend to have fewer divorces than couples who are not. (Obviously, the study was not made in the Philippines, since divorce is not allowed in this country).
A couple could assume business roles that are complementary (one is photographer, the other is in sales), or by working together, they double their strengths (if both are photographers).
They know the issues and challenges of the profession or the day’s job, and that knowledge allows them to extend greater empathy and sympathy from and for each other than if they worked in different fields.
On the negative side – there are many challenges, especially when a couple has not learned to separate work from home – whether in terms of time, space or roles.
Another source of conflict is when couples believe that, since they are in the same business, they have as much right and capability to decide as the other spouse on EVERY issue. This is when the decision function is constantly split between a couple, and every argument puts them in locked horns. To remedy this, they need to define the areas of responsibility and authority, and who is in charge of what. For example, we’ve made our Studio Manager in charge of schedules – neither my husband nor myself can accept any appointments, whether for shoots or for meetings. Only she could do that. If you don’t have a secretary or Studio Manager, one of you could take on this role – whoever between you is more organized can take care of this more clerical task. Same way for costing jobs. If one is in charge of preparing cost estimates, then the other may not enter into negotiations about pricing without consulting the other. Again, respect for each other, and for the agreements that they have reached, will help tremendously in keeping peace at home and in the studio.
Living, as we did and still do, where our studio is located, we struggled with the challenge of separating business from home life for a long time, and from time to time we still do, but we know that we have to make an intentioned and determined effort not to take business issues into our home and vice versa.
From our own experience, John and I know that we would have to put aside personal differences and put on our professional selves when facing clients. Many times, after a long day of being gracious with each other in front of clients, we forget what we were arguing about before the clients came, effectively ending our personal tiffs. Same way, when the situation is reverse.
Each type of photography business – portrait, wedding, travel, photojournalism etc. comes with its own set of challenges. Ours comes from the fact that advertising photography is a 24/7 job, and that makes it even more difficult to separate business from home matters.
On the other hand, there are perks for the family that come with the job or the business. Our children are all adults now, but when they were growing up, they enjoyed being able to ride on helicopters when we did aerial photography, or come with us when we were photographing resorts. They feasted on pizza, hot dogs and ice cream that we were shooting in the studio. When we photographed rappelling, they tried that, too. Or rode in new cars – our clients’, not always ours. Or met important personalities who came to the studio to be photographed. We strongly believe that our children’s and our lives were richer because we lived where we worked.
There are pluses and minuses, but if you feel bogged down by the minuses of being in business together or having your business at home, here are some things you could do.
1. As soon as it is possible, arrange your home to be physically “separate” from your office and studio – even though they are on the same site and you may have easy access from one to the other. Combining our residence and studio was a compromise that John and I reached. I wanted to live away from the city, but John wanted a “two-second commute” between home and studio. He argued that if we lived in Pansol, Laguna where I wanted to live (an hour’s drive from Makati), we would have to leave before the children were awake, and the children would be asleep by the time we got back from work. I gave in, and I am glad that I did.
2. If you have the space, have your own living room instead of using your studio reception area for entertaining your relatives and personal friends or to allow yourself a space for personal relaxation. In our set up, we even have separate kitchens – one for the family and because we do food photography, another for the studio. We also have separate dining areas. If you do not have enough space for separate family and office area, perhaps designating different times for the use of these areas might help.
Here are a couple of examples:
a. before we had 24-hour Internet and Wifi, we had to set rules and schedules on use of computers for personal use. On the other hand, we appreciated the fact that having the office in the house meant we could have access to computers and other recreational gadgets in the house.
b. when our children were growing up, they were encouraged to write on our whiteboard (where all shoot and office schedules were kept) any important schedules they had that needed our presence – family day at school, PTA meetings etc. Now, we use computer calendars, and since our children now live away from home, we Skype, Messenger or email to keep in touch. We also visit, or they do.
3. Adopt a different look for your studio and another for your home. Our studio is more Western looking, while our house is more traditionally Filipino. It allows you to have a visual cue to drop the stressors of one before stepping into the other.
4. Resist the temptation to bring in office business into the house, especially your bedroom. It took me a long time, and even now I falter, to not talk about business when I am already in the house. Probably as a way to prepare himself for the next working day, John would ask me about his shoot schedules before going to bed – and many times, that led to business discussions, and sometimes, into arguments on issues where we do not have agreement. One thing would lead to another, and we would end up being both upset.
