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How to stay in business and stay in love

Thriving in business with your spouse

I started writing this in February. I’m not usually this slow, but COVID-19 really threw a couple of curve balls into the game! The global virus has really given us all a lot of challenges but also amazing opportunities to step back and examine what is important.

My wife, Genevieve, and I took the opportunity to relocate from the inner-city suburbs of Sydney up to the fresh-air of the Blue Mountains. We had always dreamt of living with more space, a crackling fire and a view of the mountains, but I certainly didn’t think it would be possible to sustain the lifestyle and work simultaneously.

This new-found balance has been something that we have always aimed for and this tree-change has really highlighted what is important to us. Coronavirus may have just helped nudge us along a little bit faster.

So in the reflective spirit of 10 years of our content agency, Taste, Genevieve and I wanted to look back at a couple of challenges and highlights of working together as a married couple...

Don’t take business to bed

When I first met Genevieve, I knew that I had met someone that I wanted to collaborate with. She was a talented film writer/director, passionate about telling stories that mattered and she wasn’t interested in walking over people to further her career. Little did I know that I had just met my wife and business partner (although truth be told, I may have hoped I had!) Meeting on a winter’s afternoon in a cosy café on the outskirts of Sydney, we had been introduced via each of our flatmates to talk about the possibility of a music video. The project never eventuated, but we were drawn to each other’s passion for storytelling. Enough so that we left our jobs in the film and tv industry to take the leap of faith to start our own production company.

Working from a home office, work/life balance was really important to us. We weren’t sure how to do it, so we just decided to shut the office door at 6pm and try to not talk about work. We’d go downstairs, make dinner and deliberately try to talk about other things. This is easier said than done, but was well worth the intentional effort.

Now 10 years later, we have come full circle. We started in a small home office, moved up and out to run larger studios full of people, and are now back in a home office as we navigate Coronavirus. We deliberately found a house where we could set up an office and collaboration space for our team that was separate from our living space.

This separation means we can finish the working day, step away, shut the door and feel like we have left work and gone home.

Sharing leadership

Genevieve and I had to learn quickly that there are times to lead and times to follow. Sometimes even within the same conversation. We had to learn how to lead each other and more importantly, be led by the other.

At times, it was my role as CEO to lead Genevieve and the team. But then other times I would be shooting a film that Genevieve is directing and it is my role to support her leadership.

Getting this unspoken rhythm took a bit of time. But as a couple it was critical that we were making key decisions together so that when we do need to lead, we’re both moving in the same direction.

It helps if you have fun in the process too.

Balance outside of work

In the beginning, I fell into the trap of feeling that the more I worked, the more successful I would be. And the world doesn’t stop you! In fact it often encourages this behaviour. I was striving but I wanted to be striding. You can read all about it here.

Striving is either reaching for something you don’t have, trying to pull something toward you or push something away from you. Striding, however, is taking steps every day to come closer to your goals.

The harder I worked, the fuller my diary became. Our business was our number one priority and making time for ourselves was the last thing we would prioritise. People would book us in for meetings, events would come up and before you know it you’ve lost control of your own calendar. Weekdays, weeknights and weekends… it all became work. Even if I wasn’t at my desk, I was thinking about it. Or worse still, I’d feel guilty if I wasn’t thinking about work. Every year we’d get to December and be completely burnt out.

I saw this great illustration last week, particularly pertinent as we reflect on what this pandemic has taught us so far (thank you Jus Flynn for sharing):

So 3 years ago, right at the beginning of the year, I shifted gears. As the year started, the very first thing I did was book in 12 months of holidays. I figured if it was in the diary, everyone else would just work around it. And it worked!

So now, on January 1st every year we sit down and put in all of the big rocks into the calendar (you can read all about the big rocks theory.)

We agreed that every month we would take a long weekend off to create space for down time. By blocking out dates, it forced us to prioritise time for ourselves and families. This doesn’t mean we have an entire year of holidays planned out; most of the time we don’t even know where we will go/what we will do until a few weeks out, but the dates would be a trigger to remind us to plan something – even if it’s a simple staycation to explore our own neighbourhood.

This technique has worked marvellously well. It gives us things outside of work to look forward to, and is a way that Genevieve and I show each other that we prioritise the other.

If you try this out, or already do something similar, please let me know. I would love to hear how it works for you!

This year, we are celebrating 10 years since we started our branded content agency, Taste. We’re celebrating 10 years of deeply connecting with audiences and working with brands with purpose to make the world a better place.

Henry Smith

Henry is one of those rare creative types who can switch from creativity and ideation to logistics and screen business with the elegance of those fancy quick costume change acts. He is also the co-founder of Taste Creative.

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