To help smooth the road to entrepreneurship, couples should write a business plan, says Patricia Frishkoff, founder and director of the Austin Family Business Program at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. In addition to traditional components like a marketing plan and financial forecasts, the plan should also outline your expectations in terms of your relationship. "With every decision," urges Frishkoff, "you need to look at the impact on both the [marriage] and the business."
Putting plans and goals in writing worked for Ann and John Christensen, founders of Christensen Designs in Manteca, California. The two were married in 1988; in 1989, they launched their first product, a windless wind chime John invented. Ann's invention--a message-in-a-bottle kit and launching service for those who don't live near the ocean--followed.
Last year, John, 52, a former engineer for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, developed a line of remote-control video probe devices now used by wildlife researchers to study endangered species in a variety of habitats.
"It was a sensationally successful first year," says Ann, 43. "We sold more than 25 Tree Top Peeper II units to the Forest Service in 1997 at about $4,000 each."
Planning had a lot to do with that success. "We spent a lot of time talking about how we wanted to run the business and what things we find enjoyable," says John. "We also listed our talents: What can I do? What can she do? How can we put these together?"