Podcast

Ep. 126 Shopkeeper Guest Interview: 7 Tips for Working with Your Spouse (And Staying Married!)

I’m excited to bring you a new intermittent series called Shopkeeper Guest Interviews. Many talented store owners in our Master Shopkeepers and Shopkeeper’s Lab groups have different experiences, knowledge, and perspectives than me—and I want to share their ideas with you. 

Today’s guests are Dani and Tim Martin. They’re the owners of The Cotton Shed Market, a vendor market located in Bryant, Arkansas, and the home decor store High Cotton Decor (located inside their vendor store!). They’ve worked together for nearly 6 years and married for 17. 

Here are Dani and Tim’s seven tips for working with your spouse…and staying married. 

#1. Over-Communicate, Then Communicate More!

Even though Dani and Tim work in different areas of their stores, they prioritize keeping each other updated on what they’re doing. 

Sharing an office has helped them over-communicate. On days when only one of them is at the store, they debrief their spouse when they get home. They also stay connected via text message and do a joint review of their schedule and to-do list each morning.

Communication is also a big emphasis with their staff. During orientation, they tell their staff members that communication is one of their foundational values and to always err on the side of over-communicating. 

#2. Create Your Goals, Mission, and Vision Together

If you’re working together as equal partners, you must agree on where you’re going and how you’re getting there. For Dani and Tim, that means having lots of brainstorming/free-flow conversations (usually when they’re on a road trip or at a relaxed dinner). 

Typically, Dani takes what they discussed and puts it in writing.  Then they review it together for any changes. They talk through it together and ensure they’re on the same page. 

Dani and Tim revisit their written goals, mission statement, and vision every year. While they don’t always agree on how to get there, they make sure they agree on where they’re going. 

#3. Stay in Your Strengths (aka, Mind Your Own Beeswax)

Tim is very good at sales and handling sticky situations like an unhappy vendor or customer. He’s responsible for renting booths and serves as the lead on the day-to-day operations of the vendor market. 

Dani’s skills lie in marketing, operations, and the more creative aspects of retail. She handles social media, events and promotions, workshops, and merchandising. 

Dani and Tim found themselves stumbling over each other a lot for a while. Once they defined their lanes, it became much easier to stay in them. Having clear roles permits them to speak up without it feeling like a personal attack. 

Over time, they’ve also been able to delegate or outsource the things neither of them enjoys doing, such as balancing QuickBooks.

#4. Agree on Big Decisions, Including What You Consider a Big Decision

If there’s a decision and Dani and Tim disagree, then the “no” wins. If they disagree, they don’t do it.  

For example, “We recently hired a manager, which was a big step and a big financial commitment for us. When we started the process, we had one rule: we had to both agree on a candidate to make the hire. If either of us didn’t feel it was the right person, we wouldn’t hire them.”

Dani and Tim also discuss what constitutes a “big” decision. In other words, what are the things you can decide on without consulting your spouse? Anything requiring a contract or an agreed-upon dollar amount must be discussed beforehand. 

Dani and Tim’s definition of “big decisions” continues to change as their business grows and evolves. This is where over-communicating is a big help. For example, if there’s a situation with a vendor, Tim will share it with Dani for her input on how he’s thinking about handling it. Or, if there’s a question about an event, Dani will run it by Tim with her plan. As long as they’re both kept in the loop, they’re generally good with whatever the other decides. 

#5. Spend Time Together Away From the Business to Work on the Business 

Dani and Tim don’t feel strongly about separating their work and personal lives. They bring their granddaughter to the store, are good friends with some of their vendors, and even have one of their employees dog-sit for them when they’re out of town.

The time when they’re physically away from the store doesn’t necessarily equal “time off.” They enjoy using that time for having conversations about what they tend to overlook in the day-to-day, such as strategy and long-range planning.

If Dani and Tim weren’t a married couple, they’d probably schedule 2-3 days every quarter for an offsite meeting. Instead, they plan for those discussions during car rides on vacation or take a two-hour lunch and get out of the store. 

The key is removing themselves from the building and the daily grind to get a new perspective. 

Sometimes, one or both of them will say, “I need to not talk about work for a while.” When that happens, Dani and Tim are very cognizant about honoring that—everyone needs a break!

#6. Disagree in Private

As spouses, it’s easy to say things to one another that they would never say to any other colleague. Not only is this incredibly damaging to their marriage, but it can make other people feel super uncomfortable. No one likes to be around a couple who is in conflict.

Dani and Tim work hard not to disagree publicly, especially in front of their employees. As the leaders of their business, they must be united and convey confidence in each other. 

Early in this journey, Tim shared with Dani that it made him feel bad when she disagreed with him during staff meetings. From Dani’s perspective, if he was just a colleague and she disagreed, she’d say something. But he isn’t just a colleague. And that brings us to Dani and Tim’s last tip…

#7. Never Forget That You’re Spouses First, Business Partners Second 

Your marriage is more important than any business. 

In the example about Dani disagreeing with Tim during staff meetings, some people might say that Tim should just put on his co-worker hat and take her disagreement like he would if it was anyone else. In any other situation, Dani would probably be supported in saying he needs to get over it and learn how to handle disagreement. 

But the bar for how we treat our spouse should be the highest. In a marriage, we’re obligated to hear when our behavior damages our relationship and adjust accordingly. 

Since Tim shared that, Dani makes an extra effort to hold any disagreements until they can discuss them alone. They also try to prevent it in the first place by reviewing things ahead of time to make sure they’re on the same page. 

Every marriage is different. Every business partnership is also different. This is what works for Dani and Tim. They’re still learning, every day, how to do it better!

Resources

Timestamps

  • [09:11] #1. Over-Communicate, Then Communicate More!
  • [14:05] #2. Create Your Goals, Mission, and Vision Together
  • [18:03] #3. Stay in Your Strengths (aka, Mind Your Own Beeswax)
  • [20:21] #4. Agree on Big Decisions, Including What You Consider a Big Decision
  • [23:52] #5. Spend Time Together Away From the Business to Work on the Business 
  • [25:30] #6. Disagree in Private
  • [27:22] #7. Never Forget That You’re Spouses First, Business Partners Second

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