From the July 2000 issue of Startups

Starting a homebased business is stressful enough without your spouse or partner turning into a nervous Ned or Nettie. Gayle Feinberg, 35, knows firsthand the difficulties of calming a spouse's fears while launching a business. The beginnings of her Honeoye Falls, New York, company, ASPIRE (After School Program of Innovative Learning Reaching Every Child) Inc. were fraught with marital tensions. "Working from home wasn't legitimate to my husband," says Feinberg, whose company creates personal development and enrichment classes for middle-school students. "He downplayed the financial aspect of start-ups, saying things like 'You'll never make enough to really make the time you spend worth it. Why don't you get a real job?' "

Fueling the fire, her husband was laid off. He decided to start a homebased software-consulting business, and, suddenly, tension skyrocketed as they competed for valuable resources. "We'd fight for time on the computer and in the office," adds Feinberg.

Ten days and many arguments later, they knew something had to change. Realizing their current space-sharing situation couldn't continue, Feinberg and her husband created separate offices. "We used to have only one office at home; now we have two-minus a dining room," jokes Feinberg. "We also set up separate e-mail accounts and data lines, and we differentiated work and family time."

According to Azriela Jaffe, a syndicated columnist and author of Honey, I Want to Start My Own Business: A Planning Guide for Couples, communication and planning are crucial. "Most couples discuss issues when they hit their first crisis, which is the worst time because tensions are high," advises Jaffe. "The time to talk about these questions is when you're optimistic, calm and loving toward each other."

Since she had owned a business before, Feinberg understood a start-up's monetary and time pressures-but she never told her husband what to expect. "If I had to do it over again, I would've discussed family and business expectations," she says. "Communicating is key when working from home."

And communication shouldn't stop when the business launches. Couples should continue discussing expectations and ways to make life and work easier. "Search for rules that take into consideration each partner's needs and concerns so the rules seem fair," says Jaffe.

Today, Feinberg and her family share a relatively peaceful existence. Her husband is still consulting and plans to move his work outside the home. "We're all in this together," concludes Feinberg. "My family revels in my success. I wouldn't trade it for the world."

Survival of the Calmest

Want to start a homebased business? Azriela Jaffe recommends exploring these questions with your sweetie before taking the plunge:

  • How much time every day and week is required to run the business successfully?
  • What will your working hours be?
  • How supportive is your spouse or partner about your business?
  • How will this business improve, solidify or sustain your relationship?
  • How could this business jeopardize or deteriorate your relationship?

-Excerpted from Honey, I Want to Start My Own Business


Heather Martin is the owner of SuccessWorks, a copywriting firm specializing in online writing. She has successfully survived her own start-up freak-outs and lived to write about them.