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How to Go Into Business With Your Spouse and Thrive, with Mike Monfredi

Presented by Borrowell

Welcome to The MapleMoney Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom. I’m your host, Tom Drake, the founder of MapleMoney, where I’ve been writing about all things related to personal finance since 2009.

Thinking of starting a business with your spouse? Maybe you already have and are considering bringing your significant other on, so they can enjoy the entrepreneurial lifestyle with you.

Mike Monfredi, from MikedUp Blog, is my guest this week. He shares what it’s like to work together with his wife at their dental practice. We discuss the pros and cons, and how you can find opportunities to work with your spouse while strengthening your relationship through the experience.

Mike explains what went into the decision to build a business together with his wife, and why he decided to leave his comfortable government job. Not only were there financial considerations to make, both Mike and his wife had to determine whether or not working so closely together was a good idea.

One year in and the business is progressing well. And while much of that is due to the strong partnership between husband and wife, as Mike puts it, there can only be one boss. Find out who he’s referring to, right here on The MapleMoney Show!

This week’s episode is brought to you by Borrowell, Canada’s leading credit education company. My wife and I have both signed up to get our free credit scores and credit reports, along with an update each month, via email. To get yours, head over to Borrowell today!

Episode Summary

  • Considerations when going into business with your spouse
  • Starting a business is not an overnight decision
  • Separating your business and personal life
  • The importance of savings when starting a business
  • Financial considerations of leaving a 9-5 for self-employment
  • The importance of creating buffers with your spouse at work
Read transcript

Thinking of starting a business with your spouse? Or maybe you already have a business and considering bringing your significant other on so they can leave their job and enjoy the entrepreneurial lifestyle with you. Mike Monfredi from MikedUp Blog is here today to walk us through what it’s been like to work with his wife at their dental practice. We cover the pros and cons and how you can find opportunities to work together with your spouse that actually creates a stronger relationship from it.

Welcome to The Maple Money Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom. Today’s show is brought to you by our sponsors at Borrowell, Canada’s leading credit education company. My wife and I both signed up to get our free credit scores and credit reports and receive and update each month via email. Get your free credit score at maplemoney.com/borrowell. Now, let’s talk with Mike.

Tom: Hi Mike, welcome to The Maple Money Show.

Mike: Hey, thanks so much Tom. I appreciate you bringing me on.

Tom: I wanted to have you on because I know a lot of bloggers who start to do well and their spouse quits to come on as part of the company. But you have a different case. I don’t want to constantly talk about blogging on this podcast so I appreciate that you have a different sort of deal here where you actually work in a real brick-and-mortar business with your spouse. Can you tell me a bit about what that business is and what you guys do?

Mike: Yeah, sure, no problem. My wife is a dentist and we run a dental practice. We bought the business about two years ago which is about four years after she graduated from dental school. In the last two years we bought the business from the previous owner. We had issues securing a long-term lease at that old location so it was eight months after the purchase we had to find a new space, get a contractor and get everything moving to build out this brand new location then actually pick up and move our dental practice. Then set up shop. It’s actually been one year (on the nose) since we’ve opened up the new office. In that time we’ve settled in quite a bit and are trying to find our sea-legs for getting this business up and moving. Growth is a big focus right now. It was tough for me personally for a little while because I was working a regular fulltime job doing something else. And, as you know, I recently came over to our practice fulltime and that’s been about three months now. It’s been frantic but I think we’re finally starting to get to a point where we’re able to have some sustained growth and stability which is nice.

Tom: She’s the dentist so what is it that you bring to the table? What are you doing for the business?

Mike: Did she talk to you before this interview? (Laughs). I handle all things. The way I try to put it is, anything clinical, obviously, the decision is hers completely. Although we have the same undergraduate degree, here graduate degree is a lot more advanced than mine is. She’s the one that gets to make all those decisions and I’m happy that’s the case. What I do is back-of-the-house type of stuff; staff development, hiring, firing. Not firing… why did I say that? I don’t know. Hiring and staff development are two of the things I really enjoy quite a bit. I do all of the HR type stuff like payroll. When we went through that move and build-out and all of that it was my opportunity and responsibility to make sure all that stuff was negotiated and everything was going to happen when we wanted it (or needed it) to happen. It was just the details—all of the other details you might not otherwise think about when it comes to running a business that falls under my purview.

