My boyfriend, John, and I had been dating close to four years when we started a food truck in northwest Florida. That was two years ago. We saw the growing trend on the west coast and other large cities (yes, via the Travel Channel), and we believed we could do the same thing—sans any real cooking experience, of course.
My grandmother’s infamous recipes were the cornerstone for the truck’s menu: southern and sweet. We decided chicken and waffles would be the main feature, with different flavored waffles like red velvet, sweet potato, and banana pudding.
We were so young then, 24 and 27, and so optimistic. And we quickly found that the journey from lovebirds and recreational cooks to food-truck entrepreneurs and serious partners wasn’t easy. In fact, just the opposite—it has been incredibly hard.
But since I’ve blazed this trail, let me pass along some crucial advice we’ve learned along the way for starting a business with your boo.
1. Donʼt Take the Chaos Out on Each Other
After two months of planning, John and I bought our 1985 Chevy step van. We couldn’t stop grinning. At last, we thought, here are the keys to our future.
We were only 15 minutes down the highway when the engine cut off. And then it started, and cut off again. Our two-hour trip took ﬁve hours, and by the time we got home, we were hot, tired, and wondering what the hell we had just got ourselves into. We argued for hours that night and slept in separate rooms.
Don’t worry—we made up and named our truck Lazarus. But that first-day debacle taught us the importance of ﬂexibility and staying calm. Stuff is going to happen that’s outside of your control. And you’re going to have to ﬁgure out how to solve problems without adding bad attitudes and pouting to the mix—or worse, blaming each other for the ills of the business.
Often when we feel an attitude coming on, we use the code “twilight zone,” to let each other know when we’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed out—it's kind of like a "proceed with caution" sign. We also discovered the beauty of project management with programs like Yammer and Basecamp, so that the chaos is more controlled.
2. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
A year into the business, I decided to pursue a master’s degree in marketing, and John was totally supportive. Then the semester hit, and my mind became preoccupied with team projects, MLA, and statistics. One day, I forgot to remind John and the crew about a catering event. We missed out on the gig, and the business reputation we had worked hard to build was temporarily on the rocks. Lots of yelling ensued, and we went into our separate rooms again.
Most couples say that communication is the number one component in their relationship, and the same applies to businesses, too. After sitting down and really talking through our strengths and expectations, it was much easier to define our roles and make sure nothing else fell through the cracks—whether I was in a degree program or not. Since he is a captain in the Army, he took on the day-to-day operations of the truck like supplies, training employees, and the truck’s maintenance. I managed the social media accounts, followed up with customers about catering opportunities, and handled finances.
Talk honestly about all of your expectations, roles, and concerns, from the very beginning—it will make your business life much, much easier.
3. Make Time for Couple Time
A few months into the business, we had a full calendar of catering and vending gigs. Great, right? Absolutely. But an entire month went by where we didn’t have sex or go out as a couple. An entire month. There were times the mood was there, but our bodies were so beat up from working on the truck that we decided Netﬂix and spooning were the best alternative.
We eventually remedied this dismal situation, realizing that when you start a business with your partner, it’s vital to make time for dates and intimacy. We decided to close the food truck on Sunday and Monday, making those “our” days and date nights.
Reconnecting with each other outside of the business is so important—remember, at the end of the day, you’re not just business partners, you’re a couple. Keeping that in mind is critical if you’re going to keep the chaos in check (and your relationship intact).
Starting a business is far from easy, and starting one with the one you love can prove even tougher. Two years later, and currently planning our 2013 wedding, John and I still periodically break some of these rules—but we keep truckin’ along in hopes of building our business and being the best people we can be to each other.