Working together as a couple can be a delicate balancing act between professional and family life, but when it works, it can be a hugely rewarding experience. For Neil and Sarah Smith of Cheltenham-based managed IT service provider, ReformIT, working together was a natural progression after marriage and children.
The demands of Neil's role as managing director had reached its peak and his time at home with the family was becoming more and more limited, so Sarah joining the business was a no-brainer. Her input into the company strengthened both their relationship and the business — and SoGlos spoke to the Gloucestershire power couple to get the secret ingredients to a successful partnership in business and in life.
First things first, how did you meet?
Sarah: We met via the dating site eHarmony back in 2009. We were both relatively new to this way of meeting people and, funnily enough, our first dates through the site, both with other people, were disasters! So when we arranged to meet at Halloween of that year, we were both a bit sceptical at first as we were each other's second date. But, we talked all day and it just felt like we’d known each other for years.
Fast forward a few years and we had our first child, Carl, in 2012, our second, Zoe, in 2015 and then married in 2017.
What is it really like working together?
Sarah: It’s a lot easier than either of us expected. We were warned a lot over the last ten years not to work together and so we were cautious. But we understand each other and how we work, so well that we can communicate really effectively. I just have to be careful I don’t accidentally call Neil 'babe' in a meeting!
What is Sarah’s role and how did you identify her place in the business?
Neil: At first, Sarah was helping me with the marketing, most notably the social media side of it, as this is what she did for her own marketing business. A few months in, she started working more in the actual office and spending lots of time around the engineers, hearing in more detail what goes into the workings of ReformIT.
It took a little while for her to gain the confidence to start using her skills to make suggestions. But once she found her feet and got to know the business better, it became apparent that she had a fantastic ability to work out and create processes and procedures that make things more efficient, save money or both. She can take a chaotic set of tasks and just make them flow. So now, a year on, Sarah is our director of operations and marketing.
How has the business changed since Sarah joined?
Neil: Sarah has already made several changes to the way certain tasks are performed and she is focused on helping each department work more coherently with each other. Sarah coming on board has enabled me to focus more on the leadership and less on the day-to-day details.
She also makes a mean bacon butty for the team and makes sure I have my lunch every day!
Has working together changed your dynamic as a couple?
Sarah: It has changed our home life quite a bit. I now have a much deeper understanding of Neil's workload and the challenges he faces day-to-day. And it means I have more patience with him at home. So, before I might have felt ignored if he was focused on his laptop and I would have tried to talk to him. Whereas now, I know what he is working on and how vital it might be.
Did you have to make any adjustments after Sarah joined the company?
Neil: We do often find we are still talking about work in the evenings but we are working hard to try and make sure this is the exception rather than the rule.
How do you manage family life with both of you working for the business?
Neil: It isn’t easy — the same as for any couple where both parents work. We have to be disciplined in making sure we take time for the family.
you take much time off together?
Sarah: We are very lucky to have a supportive family network who take care of the children once or twice a year, so that we can get a few days away to our favourite place. We love to visit the Isles of Scilly — it's a precious place to us and where Neil proposed eight years ago on my 40th birthday. We spend a few days hiking, enjoying the history and beauty of the islands and trying not to talk about work.
What is your advice for couples working in business
Sarah: Communication and managing each other's expectations is crucial. You need to make sure your roles and responsibilities are clearly defined, for yours and the team's benefit, too.
For me, it's very simple — I always remind myself that ReformIT is Neil’s business. I can make recommendations based on my own knowledge and skills, but if he decides to go in another direction once he has assessed all of the information, then I have to support it. I now know and am comfortable with my place in the business; and I have found that mutual respect is vital for a smooth, working relationship.