Tom: She’s the boss. Despite all wife jokes in general, how does this all work between you guys? This idea she’s the boss at work but obviously you guys are a team otherwise, how does that dynamic work?

Mike: I like to listen to podcasts as well so I believe it was Peter Atea, a doctor who has a relatively new podcast that said it pretty well one time… He’d have these emergency room situations where families would come who were having to deal with the loss of a member of the family. It was kind of predictable how they would react. Families that came in together with a healthy relationship, when they handled that loss situation they simply closed ranks. It wasn’t easy to deal with but they processed and handled it a little bit better. The families that were kind of fractured when they came into the same type of situation, it just exacerbated that and made it so much worse. What I’m grateful for and what we try to work on constantly is just the foundation we have with our marriage. We try to carry that over into the business side of things. It’s built on the cliché things you hear all the time. It’s communication, trust and the ability to rely on one and other. At the end of the day it’s nice because would you rather have somebody you don’t know quite as well handling all the other aspects of the business that you don’t have input over? For us, it’s nice because it’s the person I trust the most in the world that’s handling everything else. I’d rather have nobody else dealing with that.

Tom: Yeah, that’s so true. The other question I have with this is—and I don’t want to get you in trouble with the wife but, is working together spending too much time together or do you find other options to have your own time somewhere else?

Mike: I was worried about that. She was worried about that before we got started. And as I said, the lead up to buying the business, adding that to the time we owned the business where I worked someplace else. I mean, we’re talking about a couple of years. We hemmed and hawed over that point for a little while. We had financial things to consider; were we going to make enough money to support our family? But the point of spending all day together then coming home and spending all night together was one we thought about quite a bit. I think one of the most important things, at least for us that helps with not getting burnt out with that relationship or with those interactions is the fact that during the day there are times where I hardly ever see her. She stays in the back and deals with the patients and handles everything clinical and I’m up front handling insurance claims, checking people in, making phone calls and taking meetings, things like that. It’s nice in the fact that we have divided the labor in a way that there is not a ton of overlap. I think that helps too. We’re not constantly looking over each other’s shoulder making the same decisions in a different way or interfering with that. She’s got her area and I have mine. There is overlap, of course, but it’s nice though because we kind of stick into those boxes, I guess.

Tom: I guess at a dentist it’s split into two halves.

Mike: Yeah, it makes it nice.

Tom: I can see in other businesses though, if someone’s filling the manager’s role as the boss and the spouse if filling in an admin role there probably could be a lot of overlap in those decisions.

Mike: I agree 100 percent. It’s nice for us because, if I can back up just a moment… When she first graduated from dental school she had no intention of ever buying a dental practice or owning her own shop. She didn’t like the responsibility, didn’t want to deal with all that admin stuff so it is nice in the sense that in name she’s the owner and the ultimate boss. But she does defer a lot of those types of decisions for HR or admin type stuff. She just kind of lets me handle it. I always say I’m married to a saint and this is just one of the ways I get to say that over and over again. So, thanks for the opportunity, Tom. I appreciate it.

Tom: Oh, no problem. I’m glad you didn’t get yourself in trouble on it.

Mike: So far so good, right?

Tom: Yeah. So, if just one half of the couple is running the business, what are some of the ways they can look into this to see if it’s right for them to even go down this route? Does it make more sense for the spouse to come into the business or keep doing their own career they’re already doing?

