'Co-preneurs': four of Hertfordshire's business couples
PUBLISHED: 11:18 22 October 2018 | UPDATED: 11:18 22 October 2018
With the number of UK couples running businesses together on the rise, Sandra Deeble talks to four Herts 'co-preneurs' about how they make it work
Have you ever dreamed of starting your own business? Discussed it with your partner? Hatched a plan to give up your day job and pool your energy and ideas to go into business together?
If those plans come to fruition, you’ll be part of a growing movement of UK co-preneurs. There are currently 1.4 million couples running a business together in the UK and this figure is due to increase, according to research carried out by FreeAgent, the online accounting business.
The advantages include the opportunity to share childcare, work flexibly, realise joint hopes and dreams, and enjoy the fruits of your labour rather than working around the clock only for someone else to reap the rewards. But is running a business with your partner all entrepreneurial enchantment? Surely there must be things to look out for before you take the plunge?
John Lees, author of How to Get a Job You Love, offers some advice: ‘There are particular issues when partners work together. And it’s all to do with boundaries. Because you are living and working together there are often no boundaries unless you put them in.’
He suggests making boundaries playful. ‘Perhaps you could say, “As soon as I’ve taken off my watch it’s time to stop talking about work”.’
Another issue, he says, is to do with ‘accountability and feedback’. Indeed. How exactly do you factor in a 360 review with someone you sleep with? Could be tricky. John’s advice? ‘The antidote is to make sure there are other people around because you really do need objective feedback.’
Working together and living together can lead to over exposure, he warns. ‘And to be slightly grim about it, if the personal relationship fails, you might have to think about how you go your separate ways but remain as business partners. It’s worth asking this question early on.’
Thankfully, he ends on a more upbeat note: ‘There are great rewards working with people you know well.’
• Marc & Sophie
Marc and Sophie Trinder opened Trinder Hair Studios in 2016 in St Albans. They met while working together for Charles Worthington in London. They have two children, Archie and Suki. They have both styled the hair of stars including Uma Thurman, Poppy Delevingne, Minnie Driver, Erin O’Connor and Kelly Osbourne, and after less than two years in business their St Albans salon has already won awards and they have plans to expand.
‘This is something we’re both passionate about,’ Marc insists. ‘We’ve always worked together and when we were at Charles Worthington we worked in the same teams and practised some of the same techniques like colour contouring. We were friends for two years and together for 10 and now married for five. We’re still learning what our responsibilities are – we don’t want to step on each other’s toes. I think we’ve got a good balance. When you start a new business it can be overwhelming and you have to consciously make time for your family. But when we are on holiday we talk about work constantly. And we’ve had lots of heated debates but we don’t argue in front of our team. When we’re in the salon, it’s like being on stage.’
‘We’ve always worked together but having a business together is different,’ Sophie explains. ‘It can be testing because there are decisions that have to be made and there are times when we clash. Marc will sometimes aspire to do something and then he’ll say, “This is so hard,” and I’ll say, “But this is what you wanted to do”, and we give each other a bit of a pep talk. For me it means I can work flexibly, although from a business point of view Marc would like me to be here more. In this industry, when you work for someone else, you can hit a ceiling, but now that it’s our business, it’s different. This is our passion and I think we are very lucky. I would definitely recommend working together.’
• Toni & Hayley
Toni and Hayley Moore are the owners of Staffy B Homestore in Baldock, an interiors and gift shop and lifestyle brand they started in 2010, named after their beloved Staffy Freddie. They have just launched the Black Nose Foundation with a range of ethical homewares to raise money for dog rescue charities. They are both designers and used to work together at Adams childrenswear.
Hayley says running a business together is like baking a cake. ‘You need the right ingredients for a business so you need to look at your skills. You also need a shared vision. I’m more blue sky and I always like to know what the next thing’s going to be. In the beginning we were finding each other’s strengths. We’d never run a shop before. It was up to us to create the structure and to respect and listen to each other. And you have to learn that it’s important to have a break from the business.’
