As Mr. Parker likes to say, words matter. I spent my career in Big Advertising creative departments. When talking about work done for a client, I’m trained to always say, “we” and not “I” or “you.” Yes, I may have developed an idea. But without the other team members, there’s no way I would’ve gotten to the finish line. One idea leads to another, which leads to another, until it all snowballs into the win. So, “we” win. But “I” never do.
A while back, Mr. Parker and I were collaborating with Ben, our 13-year-old nephew, on an entrepreneurial effort he developed. He mentioned an idea we’d been working together. He said, “I came up with that.” We explained the use of “we” versus “I.” He understood immediately. Sometime later, his father told me he was referring to something he was doing on the project, and used the pronoun “I.” Seems his son told him, “Dad, we don’t say ‘I.’ We always say, ‘we.’” (Color us proud.)
Recently, a PBS show on couples and romance cited a study. It said that in a relationship, using the word “we” is more romantic than bringing home flowers. Now, I’ve received more than a few bouquets. So I stopped and thought about which I appreciated more. Is it the flowers, or is it the “we?” And while I loved the flowers, the “we” has lasted far longer.
Whether the relationship is personal, professional, or both, “I” and “you” can become weaponized pronouns. They cause all kinds of destruction. Am I claiming responsibility for something good happening? That means my partner is on the sidelines, forced to applaud me. But there’s a high likelihood that he played some part in that good thing. As for “you,” it often comes with the sting of blame and accusation. “We’ll, you said to do it that way. Now look at it.”
Most of our CoupleCos are well acquainted with power of “we.” It’s always evident in our interviews. Yet, it’s also worth a reminder because together, WE are stronger. Welcome to the power of first-person plural.
Hope that helps
Entrepreneurship is a challenge. A challenge that the outside world often calls, “Living the dream.” This is not a cake walk. How do you handle changes and downturns? This has been on my mind as our business of 12 years is going through a transition. We’ve said goodbye to a big, long-term client. But instead of just replacing them with another big client, we’re changing our business model to attract more, smaller clients. Will it work? Years of experience at this makes us think so. And it’s guaranteed, right? Hmm, no! Guarantees do not exist in the grown-up world of living life by the seat of your entrepreneurial pants. You’re always working without a net. We knew that when we signed up for this. But so far, sweat equity coupled with mad skills make it seem like we at Slow Burn/CoupleCo lead a charmed existence.
We were just talking with another entrepreneur couple. They were discussing things like the crazy hours associated with opening a new location while keeping the staff happy at the current locations. We were all laughing about how people will say, “But when you travel to that location, it’s a write off!” Like that helps. Yes, it’s a write off—IF the IRS agrees. And either way, it’s not like it’s a free trip. Maybe if you’ve never worked for yourself, you don’t consider that someone still has to pay the bill. And that someone is, yes, you.
Recently, I was reading a social post by one of our favorite CoupleCo interviewees, Chopped Champion Christian Hayes of Dandelion Catering in Yarmouth, Maine. We’d interviewed him and his wife, Christine, for episodes #36 & #37. Just recently, they’ve added to their food-service empire by opening a restaurant called The Garrison. For perspective, Christian’s a rocker. He spent about a decade with a band described as an “eight-legged bombastic juggernaut of rock.” In this social post, he’s talking about entrepreneurism, and he hits it right between the eyes.
Christian writes: “The truth is, entrepreneurship is a lonely, isolating reality. People want to believe you’ve got the world by the balls and that you go home with a sense of accomplishment. The reality is sobering. There are so many people connected to me on social media that feel it every day as well. You think you know—until you’re in it—then you realize you had no idea. It’s been 11 years with Dandelion and now we’re doubling up with The Garrison. Don’t get me wrong. I’m living my fucking dream. But also, let’s not forget the gut wrenching, paralyzing churn of wondering if this is the week that breaks you. Financially, spiritually, mentally, physically. The demands are astronomical and ubiquitous from every direction. Yet, on hour 75, as I get out of my car in the parking lot and walk towards the kitchen, I’m always fucking happy. There’s a content feeling that washes over you. The apron goes on—and it’s time to work. I’m right where I belong. Cheers to all my people doing it every day.”
Reading that, I found myself nodding in understanding the challenges that no one sees. There are all kinds of messes you get to clean up while being a “trailblazer.” By the end of the missive, Christian had me charged up to put on my big-girl pants and dig back in. We chose this life for a reason. And for anyone who’s a CoupleCo, the loneliness of the entrepreneurial struggle is a bit less lonely. In our business, we are always Team Parker. If you chose this kind of life, you are part of a special breed. Yeah, we’re gamblers. But at least we’re gambling on ourselves. And no matter the odds, how do you not like taking that bet?