Mike: Oh, that’s a loaded question. I think there are a ton of variables. At least for us, that went into it. And I would imagine for others, one of which would be the finances. That was one of the things we struggled with quite a bit. The job I had was working for the government of the state I live in. And typically, with “cushy” government jobs you get really nice benefits and a healthy paycheck. You have to evaluate. Do you think the extra stress of relying entirely on this one business for your family’s finances worth the risk? Then treat it as a series of questions. Once you check that box and answer “yes” to that question then you can move on to, “How is our relationship when we spend entire weekends together?” At the end of the weekend are we ready to have a little downtime and do our own thing for a couple of hours or is it a feeling like we just met last year? If you need a little bit of space—not that there is anything wrong with that. That’s not to say that starting a business with your spouse or bringing your spouse onto your business is going to be a detrimental thing, there are just other decisions you might try and make or think about that can help create a little bit of space while at work so that you’re not burning yourselves out and compromising your time at home or your family life. We have a four-year-old and another new baby that’s just 11-weeks-old now so we talk a lot about separating business life from personal life in terms of the discussions we have and things we talk about. And now with the addition of this new baby, I mean, it’s almost like a failsafe. We come home and there’s no opportunity to really talk about this patient we had at the end of the day or this negotiation I’m doing with some insurance company about fees or anything like that. It’s usually, “Hey, do you have the bottles today?” or “Who’s making dinner? Did we go to the store? Is there any food in the fridge? I’m not sure…” I think those things—staying busy and keeping that stuff moving family-wise helps us separate those two things.

Tom: That’s a great point actually. I hadn’t thought of that, the idea that if you’re in a business together there’s a danger there that you just become the business 24 hours a day. Obviously, in your case you’re too busy with the baby to have that problem but it is a good idea to cut that off at a certain point. I do the same with my day job. It’s not that I do it on purpose for my family, I just do it because that’s how I’m wired. When I leave the building or close the laptop I’m done. I’m not letting work seep into my evenings or weekends. I guess it’s so much more with a spouse though where a lot of people probably should watch out for that where you don’t want to become the business and simply business partners constantly throughout the day.

Mike: I’ll tell you, when we were first getting this thing started and talking about not only the purchase agreement we were working on with negotiating and making sure we had all the term ironed out for, we were also negotiating with landlords and brokers for this new office space, the contractors… It was next to impossible to separate work from family time. But we communicated efficiently in the fact that we knew it wasn’t going to be like that forever. We’re not going to be having these types of conversations for the next five years. This was like one of those hyper-intensive periods where we were going to try and knock all of this stuff out right away so we could set up a more relaxed and stable future for the next five or ten years, business-wise and personally. It’s like anything, I guess. You’re trying to find balance. There are going to be more hectic times but we try and take advantage when it’s not always that way as well. And enjoy those moments too.

Tom: Yeah, for sure. If we can hop back to the finances for a second. You had the “cushy” government job. What lead you to making that choice then? Isn’t it better to keep that job just financially? Or did you make the choice on the potential of the business getting bigger?

Mike: I love this question because you can look at it two different ways. I’ll be open and frank about it. I was at that job seven and a half years. I had a great health insurance plan, a healthy pension plan that would have been there waiting for me if I had put my 32 years in. It would have been great. I was making $70,000 a year at the end of it so it put our family in a really good position when you added that to the potential my wife had to make money. But, that number, that salary, those benefits, we literally had things drawn out. In 10 years your salary will be this and your benefits are going to be that. We knew exactly what that was going to be. There was no variability as long as I wasn’t and idiot, did my job and did it in a semi-respectable manner, that’s where I would have been. And we knew exactly what that was going to be. The business, on the other hand, has a series of variables associated with it that the income is not a linear, gradual step up the track. There were things that I knew I had the capability to do—to bring to the business as far as marketing or a lot of the backroom, team-building type stuff that may not seem like huge changes I’m making but it is a lot of micro things that can have a macro impact when they start to compound on each other. There was only so much of that I could do during the nights and weekends. So it’s like this future promise of the potential for these increased gains. It got to that breaking point for us. We could think about and conceptualize and do this stuff just when I had spare time or dive in and give this thing a real shot—to see what we’re made of. To see if I’m capable of actually making some positive impacts here. It’s been a few months now but we’ve just had the best month we’ve ever had. Finally, we’re starting to see some traction. Let me tell you, it’s really rewarding when things do go well. Now, it’s not always going to be that way but it’s been a good month and it’s great to see the progress and traction from where we’ve been and where we’re going.

Tom: I guess this is the same for almost any entrepreneur where you hit that point you’ve just got to decide whether it’s the day job or the budding business. It’s not too different than investing. Chances are you can do better with the business but there’s risk there and there will be down times and stuff but overall it sounds like the better way to go.

