Welcome back to our B2BeeMembers series! Today, we introduce you to Rachel and Patrick. She’s Rachel Ott of Varga Girl Design, a nationally and internationally recognized graphic design firm specializing in logos, branding, and website design. He’s Patrick McCaully of Pointman News Creation, an award-winning PR firm known for its media training and ability to generate sustainable media traction. Together, Rachel and Patrick are a small business couple with a big connection!
Rachel and Patrick took some time away from the COVID news cycle and the wonderful world of Wix.com to tell us what it’s like to work together—and apart. They explain the risks and benefits of their two-business household, the changes they’ve made during the pandemic, and how they manage to run two successful boutique media agencies from the comfort of their Toronto condo.
You both work in media, but you run two different small businesses. Do you ever work together? And are there benefits to working in the same industry?
Rachel: We do sometimes share a client, and even when we don’t, we often brainstorm together. I think something magical happens when we put our brains together—it’s our “special sauce.” One of us will have a kernel of an idea, and it will take off from there. The great thing is we have no problem admitting when the other one has a better idea, and we can immediately determine what is and isn’t going to work in each of our areas of expertise.
Patrick: That’s absolutely true! Rachel is amazing at giving me her no-holds-barred opinion. She lets me know if something is actually funny, or if it’s just not good enough. We both bring a lot of value to clients that way. I really believe that the best ideas should be argued and advocated, so the best idea wins in the end.
Have you both been working from home during COVID-19? If so, what’s it like running two small businesses from one household? How do you work apart when you’re living together?
Rachel: Up until recently, we rented an office in the same condo building where we live. We decided last summer to ditch the office, and we created the perfect work environment at home—purging furniture, equipment and so on, and moving to entirely paperless. My non-negotiables were my drum kit and benjamina plant, both of which take quite a bit of space, but we made it work. Our offices are at opposite ends of the condo, so even though the condo is not huge, one can Zoom while the other one cranks their tunes, and the dog just shares her time between us.
Patrick: In reality, it’s a few hundred feet, but it feels like we are on different planets during the workday. We’re so focused on what we’re doing that it isn’t an issue. We actually have to FaceTime to hear each other if we need to connect.
One person running one small business can put even the best time management skills to the test. But two people running two small businesses?! How do you find time for chores, showers, movies, meals, each other?
Rachel: It’s true. Before COVID, we made a real point to have interests outside of our work—music lessons, a regular date night, drinks with friends. We also looked for any advantage to buy back time—a bookkeeper, a cleaner, grocery delivery. But the last year has been interesting. We have gone back to basics in some ways, and I think it’s great. When one of us has extra bandwidth, they pick up the slack where they can. (It’s also excellent cardio to clean your own condo and schlep your own groceries.)
Patrick: I don’t love cleaning my own toilet, but COVID has us all doing things differently. When we’re both busy, there’s very little bandwidth for cleaning the condo or cooking an elaborate meal, but I think entrepreneurs with kids have it one thousand times worse. We just make it work somehow.
There can be a lot of risk involved with starting a small business—financial, legal, emotional, and more. Do two small businesses mean double the risk? How do you manage the risk associated with two small businesses? Do you work together or keep things separate?
Rachel: I would argue that there is less risk in some way. I am the captain of my own destiny. I’m not relying on someone for a paycheck.
Patrick: We’re fully integrated companies under our incorporation, so we are absolutely in it together. I guess it’s double the risk, but it’s also double the opportunity, and there have been lots of times when one of our businesses struggled, and the other one picks up the slack. Things get craziest when we’re both busy.
There have been many days where I wished I could go back in time and tell myself to get a regular nine-to-five job (but I’m sure I wouldn’t have listened anyway). It would be great to have one of us with a steady, predictable gig, but as Rachel says, it’s better to be your own boss. It hasn’t been easy during COVID (or the nineteen years before that), but in theory, we just have to keep selling ourselves and getting new clients. There’s a lot of marketing pros finding themselves laid off with very few prospects at agencies, so I’ll take the stress and uncertainty of being a business owner over “starting over” any day.
Are there any challenges or opportunities that come with a two-business household or a two-business marriage that we haven’t covered here? Anything either of you would like to add?
Rachel: Patrick and I are fifty-fifty partners in every aspect of our lives. When one of us has a challenging client, a huge success, or just needs to vent—we have each other. We can counsel each other when there is a tricky situation, and we never stop singing each other’s praises to anyone who will listen. I suppose I could do this without Patrick, but it would be a lot less fun.
Do you have any advice, words of wisdom, or cautionary tales for two-business couples, or for couples who are thinking about becoming two-business couples?
Rachel: You have to be willing to support each other in every way and respect each other no matter what. If you can be each other’s biggest cheerleader and make each other laugh, go for it!
Patrick: You have to really, genuinely like each other and enjoy spending time together (even though it’s not always going to be quality time). I think the pandemic has hastened many break-ups because couples aren’t used to being together so much—the same and more is true of business. If you are going to “get into bed” with someone, you better be prepared to be beside them forever.