Hope that helps.
OMG, what a day! From the moment I opened my eyes, work descended from the heavens in biblical proportion.
No, not descended. Attacked. It rushed in like an epic swarm of monster locust.
But hey, it was Friday, a “work day.” So what’s the problem? For me, the problem was that I’d worked overtime all week. All week. Every day. Overtime. I’d planned to make Friday a day off. Understand, we live in a ski town. Mid-week ski days are built into the DNA here. And it was exactly the kind of day I wait for: fresh snow, blue skies, the ski slopes empty of the weekend crowds.
I stumbled into the kitchen for coffee. That’s when Mr. Parker hit me between the eyes. We had a situation. Things were blowing up in the UK. A promotional campaign had to be overhauled immediately. My heart sank.
It took a while to mourn the loss of my planned respite. Time to focus on the urgent task at hand.
The day was a Megillah. (That’s a technical word from ancient Hebrew scrolls.) Besides the death of my holiday, Mr. Parker had to table all of his other projects. We I spent the entire day volleying back and forth, round and round. How to revise the strategy. How to implement tactics. What executions. Writing it. Art directing it. Revising it. Fixing it. These things matter to us. They are worthy of debate. It’s why our marketing clients hire us: To. Get. It. Right.
The clock ticked. The hours passed. The adrenaline surged. At times we were at loggerheads. Our only purpose? Serving the client’s best interest.
Every day in ski season, I’m able to look out the window by my desk to see skiers riding the lift. Today, that view did not help. But, we had bigger fish to fry. This stuff had to go out the door. We had an obligation.
The day waned. The lift stopped running. The skiers went home. Hours after that, we delivered the project.
Afterwards, in the living room, we sat staring at each other. Whipped. We’d been into mental and emotional battle and survived….together. It was no longer important that the day’s plans for fun were dashed upon the rocks of professional responsibility. What was important was looking across the room and seeing My Person. This is the person for whom things matter—things like doing good work; fulfilling an obligation; and Crushing It on behalf of another guy’s bottom line. These things matter to My Person as much as they matter to me. It was once again a reminder: I am on the right team.
Hope that helps,
With 2020 upon us, the big question is: What to do differently in the coming year? It’s natural. Yet, for couples in business together, that thinking doubles up: “What do we want to get better at as a couple?”, and “How can we be smarter in business?”
No pressure there, right?
For Mr. Parker and I, two years of interviewing couples shines a light on some things we can make better in our own relationship. We’ve met couples who communicate better, who better define their down time, and who show appreciation more clearly.
But for me, the most vivid insight came from one couple speaking about how people show affection differently. I realized that I’m a words person. But Mr. Parker is a deeds person. So every time I come home from a trip and he has cleaned out one of the many closets, he’s telling me he loves me. This seemingly small revelation has helped me get better at appreciating my partner. I plan on continuing to improve on that in 2020.
As for being smarter in business, that’s the more challenging part of the equation. Consider this project called CoupleCo. It has proven mighty. We’re looking for ways to make it grow mightier. But how? Videos? Summits? Books? And if books, do we start with a business book or a storybook? This is challenging. Both Blaine and I come from creative careers. People like us have a hard time not thinking of more things we can do. And that can lead to decision paralysis. So, our big business improvement for 2020 is (drum roll)…
We need to pick the one project that we’re adding to the mix and move it forward. Is that the right thing? It has to be. We will make it thing the right thing. And after that, we’ll pick another and make that one the right thing.
And here now, The Bonus. No matter the outcome of our business resolution (and I’m working toward the best outcome), the fact that we’re going into it together with love and respect makes it all a win.
So, my wish for you is that as you face your goals for the coming year and beyond, you enjoy love and respect. And while it may come from your partner, your friends, your colleagues and your associates, please know that it also comes from us.
Cheers to a brilliant New Year,
As you probably know, Mr. Parker and I travel the country in The Couple Coach, our C-class, Sprinter-chassis RV. But there are times when flying makes more sense. And being based in Park City, UT, we have a dozen years as devoted Delta fliers. And part of our American Express credit card plan is access to Delta’s SkyClub network. It’s a calm, comfortable respite from the mayhem on the other side of the door, especially during holiday travel.
We like the easy access to coffee, tea, soup, salad, snacks and adult beverages. But it feels like we never quite fit with the club crowd. We’re surrounded mainly by business travelers, and sometimes by couples on vacation. And we sound like neither group.
The vacationers are excited. They’re a) telling everyone around them about where they’re going, or b) stressed because they haven’t covered all the bases. Here now, an actual conversation:
“I thought you reserved the car.”
