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Shannon & Bryan Miles are the co-founders of Belay Solutions, which provides virtual support services for business owners. They were recently listed in the Inc 5000 for the 6th year in a row.
As if that achievement isn’t enough, they have managed to create a thriving marriage WHILE running Belay together. Their company has evolved since they began 10 years ago, but their focus has always been to have a great marriage, a priority they place ahead of a great business. These are my people!
In the fall of 2019, they opened NoFo Brew Co. & Distillery, in Cumming, GA. And in the year that shall not be named or repeated, God willing, they launched Own Not Run, a consultancy for people in various stages of the entrepreneur journey.
Their sense of adventure was revealed in their answer to my question, “If your marriage was a team sport, what would it be?” Shannon mentioned white water rafting. Not surprising, as their first date was….bridge jumping in college. Who does that?? Bryan said doubles ping pong would be his analogy. You have to alternate shots and you have to work together to beat your opponent. So, from one extreme to the other!
The book that has affirmed their family goals is a Pat Lencioni book called Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family. Shannon said that if you run your family with the same intention as your business, families might be in a better place. If you have never read Lencioni’s books, pull up a list and see if something resonates. His books are written as fables—easy to read and remember the principles covered in the book.
Shannon & Bryan are some of the most down to earth people I’ve met. Their advice comes from the hard work they’ve done and their commitment to having a great marriage, no matter what life throws at them.
Bryan & Shannon met in college. When Bryan’s dad was diagnosed with lung cancer, Bryan decided to leave school, work full-time, and finish college taking night classes. He took on the responsibilities or (“responsibilaries” as rug rats used to say) of adulthood quickly, knowing nothing was going to be handed to him. They married just out of college, figuring whatever was ahead, they would figure out together. They lost his dad, and Shannon’s stepdad, both to lung cancer, within a year of each other.
It was hard, and as Shannon said, they raised each other in those early days. But they learned to put the needs of the other first—dying to self, Bryan said. This might be one of the hardest parts of marriage, no matter what age people marry. The concept of dying to self may not be a term some are familiar with. In the Christian faith, which Bryan & Shannon practice, there are many teachings about loving others by serving them well—whether that’s a spouse, a child, a co-worker, or a neighbor. The paradox of dying to self, in order to have the fullest life, is what Bryan is referring to. If this is not your faith tradition, you might focus on understanding the needs and personality of your partner. No matter how much you have in common, you are 2 very different people, and it requires a lot of give and take to create a marriage that works for both of you. Some of the most distressed marriages I’ve seen are ones where each party only sees things from their perspective.
Fast forward about 10 years. With 2 young kids, Shannon & Bryan decided to leave jobs that they enjoyed and had taught them a lot, but were not providing the lifestyle they wanted. They spent a couple months talking with others about starting a business to provide virtual support to business owners. Then, they did what any couple would do: they cashed out their 401k’s, and on the same day, Oct. 1, 2010, they both resigned their jobs to start this new venture.
Many of the couples I interview only have 1 entrepreneur in the family, and this can be challenging enough. But Bryan & Shannon took the leap together, both fully invested in the success of this venture. They had one failed venture behind them—a mortgage company that didn’t survive. Fortunately, they were both still working at the time. But 2010, when they launched Belay, was new territory. They were all in, and it was demanding at first, as are all startups.
Things that contributed to their success:
- Celebrating their differences: By the time they launched, they knew a lot about each other’s personality, the strengths they each brought to the table and areas where they could default to the other. They have very different personalities in some ways, and Shannon said after years of being together, and some counseling, “we stopped trying to make each other, the other person, and that made all the difference”. I see this a lot especially in the early days of marriage. More women seem to have high expectations that their spouse will like everything they like, handle conflict the same, want to take the same type of vacations. There can be a lot of conflict around these, often unspoken, expectations, until a couple can accept, and even celebrate the fact that they are very different people.
- Priorities were right sized: from the beginning, their priority was to have a great marriage. Bryan referred to “accidental” priorities when starting a business. It seems so big, it’s hard to see beyond. Worst case scenario—would their marriage be ok? Their main outcome was not to have a great business. Business supported the things they wanted to accomplish as a family.
- Tool: getting on the same side of the line. Name the problem, how are we going to fix it?
- Mentors: they had people they would consult for specific issues. Mentors are not created equal, Bryan said. Some may have great business advice, but they have not been able to sustain a healthy marriage, so you might find it helpful to have mentors for different seasons, different issues.
If you have time, catch the full interview with Bryan and Shannon.
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You’re building a life together. Make it a great one.
Check out the full episode with Bryan & Shannon here.