Confessions of a Private Practice Owner:
Working with Your Spouse
By April Royan
In 2014, The Huffington Post published an article titled, How to Run a Successful Business with Your Spouse. The article stated that, “If you’re thinking about going into business with your significant other, know that it is 100 percent possible to do so successfully. You’re just going to have to work together and be extremely open to compromise.” I remember reading that quote after a particularly stressful day at the office, and thinking the author was crazy. It’s not that easy.
It was a rainy Memorial Day weekend in 2009 when my husband, Mark, and I sat with our newborn baby and laid out the plans to form our private practice, Decibels Audiology. We had big decisions to make and no idea what we were doing – but we put our heads together and took a huge leap of faith.
A lot has changed since that momentous day seven years ago. Mark and I still make all of our big decisions together — but it's not nearly as simple. Seven years, dozens of employees, and thousands of patients later, it is not just about us anymore. Mark has since sold his previous business, and we rely solely on our private practice to feed our family. And, most entertaining and often trying, we now spend all day, every day, together. Our entire lives revolve around this business, and that has proven to be the most challenging aspect of all.
Our practice has enjoyed both enormous success and colossal failure. Our marriage has been in the center of all of that, and I find comfort knowing we are not alone: so many of my friends and colleagues who own their own practices work with their spouses and/or family members. While I often hear them jokingly gripe about the challenges associated with working with family, I also know that I couldn’t do this job well without my other half.
When Things Are Good
When things are going well, it’s fun to kick back at the end of a great month and say “Man, we’re so smart. We nailed that.” But any successful practice owner will tell you that there is an underlying stress in doing well that nags at you: What made this our most successful quarter ever? How do we replicate this? Is this spike in profitability related to a specific employee, a specific product, a new advertising campaign, or the new front desk person? Do we have enough employees to accommodate demand? How long can we ask a new patient to wait before their first appointment? Do we need a larger office? More parking? Should we increase our advertising? These things all cost money and they are all a gamble. There is no “right” answer; and what works one month, may fall flat the next.
My husband has proven to be a rock star in this area. He loves data. He tracks absolutely everything. And while I may feel like the new office paint color is the reason for a surge in sales, he'll point to the numbers and say, “No, the data says that advertisement x pulled x number of patients, and performed x times better than the ads last month.”
Even with all the data and the experience in the world, there are still many times when we don’t know what to do. Even more often, we don’t agree on what to do. Thank goodness for a great team of advisors: friends, family, employees, and business consultants, who tell us the truth. We aren’t just husband and wife; we’re part of a much larger team that makes everything work.
When Things Are Bad
Sometimes the phone doesn't ring. Sometimes oil is spilled in the Gulf and snowbirds don't visit your town for two years. Sometimes you get to the end of the quarter and find that you've lost money — a lot of money. Sometimes that means you can't pay yourselves — and that really stinks.
Because we're married, these pressures don't just weigh on us from nine to five, they are in our lives 24 hours a day. And because we have small children, it's usually not until after the kids are in bed at night that we can sit and discuss facts and figures.
When Things Are Really Bad
In seven years, we've had a few moments in the practice that have brought us to our knees. A big disappointment can leave us both dazed and shocked for days. In these times, it feels like there is no escape because there is no way to focus on anything else. However, a few days of moping around, and a few bottles of wine later, we climb out of the hole. I get creative and driven. Mark gets focused on using his brilliant computer skills to learn from these failures, and create processes to avoid them in the future. These times are always wake up calls. In each instance, we've come back stronger and more profitable.
Weird Things About Working with Your Spouse
Many people say to me, “Wow, you work with your husband! How great it is that you two get to spend so much time together!” While that’s a lovely thought, the truth is that I hardly ever see him at work. We are both super busy. And because we work in the same business, we try really hard to make sure that our roles don’t overlap.
As parents, balancing family and the business is hard. If our family gets sick, both owners are out of the business. If our kids need someone to take them somewhere, one or both of us needs to leave early. The flexibility to call the shots is wonderful — but it’s stressful on the staff any time both owners have to be out unexpectedly.
Our social life is a crazy, wonderful circus. We are always going somewhere. Most of our functions involve work: staff appreciation events, networking events, charity functions, and product trainings. That stuff is fun but it’s crazy and exhausting and it requires a lot of babysitters, if we both want to attend an event.
And while we desperately cling to our non-work friends to remind us that hearing aids are indeed NOT the most important thing ever, it can be hard for people who are not business owners to understand what we do. While I’m the audiologist and the face of the company, Mark’s role is behind the scenes. While I recognize how much Mark does to make us successful, others do not always get to see that. They don’t see him building our website, paying our vendors, and putting together endless reports that improve the efficiency of our business. They don’t see him being a cheerleader for myself and our entire staff. They don’t see him picking up our kids from school every day so that I can work a few more hours. Sadly, sometimes I fail to see it as well. He’s the first one I snap at if I have a bad day, and the first one who has to listen to me vent. But he’s awesome, and he listens to me, and he tells me to get over myself when I’m being a spaz...and he’s totally right. Because there are many days when I need to just get over myself and get back to work. And who else is going to tell me that, besides my husband?
Why It Is still Better Than Anything Else
Every summer (slow season in Florida), Mark and I load up our kids in the RV and take off for an eight-week road trip across the country. After the kids are asleep, we work for hours on tiny laptops around big campfires. We get to travel the world and still stay connected. We get to see our amazing staff shine and grow while we get to take a step back and focus on the subtleties of the business that often are pushed to the back burner.
Every summer, time and time again, we can’t believe how lucky we are. Who else gets to do that? How else could anyone do that? It is such a blessing to work in the same field, for the same company, and have the same schedule.
As crazy as we both are, and as much as we struggle to get along sometimes, we’re having a blast building something great. We’ve taken our family, and our business, and made an even bigger family: big family of our wonderful employees, colleagues, and patients. We wouldn’t have it any other way!
April Royan is an audiologist and the owner of Decibels Audiology in Naples, Florida.