“You asked, ‘Did you reserve a car?’ I said, ‘No.’”
“But I thought you’d do it.”
“I thought you’d do it.”
We are not them. And as for exciting travel, even if we’re going somewhere new and different, we’re always fitting work into it. No conversation about shopping excursions for us. It’s more logistics of how we might grab a shower before an interview, or whether we’ll have time for a bite after. If we do have time, what would be an interesting local find? (Local food finds figure heavily in our travel discussions.)
The business travelers, on the other hand, are speaking in jargon that is often canned and robotic. Usually, it involves a cell phone with earbuds: “I’m feeling strong about our third-quarter numbers in the Western market, but I think we can incentivize Jim to roll out phase two a week sooner, and springboard off Davis’s momentum.” That’s not us either. We aren’t Jim or Davis. We don’t have a Jim or Davis. In our business, if we aren’t intrinsically incentivized to move things forward, nothing happens. We say things like:
“Babe, did you get that email out to the winery couple?”
“Did it this morning”
“I love you more.”
Bottom line, we never quite find our tribe in the SkyClub. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. We like Team Parker, party of two. We like our mix of work and togetherness. And if our tribe isn’t in the SkyClub, that’s fine. It’s right here. And you’re part of it.
Cheers to the CoupleCo. It’s hard for civilians to understand. They don’t know what they’re missing.
Best to you all,
Most of the working couples we interview have hard and fast rules about downtime. Those are times when work is not allowed to creep in. We all need that time away. But, have you considered a working date?
This is something that Mr. Parker and I do regularly. It’s not that we need a break from work. There are just times when we need to free ourselves from the confines of our office walls (or, when on the road, our RV walls). It lets us open up our minds. For us, it means taking a hike. Getting out in nature. Nothing so strenuous that we can’t talk. And, depending on how much time we have, we go for anywhere from three to seven miles.
We usually pick one topic upon which to focus. We may try and hammer out something that has had us stumped. Or we may try to come at a project from a different perspective. Sometimes, we’re trying to come up with a tagline for a client. Whatever the challenge, nature is an amazing thing. It brings a freedom to our thinking. Fresh thoughts come to the surface. Yes, we may throw out 80% of what we come up with. But the other 20% can provide answers and insights that we couldn’t see from our desk chairs.
The added bonus is the positive benefits of exercise on body and mind. The added, added bonus is the bonding we enjoy as a result of our time connecting over solving problems. It strengthens us as a team.
Perhaps our tagline should be, “When in doubt, walk it out.”
Hope that's helpful.
How does your partnership handle one of you dealing with non-business challenges?
Life’s big emotional bumps in the road challenge anyone’s business life. You can’t plan for everything that life throws your way. Lately, for us, it’s been my mother’s failing health. A slow decline over the last year and a half is becoming ever more consuming. From flying to my parents every month or so to help out, to the ever-present emotional strain of watching people you love in pain, it’s rough.
Of course, as resilient American superpeople, we’re programed to suck it up, put on a brave face, and move forward. It’s never easy. But when you’re a couple in business together, there are extra challenges—including the fact that 50% of the management team is not performing anywhere near peak ability. How does the other pick up the slack? How do you compartmentalize enough to accomplish the minimum? How do you support your partner and not get sucked into their grief?
Back when we were recording the interview that became episodes #33 & 34, we were sitting down with Murray and Felicity Gardner of the Gardner Group in Park City. Murray informed us that his mother’s health was in decline, and he could be getting a call at any moment to jump on a plane to Australia. At this point, my own mother had started going downhill. Yet, listening to the interview, you can’t tell that anyone was anything but fine. Humans are strong creatures. Entrepreneurs are stronger still.
The key for Team Parker in handling this challenging time has been communication and agreement. Communication about what’s happening, and agreement to who is now handling what. This lets us manage our expectations of each other, which is crucial, especially since it’s often just the two of us. We’ve discussed what we are and aren’t capable of taking on. Honestly confronting limitations, even temporary ones, is beyond important.
A national business training group recently asked us to deliver a series of marketing webinars. The folks in charge asked what, beyond our fee, we wanted to get from this. New clients for branding and marketing? Our answer was that our business presently lacks the bandwidth for new clients, but we’re happy to offer consulting. Why? Well, we didn’t tell them that. Let them think we’re too busy. But we’d agreed ahead of time that we can’t handle new clients right now. And that’s okay with both of us. It has to be.
At the end of the day, we know what’s most important: Us. That said, we never want to let a client down. That’s why we’re taking on only the projects we know we can deliver at a level that we feel good about and which keeps our clients thrilled. (For Slow Burn’s oldest and most demanding client, we just delivered a holiday ad that made them laugh and sign off with no changes. That’s a victory on any day, but especially now.) Even in the most challenging times, we continue to take satisfaction in ringing the bell. It’s a welcome break from the obstacles life has thrown in our way. And it reminds us who we are and why we do it.
