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Crowded House

can two entrepreneurs work under the same roof, indivisible, with privacy and success for all? We think so.

If the balancing act is precarious when one entrepreneur sets up shop in the same spot where he or she hangs the proverbial hat each evening, consider the effect when two entrepreneurs with two separate businesses both have their offices under that very same roof.

The arrangement is messy, chaotic, aggravating . . . and, frequently, a source of joy. "It's cozy and comforting to have my husband next to me," says Madeleine Homan, president of StraightLine Coaching in Dobbs Ferry, New York, "even if we do nothing more than say `Hey, how are you?' to each other during the day."

But the pluses go beyond companionship. For one thing, each entrepreneur has another nearby with whom to share the joys and frustrations inherent in owning a business. "I finally understand how time-consuming being an entrepreneur is," says Amy Levy, president of Levy & Associates, a marketing and communications firm in Washington, DC. Levy started her business two years ago and moved into the office her husband, Terry Sellheim, president of T.R. Sellheim Construction Inc., had set up in their home six years earlier.

In addition, these homebased entrepreneurs can act as each other's advisory board--offering the kind of objectivity you usually don't have when you're in the middle of a tense situation. Nor do you have to be in the middle of a crisis to learn from each other. John Hickok, a professor, director and actor, considers himself privileged to sit just 10 feet away from his wife, Homan, a career and personal coach for creative people. "It's not that I sit and listen to the coaching advice she gives people over the phone," Hickok says. "But bits and pieces of it seem to splash across to my side of the desk, and, like a motivational tape that you listen to in your sleep, I absorb the information and benefit from it."

The "under the same roof" entrepreneurs can help each other in other ways as well. Take Tom and Georgia Patrick, presidents, respectively, of WindStar Wildlife Institute, a national, nonprofit conservation organization, and The Communicators, a marketing and communications consulting firm. Both operate out of a barn on their property in Jefferson, Maryland. The Patricks clip interesting articles for each other and share assistants if necessary. "We might even pitch in with each other's mailings," says Tom, "but we don't expect that kind of help from each other."

Best of all, says Hickok, "I've gotten to know my wife in ways I never would have if we didn't work under the same roof. Her work is interesting, and she's good at it. Having a window into her business life is kind of exciting."

Patricia Schiff Estess is author of Money Advice for Your Successful Remarriage and Kids, Money & Values (both published by Betterway) and president of Working Families Inc., a Manhattan firm specializing in family memoirs.

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