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Maggie Harlow

I Work with My Husband – Here’s the Code We Observe to Achieve Happiness

These eight techniques ensure our success both inside and outside the shop.




IT’S ALWAYS ENTERTAINING to see the look of shock on people’s faces when they find out I work full-time with my husband as business partners. They cover their mouth and whisper conspiratorially, “How is it? I could never work with my spouse!”

Trust me — when my husband approached me with the idea that he would come work in the new signshop I was starting, I was reluctant. He was persuasive, convincing me it would be “temporary.” Here we are, 20 years later!

Every business partnership I’ve ever had has been challenging and required a lot of reflection. After 20 years in business together and 28 years of marriage, I can now say the experience has genuinely made our marriage better. Despite our conflicts, we have come to know each other as our “work selves” and learned to admire what each of us is capable of.

Working together is not for every couple. I’m not even sure I would recommend it, as it has provided huge challenges for us over the years. We’ve dealt with near financial ruin, disputes over employees, more arguments about collections than I care to remember, and regular and healthy debates over expenses. If our marriage is a car, I’m the gas and he’s the brakes, and whoever is at the wheel is driving aggressively with both feet.

I’m not a family therapist, but today I’ll play one! Here are some real world techniques we used to get through the rockiest parts of the experience!

  • Stay in your sandbox! Get clear about who is responsible for what and stay out of one another’s “sandbox” of responsibility. Shape your roles around natural aptitudes. My husband is the money and detail guy; I’m the sales and people person!
  • Hierarchy matters. Decide who is in charge, because 50/50 isn’t going to work when you are in a pitched battle. Someone must make the final call (on our team that’s me), and it is important that whoever is in charge is treated with respect.
  • Turn off work after work. We had two small boys when we started, and they quickly let us know how little they enjoyed work talk during time at home. The solution for us was a closed-door session for 20 minutes at the end of the day to reflect and catch up. Walking out of that room signaled it was family time.
  • Be accountable to each other. Treat each other as you would any employee. Be professionals — do the work you’ve agreed to do, communicate issues, problem solve and collaborate.
  • Keep a unified front! Even if you disagree with a decision your spouse has made, support them publicly and question them privately.
  • A bad marriage makes for bad business. If you aren’t happily married, get to a good marriage therapist before you start a business together. Issues in a marriage are amplified by the strain of running a business.
  • Hire an adviser to chart the course. I could see early in our experience that there was a lot we wouldn’t agree on. I hired a business coach to work with us. She helped “break the tie” on issues and created a dynamic that worked for us.
  • Honesty is paramount. If you can’t speak your mind with your spouse, don’t bother with a business. Good business requires an extreme form of candor!

The benefits of a partnership in business are an equally long list! Knowing we are building our shared interest feels great. The feeling of having someone “at my back” is a huge comfort. On good days, we get to celebrate together. We’ve come to trust each other’s “superpowers.” His strengths are now mine, and mine are his. We support each other in bad times — we are in them together!


I’m grateful my husband pushed past my initial concerns and helped me see the joy of business/marriage partnership. Without our shared effort, we would not have the successes we’ve enjoyed.



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The Sign Industry Podcast is a platform for every sign person out there — from the old-timers who bent neon and hand-lettered boats to those venturing into new technologies — we want to get their stories out for everyone to hear. Come join us and listen to stories, learn tricks or techniques, and get insights of what’s to come. We are the world’s second oldest profession. The folks who started the world’s oldest profession needed a sign.

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