BTW, my parents were a CoupleCo. We interviewed them in better days, and you can hear them in episode #38, "Sitcom Jewish Parents In Business."
Hope that helps.
It works only if you take it.
Running your own business can seem non-stop. That’s why it’s important that when we stop, we truly do stop. And then, we have to make sure we take the time to connect over something completely non-work related.
How to do this? It’s pretty basic. Reach out. Hold each other’s hand. Even briefly. And remind yourselves that you’ve earned this time together. This time when you aren’t working. Try to be in the moment and acknowledge that you’re enjoying yourselves. Say it out loud. Really. Say something like, “I’m really enjoying this.” Actively recognize the down time, or it’s easy to gloss over, like it never happened.
Chip & Carol Bleam of Freedom Chiropractic (CoupleCo podcast episode #19) have a practice we love. They keep a jar that’s filled with Popsicle sticks. Written on each stick is a different date night activity. Once a week, they go to the jar, pull out a stick, and whatever it says becomes their weekly date night.
Take the time to mentally log your downtime, and it will be there in your mind while you’re running your business. Then, you can clearly point to it, savor it, replay it, and enjoy the benefits of it. It’s important to be able to look at your life partner and see him or her as more than a work partner.
Hope that's helpful.
What you’re not good at can cost you big.
“Doctor heal thyself.” How many years have I been saying to Mr. Parker, “We should get someone to do the books”? Answer: Too many. Neither of us are that person. Yet, every year, he swears at QuickBooks and the tax receipts for a lot longer than a pro would have to. (*Assuming a pro swears at QB and receipts at all.) Bookkeeping takes him away from the things he’s great at, the things that can’t be delegated, that only he can do.
So, the cost of his time, plus the revenue that could have been generated by him creating product, is what that mistake costs us every year.
Tyler Sheff of The Cash Flow Guys (CoupleCo podcast episode #66) has said, “We don’t do what we’re not good at.” They hire people. It frees them up to do not only what they’re good at, but what they enjoy. Which means he and his business-partner wife Jill are happier at work.
Several couples we’ve interviewed, including Katy & Michael at Quarters Arcade Bar, talked about hiring someone for social media. And that was a hard one because the task seemed easy. But in practice, their efforts were often sporadic due to other pulls on their time, so their efforts weren’t successful.
Bottom line, every time we hand something off, we feel like we’ve given ourselves a present. I’d pick having someone handle our books over getting a free massage every month. Suzanne Phifer-Pavitt (Phifer Pavitt Wine, episode #52) say, “Surround yourself with really clever, talented people and amazing things happen.”
So, who are you surrounded by?
Hope that helps.
How do you take time off when it means both people in charge are gone at the same time?
Blaine and I have never said, “Gee, we need a vacation…you first.” Crazy but true, we like to vacation together…as do most couples in business together. But clearing the decks to make it happen is a challenge. And all too often, couples who don’t have someone to step in aren’t giving themselves the downtime together that’s required to recharge and remind themselves why they’re together in the first place. Not good.
Please, please, please, avoid the trap of saying, “We’ll take a great vacation next year.” It’s just too easy for next year to turn into the year after that and the year after that. Have you ever heard people say, “If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of other people?” Taking care of your union is as important as taking care of yourself.
Yes, getting away from work is work. But it’s a job worth taking on. I was inspired to write this blog entry when I saw a post from Cherie Ve Ard of Technomadia & the Mobile Internet Resource Center (episode #41). She said that she and Chris worked around the clock for two weeks. Why? They bundled all the work that had to be done currently—as well as for a stretch of time after that—so they could enjoy taking time off for an upcoming visit from family.
That’s exactly how we play it. Blaine and I go over everything that might come up during our time away, then do it ahead of time. It does make for some long days. Then, once it’s done, we schedule its release throughout the time we’re away. Yes, we have had to put out unexpected fires while away, but we try to not get sucked back into the trap labeled, “Our Clients Need Us!”
It’s too easy for your marital relationship to turn into an officemates relationship. Part of the work of working together is creating time for not working together.
Hope that helps.
Are Blaine & Honey Parker Relationship Experts?
Hardly. And does the world really need more of those? Instead, we are a couple who have worked together for over 20 years. We've learned a few things along the way. And now, we're traveling the nation interviewing other couples in business together. Join us for the ups, downs, ins, outs, laughs, tears (even though Honey believes Blaine has no tear ducts), and the inevitable, practical insights into being a better couple--in life, business and everything.