I feel very lucky that my husband is totally behind me and my business, and shows nothing but enthusiasm and support for what I do. He is also an entrepreneur, so is used to managing risk and uncertainty in the job arena.
I know this is not always the case: I hear a lot of concern from blog and ezine readers about the lack of support they get from their spouse for their entrepreneurial dreams. This can range from skepticism about the business idea to fear that the budding entrepreneur will totally ruin the financial base of the family.
While frustrating, there are actually some very good reasons why a spouse may express fear or concern. And it is not because they don’t love you or want to see you forever miserable and bound to your cube by a menacing chain. Here are some more reasonable explanations, and suggested remedies:
- They don’t understand your business idea because you haven’t explained it in a way that makes sense to them. You may be totally enthusiastic about developing a computer program that fixes a critical flaw in a major software application, but this could be too technical or meaningless to your spouse.
Remedy: Simplify your business description, using terms and analogies that they understand and can relate to. This is a good thing to do in general, as most people you meet won’t have a clue what you are talking about either. Laura Allen has some nifty tools for doing this at 15 Second Pitch.
- They don’t have enough information about your business to decide if it sounds viable or not, so they assume that it isn’t. You may have been thinking, planning and researching your new business venture for a long time and feel very familiar with both the business idea and the opportunity for success. But if you haven’t shared this information with your spouse, he may assume it doesn’t exist.Remedy: Share your business plan with your spouse, demonstrating the information and research that you have done to backup your idea. What, you haven’t done any analysis or business plan? You should have more concerns than a reticent spouse. Go here for some good tools and guidance on writing a business plan.
- They have deep fears about risk and money that don’t have anything to do with you personally. A caller in one of my teleclasses mentioned that his spouse was terrified about losing financial stability if he went out on his own. He was frustrated with this, as he felt he had a very viable business idea and a solid plan. When I asked him about his wife’s background, he told me that her father had quit his job and started a very unsuccessful string of entrepreneurial ventures, adding stress and tension to the family. That is where the real heat of her emotion was coming from.Remedy: If your spouse expresses fear about any part of your plan, ask a lot of “what, why, where, when and how” questions in a very open and non-judgmental manner. For example, ask “What in particular are afraid of? Why do you feel this way? When did you feel something similar in the past? What would you need to know or experience to dissipate this fear? The key here is to ask questions and listen, not refute each point.
- They think differently than you. You might perceive your spouse is unsupportive because they ask lots of critical questions about your business plan. But maybe that is just how their brain is wired, and they must ask the questions in order to understand and support your idea. My Mom is and example of this: she is an extremely supportive person, but is risk averse by nature, so usually when discussing something new, she first comes up with a list of questions and concerns about it. It used to frustrate me, but now I realize that it is simply her way of processing new information. Ironically, I find I have the same behavior with my husband when he first broaches a business idea or expansion plan. We truly do become our mothers as we get older!Remedy: Don’t react negatively to critical questions, use the same questioning techniques as described in #3. Pay attention to how your spouse processes information and give them the resources and time to digest it. If your spouse is highly analytical, you may want to give them some detailed information about your business idea or plan. If she is big-picture and results-oriented, stay brief with your description and focus on impact, results and rewards. I have used the DiSC profile a lot in my corporate work with leaders and teams, and virtually everyone who I administered the profile to said it helped in their personal relationships. Alicia Smith, known as the DiSC Ninja, has the profile online.
- They have seen you start and stop many projects in the past and are not confident that you have the follow-through skills to pull off the marathon of entrepreneurship. I don’t know if I totally agree with Dr. Phil that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, since I have seen many people make significant changes in their lives. But in the last 10 years if you have shown your spouse that you enthusiastically start remodeling projects and then lose steam with holes in the wall or a half-painted room, if you join a gym and never go, if you get enthused with new hobbies every month and never take them anywhere, you may have some problems with follow-through.Remedy: If you think that this endeavor is totally different, explain why. Share why you think it is not just a cool, fleeting idea, but something that you are willing to invest a lot of effort and energy in for the next couple of years. And practice the art of discipline and follow-through by sticking with projects to completion. You may also want to stay in your “day job” a bit longer than other people while you develop your business idea over time, to ensure that it maintains its same appeal and value after months of hard work.
- They don’t know what the exit or backup plan is. Leaving a job to start a new business may seem like jumping off a cliff to your spouse. It is not a point of no return … every new entrepreneur should be able to describe an exit strategy if the venture fails, or takes longer than anticipated to get off the ground.Remedy: Create an exit strategy with your spouse’s input, determining things like: how much money you are willing to spend without return, the amount of time you will allocate to see if your business idea will be successful, alternatives for generating income and strategies for getting a job if you need to jump back in the world of employee-hood for awhile (this is totally natural and not to be ashamed of – I call it “becoming your own venture capitalist”)
- They are afraid you will leave them if you get too happy and successful. This may seem crazy and counter-intuitive, but it is a real fear for some people. It is usually based on insecurity on the part of the spouse, where they feel like they need to keep things just the way they are in order to maintain the relationship. We have all seen the media stories of spouses who got insanely jealous of their partner when they lost weight or hit the lottery jackpot.Remedy: Reinforce the love you have for your spouse. Talk about what the relationship means to you. Make sure that you carve out time for your relationship as you are working on your business plans. Do all that you can to reinforce the love your spouse has for his or herself, as we all know that insecurity and self-loathing is the root of all jealousy.
- They are bitter that you get to have fun while they are sacrificing as a corporate drone. This is a tough one, as often one spouse does have to sacrifice something while the other undertakes the startup phase of a new venture. The same thing happens when one spouse works to put the other through graduate school.Remedy: Talk with your spouse about his or her dreams, and make plans for bringing them to life. Your spouse’s dreams may have nothing to do with entrepreneurship, but
rather involve visiting interesting places around the world, or getting
in shape, or learning how to carve wood. Get clear on timelines for each of your interests, and be sure that each of you is making sacrifices to support the others’ happiness. If they see how you are willing to adjust and change to support them, they will be more likely to support you.
If you find that your spouse is still totally resistant and unsupportive of your hopes and dreams after applying all these remedies, you may have some more deep-seated problems than an entrepreneur coach can solve. Get yourself to a relationship counselor, and see if that helps.
For those of you who have made the transition from employee to entrepreneur successfully, what helped your spouse support you along the way?