Andrew McCulloch is an adviser, investor and Non-Executive Director, based in London. 

Entrepreneurial Spirit was created as a creative outlet to share stories and lessons learnt from over a decade in investments and working with entrepreneurs. 

How to avoid the pitfalls of entrepreneurship

How to avoid the pitfalls of entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurs are lauded for their passion and work ethic, but no one really talks about the elephant in the room - that entrepreneurs often focus on their business to the detriment of their personal life. 

It is this darker side which does not often get spoken about. They don't break down specific stats for the divorce rates among entrepreneurs, but I am certain that if they did, the rate of failure would be significantly higher than average for the UK.

Being divorced is like being hit by a Mack truck. If you live through it, you start looking very carefully to the right and to the left.
— Jean Kerr

According to the ONS, the estimate for divorce rates in the UK is 42% and this has been dropping due to the younger generations' preference for living together first. This has been causing the rate to drop since 2000, although couples who live together but never marry are just as likely to end up separating.

The negative aspects of entrepreneurship

Building a company can be very rewarding and an an incredibly exciting venture. However, it comes with a health warning. There are only 24 hours in a day and when someone is spending so much of their time physically and more importantly mentally focused on their business, it leaves less room for family and relationships.

Unless it is a family business and both partners are involved, it can often create the situation where partners can find themselves living entirely separate existences. You don't even have to be an entrepreneur, other professions (I'm looking at you law and finance) have an unhealthy work / life balance, keeping people away from their families.

Common reasons for marriages failing are:

  • financial strain
  • neglect of a partner
  • lack of communication
  • divergent goals

If you conducted a postmortem on the cause of death of entrepreneurs' marriages, all four would be found in abundance. The difference is that running a business creates a special mix of resentment and anxiety created by putting the family's finances constantly at risk. Add jealousy and it's a heady cocktail. 

Is passion killing relationships?

People start business to do their own thing, which is not compatible with the purpose of marriage - which is about doing things together. 

If a marriage is already having difficulties, there is no difficulty a business can't make worse. A client of mine recently announced he was getting divorced and in hindsight knew that there were problems before he started his marketing company. Of course, they just got bigger and obsessing about business plans when she wanted to chat is the symptom of someone who is choosing to be alone.

Your partner may also not share your "passion" and doubt that the company would ever support the family. These conflicting views mean that it can be hard to keep a marriage together.

Entrepreneurship changes a person - and not for the better. Running your business means your the boss, so when you get home and you have to compromise, it can be hard to change this mindset. 

Workaholism is a disease, as is presenteeism - a more recent phenomenon. Some old favourites still persist and the oldest of all is sexism: There are husbands who resent rather than celebrate their wives' entrepreneurial success. Of course, successful women in any profession risk similar backlash. But entrepreneurs - by definition leaders of others - may pose a particular threat to vulnerable male egos.

What’s money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.
— Bob Dylan

Just as company building can lead to divorce, divorce can destabilize a company, and even sap brand equity if the company trades on a family image. 

Divorces can mean considerable financial upheaval, putting the business or your own finances on shaky ground. 

Entrepreneurs are like everyone else when they get divorced. They dust themselves off and vow to do things differently next time. It is often followed by the promise to be the perfect husband or wife from lessons learned. 

What lessons can we learn?

Some key areas which can help you balance growing a business and maintaining a relationship are: 

  • Ensure you enjoy what you do - don't bring your work woes home with you
  • Create a culture in your business which includes family
  • Build time for your family in to each day - have lunch together or make are there is a regular slot for them
  • Always answer a call from them, even if it is to say you'll call them back
  • Never miss a family event because you are working

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