Toni says, ‘Hayley was my boss at Adams so I was already used to her bossiness. We both wanted to step away from the pressure of fashion. I do all the accounts. I think with a business that after four years you either have to sell or expand. When we started Staffy B we weren’t having any time off. But you have to make some rules. Now we try to draw the line on work and take Sundays off. I’ve always been shy and when we started I used to let Hayley speak to people. Now when people come into the shop, I’m very happy to talk to them.’
• Julie & Kevin
Owners of St Albans’ George Street Canteen since it opened in January 2016, Julie and Kevin Lee have won numerous awards for their family and dog-friendly café with its sustainable and local food, courtyard, and unique view of the cathedral. They have two children, Ruby and Jake, and before starting the business they had both worked together in hospitality. Kevin is the chef and Julie is front of house.
‘We both worked so hard for other people that it seemed crazy not to try and have our own business,’ Julie explains. ‘We thought that when the kids were older we could perhaps move and open somewhere by the sea, but then this place came up. We are lucky because we manage to balance things out between us. I can’t cook at all and Kevin would be awful on the floor. Before we started I don’t think we realised how much paperwork and behind the scenes stuff there is to do. We couldn’t do it without my mum and Kevin’s mum. They both help with looking after the children and my mum has the dog as well. Kevin’s mum helps with the accounts. Since we started the café we’ve definitely become more understanding of each other. I think we argue less now.
Kevin says laughing: ‘We argue all the time but I’m good at getting over it!’ He adds, ‘I would rather say something there and then. We’ve worked together before so Julie knew what I was like. It can be hard. We do try to switch off at home. I tend to bring up stuff from work more than Julie does and she says, “I don’t want to talk about it now.”
‘We’ve been together for 18 years and Julie’s probably only ever cooked five meals and they’ve been the same five things. But she’s good with people and I’m not.
There are a lot of things about running your own business that I didn’t know about that are harder than I thought they would be – giving all the VAT money away and the general repair of the place.
Originally we just wanted it to be a nice little café with a couple of people coming in for a cup of tea. But it’s got more popular and we’ve got lots of ideas. We’re now doing hog roasts and we’re going to have a pizza oven and start doing cocktail nights. Our son Jake is 11 and he’s already talking about taking over the business.’
• Serena & Jordan
Serena Saunders and Adam Jordan (known as Jordan) are the owners of Sheene Mill, a 17th century, Grade II listed restaurant, hotel and wedding venue on the River Mel in Melbourn near Royston. They’d been together for a long time before getting married in 2016, an event featured in a Channel 4 programme, The Wedding Day. They have since divorced but are still managing directors and joint owners of Sheene Mill.
‘We do things differently, I’m a people pleaser,’ Serena says. ‘Jordan is the most inhospitable person in the world. When we first started here we both tried to do everything and we almost killed each other. He’s got more of an accountancy brain and he does the payroll, and the gardens. People think that you have to get married here but you can just come for a snack or a drink. It’s so beautiful that you could be in the south of France; it’s a very special place. When we took over the business in 2013 we were doing 36 weddings a year and now it’s up to 100.
‘When we first told our staff that we were getting divorced after having this grand wedding, people started crying. It was like they were losing their mum and dad. I never wanted to blame the business for the reason we split up but I would also say you should never go into business with your partner. You can be the nicest person in the world but when you come into work you’re a different person. We’re both big confident characters and we still argue in front of staff. I love him to bits.’
Jordan says, ‘Serena comes from a flamboyant background and she would give everything away. I’m very tight and mean. I love being on my own and I love facts and figures. I keep house and I know what’s going on with the business.
‘We argue about everything but we end up somewhere in the middle and our differences complement each other.
‘I think the business is the reason why we couldn’t stay together as a couple. When we first started, people were probably saying, “Look at those young kids! They’ve got a restaurant and a wedding venue!” But the reality was that we were working seven days a week and then going home and talking about work. When you’re in a relationship with someone you say things that you would never say to anyone else.
‘I can’t work front of house. On one occasion I tried to help out in the restaurant and I ended up dropping a tray of glasses of rosé champagne and there was broken glass everywhere. I completely froze. I work smarter now. I used to get a call at home saying that a light bulb had gone and I’d go back and fix it. Now I set myself a time to start and a time to finish, but I still get the calls at midnight.
‘And there’s always something you could be doing, even if it’s just checking your Google AdWords.’