Mike: Yes, ideally. As long as things work out the right way. We have a lot of advisors we work with and people we’ve hired to help us make decisions and a lot of them suggest having a good amount of money in savings and you want to make sure your income is going to at least pay for your expenses. It wasn’t just a decision made on hopes and prayers. There were a lot of calculations that went into it too. But there does come a point where the theory of what the income looks like it could be is close making up the difference and giving us what we need. There’s just no real way of understanding exactly what it’s going to be until you jump in and take that leap of faith. So, we calculated as best we could but there came a point where we just had to take that step and move forward.

Tom: I think we’ve had a couple guests on this podcast now who have pointed out that when you make a jump like this you can always go back if something doesn’t really work out financially—or maybe you don’t want to spend that kind of time with your spouse. Whatever the case is, not for you but for anyone, if you find out it’s not working, you can always go back to a job. It may not be the exact some job you were at for seven years. There is a risk that you’ve given up that seniority but there’s always often another job out there if you decide you need to go in another direction.

Mike: Yeah, and especially the way unemployment is right now, it’s really low. It’s not as difficult to find a job as it was when I graduated college back in 2008 so that’s a great point.

Tom: What about the lifestyle aspects of this with you in that you’ve left your day job and also the lifestyle benefits for your family? I’m sure with a newborn baby this is probably a perfect time to not be tied to the regular job.

Mike: With working the old fulltime job and doing our business stuff on the nights and weekends and then actually trying to get my blog to the point where it was starting to earn a profit, I was just burning out. It was ridiculous. And that was part of factor in the decision we had to make when I ultimately quit my job and came over but you are 100 percent right. Aside from the fact of working for ourselves, getting to make basically every decision we want to and have total impact over our business, the thing I love the most is that if I need to go and pick one of the kids up from school because she’s not feeling well, I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission. As long as I’ve got someone to cover my spot then I’m good to go. I’ll just go and grab her, no big deal.  We can set whatever schedule we want to for our business. If we want to work on weekends we can. If we don’t, we don’t have to. We work right now Monday through Thursday and sparingly on a Friday or Saturday. The ability to have that impact over your life, not just what the work is like while you’re there but how often you’re going to work and other decisions like that… I mean, I’m in the newlywed stage of working for myself here so maybe this is colored with rose colored glasses but it’s a lovely feeling. I really enjoy it.

Tom: Is there anything I’m missing here? I don’t mean to ask such an open-ended question but is there anything people need to know about working with a spouse we haven’t covered?

Mike: When you have an argument with your spouse at home and you work in two different places it’s easy to put a little bit of space and distance and a little bit of perspective into that situation. You go to work or she goes to work— whatever your relationship is. You start to think about that thing; the discussions you had, the disagreement or whatever, then in four hours time you start to realize you were stupid when you said that and you should phone and apologize. Without the space, we have 20 minutes of driving time from home to work. She drops the kids off in the morning and I pick them up in the afternoon. But otherwise we’re there 100 percent of the time and if you don’t have the respect, the ability to communicate effectively and just know when it’s best not to say something but go and spend a couple minutes doing something else, I can see how it would easily be a pressure cooker type of situation. For people that might be a little bit more confrontational or a bit short-tempered, I’d just say it’s important to know yourself and know your spouse and think about those things when you’re making decisions on how much time you’re going to spend together. And try to put a little buffer in throughout your days whether that’s at work or at home.

Tom: For sure. This has been great. Congrats on the success of your business and your newborn. Can you let people know where they can find you online?

Mike: Thank Tom, I appreciate it. And thanks again for bringing me on. You can find me at my website at mikedupblog.com and I’m constantly on Twitter which is probably another one of the issues I need to take care of. And that’s @realmikedup on Twitter. I appreciate it if you guys want to check it out.

Tom: Great, thanks for being on the show.

Mike: Thanks Tom.

Thanks Mike for the look into how you and your wife run the business together. You can find the show notes for this episode at maplemoney.com/mikemonfredi. Are you on Twitter? I’d love to know what your favourite episode is and it would be great if you could share it with others. Head to maplemoney.com/show, click on an episode and tweet it from the page. I’ll get notified and often re-tweet it as well. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you back here next week.

“The point of spending all day together, and then coming home and spending all night together was one we thought about quite a bit...it’s nice that we’ve divided the labour in a way that there’s not a lot of overlap, I think that helps.” - Mike MonfrediClick to Tweet

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