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Working With Your Spouse: 5 Rules

Going into business with your spouse isn't for the faint of heart. Here are five rules that will increase your chances of success.
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Business partners talk all the time about being “in the trenches” together. Right. If you want to really test the meaning of solidarity, try going into business with your spouse. Every decision, every cash flow crunch, every hiccup, is experienced together. Then you go home and try to change the channel to something more…romantic. Easier said than done.

There are some great benefits to taking the entrepreneurial journey together: 

  • A shared sense of accomplishment.
  • You trust your business partner implicitly (or else you have bigger problems).
  • It’s easier to juggle with four hands than with two. If you’re a parent, working with your spouse makes it much easier to figure out who has to handle the emergency phone call from school. And when you’re the one to deal with that call, you won’t have to deal with a disapproving boss.
  • You bring out the best in each other. My husband is the creative technical problem solver. I keep it on task, on budget, and on time. Customers see this, and it builds confidence.

Not that it’s easy. There will be some very, very tough conversations. So you know what? Get at least some of those conversations out of the way now. If you can’t, that’s your first red flag. Start with:

1. Risk tolerance.  Can the family tolerate the risk of two incomes coming from the same small business? What happens if a spouse dies? When my husband and I went into business together, we had to re-evaluate our life insurance coverage. Then there’s health insurance. With both of you on the payroll, your company can get a small business health plan, which is a great start. But make sure the coverage is adequate for your family’s needs.

In a related vein, how comfortable are each of you with business risk? If you’re not both cut out for the roller coaster life of a startup, the stress will impact you twice as hard as a couple. Think carefully and talk through this issue before you both lose a lot of sleep.

2. Roles and responsibilities. Play to your strengths; divide and conquer. Setting out clear roles and responsibilities will be important as you add to your team, so that everyone is clear on who does what. Clearly-defined roles and responsibilities also help others view you as business colleagues rather than a couple. It doesn’t mean you can’t cover for each other in a pinch, but it does keep you from stepping on each other’s toes.

3. Ego. What happens if one of you becomes more publicly visible than the other? Will your other half be jealous or relieved that someone else is the public face for the company? You need to know this in advance, or you’ll never be able to take advantage of any media coverage. You do want the company to have visibility! Jealousy is toxic. Eradicate it before it takes hold, if you must, or you are doomed.

4. Goals. Do you have the same goals? Once you form a company, set company goals together, and rope in the rest of your management team.

5. Boundaries. How are you going to protect your family time? Decide now how you will go on dates, take vacation, and manage to forget about work at least some of the time. This can be especially challenging when you have clients in vastly different time zones, so lay some ground rules that work. Don’t lose the romance.

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Mar 7, 2012

LAURA SMOLIAR | CEO, Peppertree Engineering

Technology expert. Global entrepreneur. Mentor. Laura Smoliar, with over 15 years professional experience and a Ph.D. in physical chemistry, specializes in the commercialization of technology.




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