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Stokes Croft,
Bristol, BS2 8QW

How to be successful and happy running a business with your spouse!

Posted by Cat How, February 28, 2018

Working together as a couple can be hard and trying on a relationship. The key is to figure out your strengths and weaknesses from the start. Cat and Rog How – who set up and run the Pollen Place workspace and event space – spill the beans…

What Cat Says:

“When I started out as a freelance graphic designer, the most important thing I needed to know was how much my time was ‘worth’. I was my own agent — with complete control over how I designed and what I did. Now, as co-founder and co-director of a co-working business and creative agency with my husband Rog, the most important thing to know is what our strengths and weaknesses are and how to delegate.

It was a rocky start at first. Having come from professional jobs in radio marketing and design we were both unused to working with each other. Somewhat unprofessional spats ensued in the first few weeks, with confusion over who was doing what and when. Our desks were at other ends of the room, so both of us had to get out of our seats and go over to the other the minute one of us asked for an opinion on anything as small as what shade of grey to use on a hover-over or how many pixels to push up a thimbleful of text (usually about 2). When you’re designing and building a website from scratch like we did, it was quite a test of patience for a couple of newlyweds!

Over time, though, things settled down. The different jobs we both had to take on when setting up the business — accounting, customer service, design, technical support, website back-end, marketing, PR, packing and postage — slowly became more defined. We both learned to delegate work that we thought the other was better at, but also to share the burden of undesirable jobs (accounting springs to mind!). In our new studio, we made a point of making sure all the team now works on the same large communal table, and that Rog and I have our computers next to each other — so no more running over to the other side of the room!

Luckily my love is in finding new work and designing, so I bagsied the creative role and even more luckily Rog has a head for maths and a pleasing / disconcerting love of systems and so took on the logistics role and — alongside our accountant — handles all the finances.

When you’re used to communicating with someone in a marriage, the lines can blur very easily when you’re running a business together. Our studio assistant Siobhan laughed at us the other day — “you’re just so honest with each other!” she said. The key is to make this a positive rather than a negative, and to make sure that all problems in the studio are left in the studio when we get home!”

What Rog Says:

“When we tell people we run our own business, there are generally two reactions. The first being “what an idyllic lifestyle” and the other “I could never do that with my partner, we’d drive each other insane!”. The truth is that both these positions have applied along the way! Having set roles, though, has helped us achieve the former rather than the latter. We’ve had to work hard at finding the best way of working together and in getting the most out of our skills so that we can enjoy our working lives.

We decided to set up our own business simply because we wanted to spend more time with each other. From the day we first met we haven’t spent more than a few days apart, so it made sense for us to spend our working hours together too. Our aim was to try and make our work-life more like home-life — blurring the lines so that our everyday existence was a balanced interchange of work and play.

From day one our roles were fairly clear, loosely based on what kind of people we are. Cat is the creative driving force behind the business, while I love coming up with practical solutions and solving problems. Straight away, I took on the website build (once Cat had designed it) and that worked really well.

We ran into issues though in the areas where we both had input. When we started we both had a hand in the accounting, for example. Cat had to be across it as I still had freelance radio production work during our start-up year. It lead to confusion, overspends and some marital strife! We had to work out a robust system where we each knew exactly who was doing what. Not only did it make it easier to work together, but it also made the business work more efficiently.

The other thing we found hard was actually being professional with each other. Being in a personal relationship means that you don’t flex the usual self censorship that you’d use with a colleague or boss. We’re not afraid to tell each other how we think on work-related issues and relationship gripes do occasionally creep into our work life too.

When it boils down to it, I think the key to working with friends, relatives, or partners is very much like working through any problem that arrises in business. Identify the source of the issue, and look at how it can be improved, avoided or remedied. But maybe that just the problem solving part of my brain kicking in!”

Rog and Cat co-founded and run the Pollen Place workspaces. They are also the Creative Director and Managing Director of the Polleni creative agency.

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Polleni is a Bristol-based creative agency specialising in branding, graphic design, web design and apps.

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