Staying Sane While Freelancing With a Loved One

angry-personTwo years ago, I was the full-time web guy at a conservative insurance company. My wife could see my frustrations there and encouraged me to quit and pursue a freelance career. She suggested that we could use her income as our base if things got really tight, financially. I’ve never been happier.

However, during the last two years, I’ve seen her deal with the same frustrations in her current work situation that I experienced two years ago. I realized our situations were reversed, and since she rescued me from my previous work situation and offered me a better career and better life, it was time for me to do the same for her. I encouraged her to quit and help me in my business. It’s only been about a month, but it’s been a month filled with lots of lessons on how to deal as a freelancing couple. So how did we get through our first month without divorce?

Tips and Tricks for Freelancers Working Together

Here are some tips and tricks that I learned that can help make freelancing with your loved one a bit easier:

  • Go in with a game plan. This one seems obvious, but you don’t want your loved one to ask you what they should be helping with and not have an answer for them. Will your significant other be helping in billable work, marketing, social networking, invoicing, writing proposals, answering the phone, or a combination of all of the above? In our case, I decided my wife would be best at handling marketing and job-hunting. Using Mason’s excellent article, I got her set up with the ultimate job-hunting board and she dutifully hunts down leads for me. In addition, she answers the phone, tracks down clients for testimonials, and goes through my site with a fine-toothed comb looking for errors or other suggestions. After all, we web guys are so busy with client stuff we rarely have time for our own sites, and with her help I have a little more free time and a little more direction on what needs to change and improve on my site. No matter what tasks your spouse is handling, make sure they are comfortable doing them.
  • Deal with the workspace situation. The great part about working from home is that any room can be an office. However, my wife and I definitely have different ideas as to our ideal office space. For me, it’s folk music and a proper desk in an isolated part of the house. For her, it’s old episodes of Law and Order and working on the couch in the living room. Your spouse needs to work where they’re comfortable, the same as you do. If that means working in the same room, great. For us, separate rooms on separate levels of the house works better.
  • Don’t be afraid to give direction. In a marriage, you constantly compromise. In a working relationship, someone has to take charge, manage projects and tell the other what needs to get done. Don’t be afraid to ask your spouse to help with something.
  • Say “thank you” a lot. Every employee needs to feel appreciated. Saying “thank you” is great marriage advice, but it works equally well for a coworking relationship. Your spouse has to feel like an important, valuable part of the business.
  • Communication is key. Hey, another one that is good for marriage and business! Give your spouse guidance and encourage open communication. Since my wife and I work in totally different areas of the house, we both stay logged into Skype and send messages, files and share our screens for different questions and issues that pop up during the work day. It’s a situation that works very well for us, but obviously if you’re working in the same room instant messages may be overkill.
  • Ease them in. Your spouse doesn’t need to be overwhelmed by the whole process in their first week or month. After all, between the initial contact, proposal, contract, scope of work, discovery questionnaires, negotiations, revisions and consultations, it’s a lot to take in… and that’s before the billable work starts! In our case, I am a web developer and my lovely wife knows next to nothing about PHP, mySQL, SEO, CSS, XHTML and many other acronyms. Learning all those will come in time, and there is no need to baptize by fire.
  • Ask for more. Raise those rates! There’s never been a better time to increase your normal rates a little in an effort to cover your spouse’s paycheck. In the last few months as we were gearing up to be a single-income household, I started increasing my rates. Most seasoned professionals will tell you that higher rates don’t usually mean fewer clients. Even with my higher rates, I still got as much work as I was getting before. It did make me regret not raising them a long time ago though!
  • Watch those billable hours. If your spouse can’t actually work billable hours for you, then their job needs to be to free you up so you have more billable hours in a day. In our case, my wife can’t design or develop sites, but she can handle all the non-billable stuff that pops up every day. This includes hunting down leads, answering the phone, scheduling meetings, writing proposals, writing blog posts for our site, and more.

So How’s It Working Out?

One month down, and things are great! My wife is more content living the freelance lifestyle, and I’m happy to have some extra time in my day to do things I didn’t used to have time for. My personal sites, which were neglected for months due to a very busy schedule, have gotten some much-needed attention. My clients are impressed that I am more responsive to their inquiries and requests. I’m prouder of the work I’ve done lately since I have more time to do it.

The best thing to come out of the experience so far is a major client that my wife contacted while perusing Twitter, and the best part is that my wife and I get to be excited together about what we’ve accomplished.

How About You?

I know we’ve still got a lot to learn about working as a freelancing couple, and I would love to hear your experiences, good and bad, about freelancing with your loved one. Have you made it work?