Thinking about turning your romantic life partnership into a business partnership? It could take both your business and your marriage to the next level, or it might destroy them both. A healthy dose of preparation can be found in Brad Casebier’s new book, The Survival Guide to Working with Your Spouse: Build a Business with Your Lover without Losing Your Mind.
On Author Hour today, Brad discusses the importance of aligning your visions, clearly delineating your roles, and he shares other tips that he and his wife learned the hard way, so you don’t have to.
Jane Stogdill: Hi Author Hour listeners, I’m here today with Brand Casebier, author of The Survival Guide to Working with Your Spouse. Brad, thank you so much for being with us today.
Brad Casebier: I’m glad to be here.
Jane Stogdill: You and your spouse are in business together. Can you tell us first what your business is and how this book came to be?
Brad Casebier: Yeah, you bet. We started a plumbing business in 1999 and didn’t have a clue what we were doing really, kind of floundered around for a while. Sarah was an RN and at one point we had this conversation, realizing our careers were in conflict and she says, “What if we work together? We worked on something that was ours and we both go all-in on this one thing?” We concluded that was an exciting proposition. I think this is a very common story of husband and wife in this country and it’s really hard.
Jane Stogdill: But you persevered.
Brad Casebier: We did, we did. We ended up building up our business. This year, it’s going to do 50 something million in gross revenues. We were purchased by a private equity firm for a pretty significant amount of money around November in 2020.
Jane Stogdill: Congratulations.
Brad Casebier: Yeah, thank you. I’m the CEO going forward, we’re working on acquisitions all over the US now, and taking what we built with our company called Radiant Plumbing and Air Conditioning in Austin, Texas, and spreading the magic that we created there all over the US.
A Blessing and a Curse
Jane Stogdill: You believe that this success would not have come unless you and your spouse had been working together?
Brad Casebier: 100%. It’s a kind of a blessing and a curse, right? I don’t know how any one person could do what we did together. I don’t think it’s possible because we have different strengths and the real challenge is learning to trust the other person to operate within their strengths because if you don’t understand that person’s strengths, it might even seem like a flaw, you know?
Then you could kibosh something that’s really magical that your partner brings to the table because you can’t relate to it. You have a magical blend of skills that one human being couldn’t possibly ever have.
Jane Stogdill: Yeah. I mean, you know, that’s a lot of how marriage works in general, right? You kind of specialize. My husband does all the school stuff for our child and you know, I handle other things, and it makes sense to take that understanding of roles into business.
How is working with a spouse different though than working with any other kind of business partner?
Brad Casebier: It’s so different because inevitably, you would want to potentially have sex with this person at the end of the day, and you can’t be as direct as you would like to be. You can’t bullshit this person, I don’t know if we cuss on this podcast, I apologize. They see it as the real truth, you can come home with a normal job and say, “Man, the co-workers were this way or that way,” and they know the truth, you know? You’re really exposed, and you have to grow through a lot of things that I think couples that don’t work together can avoid growing through.
You just have to face hard conversations because there’s no escaping them when you work together. You’re 24/7 together, no escape.
Jane Stogdill: It’s intense.
Brad Casebier: It is. It’s a lot of togetherness, it really is.
Jane Stogdill: Okay. You’ve laid out three foundational keys you call them, for how to work well with a spouse. I’d love to ask you a little bit about each of them. First of all, you talk about the importance of aligning your visions.
Brad Casebier: Yeah, if we don’t agree on where we’re going, that’s a non-starter. The problem with this is, is people often think that they’re in alignment but they haven’t spent enough time digging deep enough to realize that there’s enough disconnect of what the destination is, they’re really pulling against each other as they go forward. If you decide you’re going to go to a restaurant and you know it’s in town but you haven’t really decided where you’re going, there’s inevitably going to be conflict on that trip, it’s going to be very frustrating.
Until you’re really clear on the exact destination, you don’t really understand what route to get there. That’s so true in business, it’s so much easier and you make similar decisions and there’s less conflict when you know exactly where you’re going.
Jane Stogdill: Okay, this is good advice for any kind of business partnership but especially when you’re working with your spouse, I imagine.
Brad Casebier: Yeah, I’d say the stakes are higher working with your spouse. You’re not just going to lose money, you can lose your relationship if you do this wrong.
Jane Stogdill: Yeah. I mean, do you find that people want to work with their spouses and don’t, out of fear of just that kind of thing happening?
Brad Casebier: For sure. I hear comments all the time that they think it’s crazy that we do it or they think it’s amazing that we do it and, “I would never even attempt it and it scares me.” I think that’s a real deal but then, there’s a whole other segment of society that’s blissfully ignorant and they just like, “Yeah let’s do it, it’ll be fun.” They have no idea what they’re getting ready to step into, and then other times, it’s a straight-up necessity.
I think this happens more often than not, the person starts a business and the spouse is like a free employee. Then that can create some pretty grotesque relationship dynamics and some bitterness around getting sucked into something that you never really signed up for. But now, you have to do it because your whole financial security is on the hook. Unfortunately, it happens a lot.
