The old adage proclaims you should never work with children or animals, but anyone who’s ever tried to put together IKEA furniture with their other half could suggest another party to add to the list: your partner. You know, the one who shares your life and, reluctantly, your bathroom.
While there are more than a few real-life co-founding couples who prove the point that business and pleasure can certainly mix, it isn’t exactly easy.
For Paige Gardiner and Rhys Keir, cofounders of video production company Risk Key Productions, it was their shared love of storytelling that brought them together in life – and in business.
“I love that storytelling teaches empathy and can genuinely change a person’s perspective on the world,” Paige explains. “I feel so grateful that I get to be involved in the storytelling process every day, either in rehearsal, on stage, or as part of Risk Key Productions.”
For Rhys, a former actor who turned his focus to video, and Paige, who is NIDA-trained and still regularly works in theatre professionally, building their own video production business was the result of a need for creative fulfilment, as well as industry demand.
“Video is such an integral part of marketing and engagement these days, and it seems that every brand knows they ‘need’ video content, but when we spoke to a lot of businesses they had no idea where to even start – so they didn’t start,” says Rhys. “We heard time and time again… ‘it’s too complicated’, ‘it takes too much effort’ and ‘it’s too expensive’. It was really that realisation of the need for a simple creative process that has become our through line with Risk Key Productions.”
Although the couple’s success quickly snowballed, there had to be a few ground rules. Here, Paige and Rhys share a few of the ways they guaranteed their success as a team:
1. Own your point of difference
We thought that if clients found out that we’re a couple… we’d seem less established as a business. We also kept our acting background on the down-low – we worried that this might make us seem amateur or distracted… and would detract from how much we care about our brand and our service.
The trend in business has moved away from being slick and polished, and is moving towards being truthful and authentic and genuine. Clients and audiences these days don’t like to be tricked: they like truthfulness and aligning brand personality to their own lives. The more we learnt this and agreed with it, the more we wanted to implement it within our own brand.
2. Make sure you’ve nutted out your business structure…
We spent a good six months developing our systems and processes before launching the business. You can plan all you want, but the real learning comes hard and fast when you’re in the thick of it.
We had to quickly learn to structure the business in a way so that neither of us were ever looking over the other’s shoulder. We’re both very disciplined – we each have our separate morning routines and we each have a separate office space. We feel that the more we can work independently, the better our work is when we come together, and this also gives us each a sense of ownership and creativity within the business. We’ve really made the brand work for us; in that, we’ve altered our roles along the way in order to ensure that we’re both creatively fulfilled and challenged.
3.…and carve out time for taking stock – together
It’s very easy to get carried along by the flow of the business – if it’s making money, then it must be working well, right? If you don’t have the right systems in place to support the growth, then soon enough it will begin to crumble. We realised that we needed to stop and take some time away from it, in order to open up our creative headspace again, and grow the business in a really healthy way.
Now we prioritise major development days (and sometimes even development weeks) in order to allow for positive change and growth.
4. Create clear boundaries between work and play
It’s very easy to let the business slowly take over your personal life and to discuss projects and clients and finance at all hours of the day. Having discipline around keeping the two worlds separate is really important because otherwise, without realising it you feel like you’ve not seen or hung out with your partner in days, even though you’ve been working with them the whole time. We make sure our night times are relaxed and enjoyable, and we keep any business-talk limited on weekends.
5. Remember to appreciate the advantages it gives you – and your business
The advantages are that you get to hang out with your best friend in the world, pretty much all the time! Plus, your partner understands the day you’ve just had because they were there with you. You share the highs together and you help each other through the lows.
You know each other’s strengths and weaknesses really well, so you can really make that work to your advantage within the structure of the business. Plus, having open and honest conversations is much easier with your partner than with a colleague – at least, we think so, anyway.
Photography by Tim Engelbrecht