So I learned not to remember his shoot schedules, and I would feign to not have in my head the information that he was asking for. (But now, I don’t need to pretend – I really can’t remember – must be the age!) If, while in the privacy of our bedroom, we drifted into business topics, I would offer to walk to the studio so we could get records, files, etc. John has learned to take that as a hint that it can wait until tomorrow.
I also read a story – might have been on Readers’ Digest – about a wife who was feeling too burdened by rants that her husband would bring home from the factory where he worked as a supervisor. She knew, however, that there were no sympathetic ears at work to listen to him. She could not give him any advice, and he really didn’t want or need any. He just needed to unburden. On a creative impulse, she bought a tree and planted it by their main door. She advised him to use it as his hearing tree, and even put a bench where he could sit down while he talked to it. When he had expunged all his negative feelings and thoughts about work, then he could come into the house. It worked. (I wonder what the neighbors thought of him talking to the tree, but who cares?) P.S. Every now and then when she saw signs of the tree wilting – must have been all that toxic energies being dumped on it – she would replace the tree.
5. Realize that good moods and bad moods come in cycles. If there are genuine issues, find a way to deal with them, but it’s just a bad mood – you might just need to let it pass.
In the early years when we had no hobbies and only work, the bad moods came often. Although he may not have had issues with his photography, our staff or our clients, many times, he often ended the day being exhausted and consequently not in a good mood. So I encouraged John to pick up a hobby. From building small scale model plans, he went on to building remote control planes. When he was not happy at work, he could be happy flying. If he felt terrible because his plane crashed, his mood could change because his photography was well-received. We found his happiness flowing from one direction to the other.
Now that his hobby (flying) has sort of blended in with his work (he flies drones, which he uses for doing aerial photography), he or I have to look for something else to keep his mind off work. That’s a bit tough to do, since he is a workaholic. In the more recent years, he has found personal satisfaction in giving talks and workshops on photography, and deep fulfillment in doing advocacy work. Or doing volunteer work at the zoo, taking care of the elephant.
6. Find the right time to discuss touchy issues or bad news. As a child, I learned from an aunt not to greet anyone with bad news. Unless it is an emergency, delivery of bad news can wait until the other person receiving it has eaten and rested.
I have also heard the advice – do not go to sleep with anger in your heart, or something like that. Well, when I was younger, I erroneously took it to mean – we should try to resolve our differences before going to sleep, even if it meant still arguing until 2 or 3 in the morning. It didn’t help because sometimes that meant John would have go to an early morning shoot with no sleep at all. I have learned to be less stubborn as well as not to “sweat the small stuff.” Like finding the right time for delivering bad news, I also learned when not to pick a fight.
7. You might need to designate a “board of directors” to help break the deadlocks between you and your spouse. The challenge of a couple being in business together is that the decision function is split evenly between you and your spouse. Sometimes you may find yourselves stubbornly on opposite sides of an argument and with neither of you giving in even an inch. Before this happens, form a board. Nominate and agree on at least three more people to bring in to help you vote on critical issues. Five would be a good number. Let the proponents of opposing ideas present their arguments for and against an idea, and remember to respect the decision of the majority. If you lose, lose graciously – do not take it against those who voted against your idea. If you won, don’t gloat!
8. For the issues that you and your spouse, or your board, cannot resolve, you might need to take it up with a professional consultant. Resist the temptation to complain to other family members or office staff. Soliciting support from them may just divide you into feuding camps. If you must talk to your family members or employees about controversial issues, ask them to help bridge the gap, not to take sides.
9. Set down policies and define your values, and let these statements guide you in resolving conflicts. Craft your corporate as well as family vision and mission statements and make sure they complement each other. When you are in disagreement, be guided by your constitution and statements of your vision and mission. And don’t forget that you love each other – that’s why you are working together.
10. Always remember that personal and familial relationships should ultimately be served before business. Try to preserve your marriage and family, even at the expense of your business. If running a business together is ruining your marriage and wreaking havoc on your family life, it might be better for one to quit the family business and work outside of the home. But, if with genuine effort, you can keep your business and home together, then congratulations – you have the best of both worlds.
Indeed, love and business can go together. We’ve been at this for 42 years, and it gets better as the years roll on– so just keep rockin’ and rollin’ along.