Jane Stogdill: What’s your advice to a couple who finds themselves in that kind of situation?
Brad Casebier: Get serious, I have a segment in the book on this. You’re not acting as a teammate when you’re being coerced to be in a position. If I reflect back on Sarah and I’s world, we were modeling my parent’s business. My mom handled the taxes and my dad did the work. My mom helped my wife handle the taxes, but I started hiring a bunch of people and all of a sudden accounting got much bigger than just taxes.
Sarah was just by default supposed to do it because that was my model, that’s how my parents did it. She didn’t want that job and it wasn’t really fun for either of us, but then one day, she decided she wanted in. I think there’s a point where you are either in or you’re out. Not being in business with your spouse is okay too but being angry about it and being in the business isn’t any way to live. You either get all in, take it seriously, or extract yourself out of that situation.
Jane Stogdill: Yeah, well that brings me to the next of your three keys here, the importance of knowing your roles. Tell us about that.
Brad Casebier: Particularly with a smaller business, it’s so easy to blend roles and be in each other’s business. Sarah and I, we’ve swapped roles, she was the general manager, I was a general manager, back and forth a couple of times, we both have exchanged being in charge at marketing, she was the initial plumbing service manager, then I was. We’ve had all this transformation.
What’s really messy is when your employees don’t really know who is in charge. When they have to ask both of you, if they can’t get clear answers, and you give different answers, it’s very inefficient for business. And also, it is just really hard on your relationship because you’re constantly having to haggle out decisions. For example, we were doing marketing and we were having this big debate about what color of orange was the right color of orange.
One person needs to make that decision and be responsible for the outcome. You got to stop the collaboration and start empowering people to make decisions, and then you move forward faster and there’s less frustration.
Jane Stogdill: Okay. Then the third of these keys here, your business and your relationship, tell us what’s going on with this one?
Brad Casebier: It’s an interesting segment because it shares what I’ve learned personally about how to be in a relationship and in business. It’s a pretty vast topic. Is the ultimate goal to make a lot of money? You got to determine how important is the human being that you’re married to in this dynamic?
We both found, there are times when we had to really let somebody run with the ball, even though we didn’t think that was the right play because they needed it. They needed to run with it. If you’re really looking out for your spouse and their life experience, not just the business, what do they want their life to be like? It could be having enough time to hit all of the soccer games and basketball games, or it could be the life experience that they really desire is to make a hundred million dollars in cash when they sell their business.
Very different lives, very different choices, but trying to impose what you want on your spouse is–that’s going to be a long uphill battle. We both had to give a lot to let the other person get to experience what they wanted to experience in business and in life, and there’s a lot of give and take in that. I don’t know if I explained that well, it’s kind of a deep topic. It’s not just about the business when you’re working with your spouse.
Failure is okay sometimes. Sometimes people have to experience failure and you love that person through the failure and that they needed to experience it. It is a wild business concept if you’re working with employees. It’s a different game when you are working with your spouse.
Jane Stogdill: I was thinking about what you said about when you are working with your spouse, you know this person’s life goals or your desires, and in a way that maybe you wouldn’t know a regular kind of business partner, and that can benefit the business because you understand motivations. Is that right?
Brad Casebier: Yeah, absolutely and I’ll maybe reframe it a little bit is that you think you know your spouse and what we found too is in our process and discovery, we were really getting to know ourselves because we had some unconscious drivers that we weren’t really even aware of until we kept hitting this friction moment and realized, “Oh, I thought I wanted this one thing all along but I really don’t. I’ve never really been able to see it or verbalize it, but I keep leaning this way and it’s causing friction because we both thought I wanted this but what I really want is this.”
My wife was totally committed to be a stay-at-home mom and not work, and there was a lot of peer pressure from friends and family and things of that nature and she was losing her mind. We both thought that’s what she wanted. She woke up one day and realized, “You know what? This isn’t for me.” I said, “Okay,” and that was one of those moments where you discuss, you have to say, “Okay, this is a game-changer, and let’s figure out how to adapt to the new world.” That’s part of allowing your spouse to have the life experience that they needed.
Jane Stogdill: I mean it sounds like in your case going into business together benefited both your relationship and your business.
Brad Casebier: For sure. I would say the benefit to the relationship caused a lot of battle scars. That wasn’t fun because growth sometimes requires some stretching and some pain and you do hit these incredible friction points where stuff is just not working. We’re both really committed to each other and we’re both committed to finding a solution. That’s the key for us to punch through until we found how we could communicate and live with whatever the solution was, but it was a huge growth opportunity for us. It is hard work. It’s heavy lifting.
Jane Stogdill: You mentioned earlier that sometimes couples find themselves working together for circumstantial reasons. Is this book for people in that situation who now need to learn how to navigate it, or do you also promote? Are you a proponent of working with your spouse? Do you suggest, “Hey, you should check this out, this could really benefit you and your business?”
