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Should You Go into...

Should You Go into Business with Your Spouse?

Thinking of going into your business with your beloved? It’s best to approach the enterprise with your eyes wide open.

While countless husband-wife partnerships are successful and fulfilling, they can also create added pressure in your personal and professional lives.

So how do you know if running a business with your spouse is right for you?

Start by assessing your situation honestly and openly. Examine how you feel on a gut level (definitely not, definitely yes, or somewhere in between). If you aren’t sure, but are willing to entertain the possibility, here are some points to consider:

Do you have compatible work ethics? If your style is to jump 100 percent into work every morning, and your partner likes to start the day by lying on the couch and reading the newspaper for two hours, you might have a potential conflict.

Take a look at how you share your family’s household and financial responsibilities now. Is there parity? Or do you shoulder more than your share of the burden? If so, it’s not likely to get any better when you add more responsibilities to the mix.

Do you have the same vision for the company? This is essential for any business management team, including a husband-and-wife partnership. You should have similar ideas of how you want to build your company, and what you eventually want it to become, before you begin your venture.

For example, maybe you want it to be a local-only business, while your husband sees it as growing to national proportions. Make sure you have similar ideas before moving forward.

Do you have clear expectations of one another? Write out a business plan that defines your roles at the outset. Perhaps one of you will be the product development and salesperson, while the other focuses on behind-the-scenes work, such as accounting and systems management. No matter how your strengths complement each other, defining them from the start is a smart idea. At first, you’ll probably pitch in on many tasks as a team, but eventually you’ll be able to establish clear roles.

What are your long-term goals for the company? Is this a “lifestyle business,” where both of you will want to run your business every day for many years (e.g., a bookstore or restaurant you’ll operate hands-on)? Or are you building the business with a bigger vision—to sell it in a given number of years (e.g., a Web site or product-based business you can brand and sell to a large company)? Your long-term goals should be compatible.

Is your relationship in good shape? If you are already having marital difficulties, starting a business together probably won’t save your marriage. Business startups are hard work and stressful (kind of like new babies), and likely will add to a couple’s relationship issues.

If you have determined that you are, indeed, professionally compatible and that a business partnership is in your future, here are some tips to help it go smoothly:

Establish formal communications. Just as you would with any business partner, create scheduled meetings at regular intervals, like a Monday morning creative session or a Thursday afternoon accounting meeting. This will help you be more efficient and will separate business from personal time during family dinners and outings.

Respect each other’s opinions. Treat one another as you would any other business partner. Being married shouldn’t be an excuse to dismiss each other’s ideas or be disrespectful. This is especially true when you are with your vendors, potential business partners, or employees.

Create a way to deal with disagreements. You can’t anticipate every conflict or disagreement that might arise, but you can create a method for dealing with them. Decide ahead of time how you will resolve conflicts. Does one person’s decision ultimately outrank the other? Should you involve a third party to mediate when necessary? These are both common methods for resolving business disagreements.

Compartmentalize your work time and personal time. This can be challenging, but your business will suffer if relationship issues color your workdays. Similarly, I believe that business talk should not be allowed in the bedroom.

Remember what’s most important. Before doing anything, be sure you agree on a foundation and a values system that says: No matter what happens with the business, your relationship is ultimately more important.