Couple-Preneurship: How to Hire Your Spouse

Couplepreneurship: How to Hire Your Spouse - husband and wife discussing business

By Kenny Markwardt, Certified Two-Brain Fitness Business Mentor

I like to envision my marriage like the movie “Mr. & Mrs. Smith.” 

If you haven’t seen it, it’s a cheesy action movie starring Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt: A pair of married badasses take on a common enemy, alternate wild stunts, cover each other’s backs and share confident winks as they repeatedly save each other.  

I work with a lot of gym owners who want to create a similar situation with their spouses—the “mutual business partner” situation, not the “chasing assassins” situation. They’re eager to go all in and take on the world, but they find themselves wondering how they’ll know when the right time is right. The two know they make a great team, but they also know that calculated risks are better than blind leaps. 

If you’re considering the path of full-time “couple-preneurship,” here are the steps I strongly recommend you take first.

Ask the Hard Questions

At the outset, you need to make sure the partnership is really something you both want. 

Joining forces in the trenches is not without its drawbacks. The upside can be incredible, but the downside can be equally bad. It’s worth talking through all the negatives and asking all the right questions before considering making the leap.  

  • Do you work well together? Under stress, do you join forces to solve the problem or do you become adversarial? 
  • Do you love spending every day together? Or do you get sick of each other and need your space? Your new reality: You’ll constantly be with each other—whether you like it or not. Your work and home lives can rapidly become one as you begin this adventure together.
  • Do you both have a passion for your gym? If it’s just another job for one of you, you might want to reconsider. Entrepreneurship, and especially gym ownership, is hard. If one of you is just there because “it’s our business,” you’ll probably end up hanging it up when things get tough.
  • Will your marriage and gym survive if the partnership doesn’t work out? What are the steps you’ll take before things get beyond repair?

Create Clear Roles

If you’ve addressed all the questions above and think the upside is well worth the risk, now what?

The foundation for any partnership—and especially couple-preneurship—is a clear set of roles and tasks that both of you agree on and are excited about. It can’t just be “co-owner” and “helper out-er.” You need to act like you’re hiring: Explain exactly what the job entails and what the performance expectations are. 

In a perfect world, you are both excited as heck about your individual roles and tasks, and they provide enough division that you can both be relatively autonomous at work. In our gym, my wife Jenn leads our sales and nutrition teams. I take the CEO and COO roles. In our case, our strengths complement each other, and we both generally stay in our lanes unless invited over for collaboration.

If you haven’t ironed out your complete roles and tasks list for your gym yet, do that now.  Put a name next to each role. Here’s a great place to get started: “Done for You Hiring Plan and Detailed Job Descriptions.”

If you can’t find a set of roles for each of you, don’t move forward. If you can, great!

Finance: Calculate and Plan

The next step is to figure out how to make a sound financial transition.

Together, you must calculate exactly how much money you need to make each month to survive. Add up all your bills, add in the cost of some extravagance and go from there. Some of your expenses will be fixed and others will give you the opportunity to get very lean. Do you really need all those TV channels?

All in all, you need to know exactly what the financial picture looks like. No matter how many times you watch “The Secret,” you won’t magically come up with more money from your gym to cover a big disparity between what it can pay you and what you need to make.

To test your plan, pretend to pay yourselves the amount of money you need now while one of you retains another career. You can facilitate this by moving the money it will cost to bring on your spouse into a savings account for at least three months in a row. If doing so completely craters your operating-expenses account, you’ve got some work to do. If it seems like you’re good, you can afford to hire your spouse, and you’ll have some money stashed away to make up the difference over the first few months—if necessary. 

It should be noted that each employee should bring in roughly 2.5 times his or her pay, so as your spouse comes on board, you should see a return on that investment. But I think it’s a safer bet to assume less for your family’s sake. Here’s another article with more specifics: “Can You Afford It?”

Consider Benefits

The last set of hurdles you’ll want to clear: making sure all the employee benefits your spouse currently has are considered. Health insurance, retirement savings plans and other benefits all add up and can provide that extra layer of security for your family. It’s nice when an employer supplies these things, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t provide them yourself—it’s just an added cost that should be considered. 

We have health insurance and retirement plans at our gym, so it can be done (and it makes for a nice set of benefits if you end up hiring other full timers). I recommend you talk to local brokers and find out what it would cost to supply the benefits you or your spouse enjoys now. You might have to shop around or make some sacrifices in regards to your plan, but something is better than nothing.  

Plan, Then Act

So there you have it. 

If you can make it through these exercises, you and your spouse are ready to take on the world together!

Other Media in This Series

“Couple-Preneurship: How to Work With Your Spouse”
“Couple-Preneurship: What to Do When Things Go Wrong”
“Couple-Preneurship: What to Do With the Kids”
Podcast: “Working With a Spouse: The Secrets to Ending Stress”


One more thing!

Did you know gym owners can earn $100,000 a year with no more than 150 clients? We wrote a guide showing you exactly how.