Brad Casebier: There is a segment in there where I say the book is for anybody even thinking about working with their spouse. You should probably read this book if you are thinking about it because it covers a lot of pre-decision things, and that gets very tactical about how to create scorecards and things of this nature to hold each other accountable, so you’re not just in each other’s business, and thinking the other person isn’t doing enough.
Either the data says you’re doing enough or you’re not, and it makes it a little less personal. I think the book is for everyone that is in that space.
Jane Stogdill: Well, it is just a case-by-case scenario. I was looking at your book and I am just trying to imagine, “Wow, if my husband and I worked together, what would that be like?” You mentioned some scars earlier. What was one of the biggest challenges that you and your wife faced when you started working together?
Brad Casebier: There have been times where we completely saw very different routes tactically on how to get to an outcome, and we’ve both given into each other at different times and sometimes, when you’re the one giving up your ground and saying, “Yeah, okay do it your way,” that can feel pretty rough.
Then, on the other hand, Sarah yielded on something one time when I was very counter to all of our coaches, and I needed to do it. She said, “You know, I’m going to trust you on this one,” and I can’t tell you what that did to me emotionally. When your spouse trusts you over all the other coaches and says, “You know, I don’t know. I am going to let you run with this,” it was a real bonding experience for me, and it really helped me commit to an even better success because I had to pull through and focus to our livelihood too. It is so personal, it’s incredible.
Jane Stogdill: Yeah, I mean you can really trust that your business partner is all in, right?
Brad Casebier: Yeah.
Jane Stogdill: They are not going to embezzle money and fly off in the middle of the night.
Brad Casebier: Right, the hardest thing I think that we both had to go through was giving up roles that we owned. I owned this role and now it’s yours. Your identity gets attached to titles and roles, which can feel really awful, and those can be some really good growing moments because we’ve dived into, “Am I the role or am I more than that?” Then, “Who am I without the title?” So, those have been some really hard moments. Any time your identity is attached to something, and you lose it, that’s an excruciating experience.
Business Owner Mindsets
Jane Stogdill: You write about the different mindsets of business owners, the different kinds of business owners, like the entrepreneur for example. Can you tell us a little bit about that and whether you want you and your business partner to have the same mindset or complementary ones? What’s your take on that?
Brad Casebier: Yeah, this is a wild concept and I am sure somebody has probably covered it before, but I totally went for my gut about what I’ve seen and experienced with all the people I have coached and also family members. People have different reasons for being in business and again, it is wild how much we’re driven by unconscious beliefs that we don’t ever really talk about or that we didn’t decide to believe.
It is the way we operate, it is our operating system. A person that is entrepreneurial really wants to get a business off the ground, they want everybody to laud them for how amazing they were getting this business off the ground, they don’t really want to own and operate it long term. They just want to prove they could get it up and that’s totally fine. It is a style.
Then there are artist types and they’re craftsmen and they want to produce their craft. The business exists as a format for them to do their craft.
There are also people that are in the legacy, and they want to build something for generations to come.
All of these different mindsets create very different choices–every decision you make is going to be guided by why you’re in business. So, I am really trying to help couples cut through the unconscious and make it front of mind, so they can understand each other and they can have healthier conversations about how they are going to proceed forward.
I think if the book has any intent, it is that it’s to help people really understand each other and themselves so that it’s easier to run the business together. You can have an entrepreneur and an artist work together, but you have to understand, they have different end outcomes in mind, and so we have to figure out how to create a balance in the journey.
Jane Stogdill: There is so much planning behind the planning and it is like the adage “measure twice, cut once.” And that seems especially true when you are working with a spouse. Before we do this, let’s check a few boxes, or let’s investigate. I think this book is going to save people a lot of time and heartache.
Brad Casebier: That is the goal. We have enough pain and heartache for everybody else and we’re hopeful. This was something Sarah and I have talked about for years and years. I did a bunch of writing on it in 2017 and then this last 2020, I really got committed. It was so funny because I had to rewrite so much of it because so much has changed in the last three years.
It was almost a complete rewrite with an outline but, it’s a neat experience. I will say this, I think ours is a very high formed relationship. I think maybe even we were designed for this as a couple to have a common cause. The growth that we experienced with each other going through this process made us much tighter in our relationship and also had a profound impact on the business. I am a big fan of it.
I don’t recommend it for everybody, if your spouse doesn’t get out of bed every day on a regular time, if they are not doing a great job with their day job that they currently have, you may want to think about how that might not be the one you want to go into business with. Maybe we just had the right DNA, but I think it is a really good, healthy thing for couples to do. I don’t think it is weird at all.
Jane Stogdill: Well, thanks so much for sharing all the wisdom you all have gained. Brad, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you. Again, listeners, the book is The Survival Guide to Working with Your Spouse: Build a Business with Your Lover without Losing Your Mind. Brad, in addition to reading the book, where can people go to learn more about you all and your work?
Brad Casebier: You can find our website at bradsarah.com. There are some resources there you can download and there will be more very soon as we move forward.
Jane Stogdill: Great, thanks so much.
Brad Casebier: Thank you.