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For Better or Worse

Look no further for a business partner. You may already have a perfect match--your spouse.

Meeting someone special, falling in love, getting engaged, planning a wedding, living the everyday reality of a marriage. Millions of Americans have taken the plunge until death do us part. In fact, according to Census data, there were 57 million married couple households in 2003. These couples said vows promising to love, honor and cherish. But for some of these couples, there has been one additional wedding caveat: They've decided to start a business with their spouse.

And while it is often said that marriage is hard work, what happens when you decide to combine the work of your marriage with the work of starting a new business? First, "[Don't assume], 'Oh, we get along well in our family life, so we'll get along well in our business together,'" says Bob Murray, who, along with his wife, Alicia Fortinberry, runs Fortinberry-Murray Consulting, a coaching business that specializes in helping people build solid relationships within a business setting. "Running a business together and being a family are two different things," he says.

Adds Fortinberry, "You want to make sure that you're working together because you enjoy being together, the relationship is pleasurable for both of you, and it gives you so much that you want to extend your relationship from home to work." It can be a fun ride, if you're meant for it.

When you're starting your journey through entrepreneurship as a married couple, think of it in the same way you went from courtship to wedding to marriage in your personal life. Read on to meet three couples who have taken the path from altar to entrepreneurship.

Courtship and Engagement
Deciding if you're ready to start a business with your spouse mirrors the choices and self-examination you endure when you're first dating. Says Murray, "[Ask yourself], Do I want to be with this person 24/7?" Can you see yourself working side by side? Are your visions for the future the same?

Adds Fortinberry, "Do you share the same values and vision? That should be discussed, and if you can't come to a clear agreement, then that's a danger signal."

Entrepreneurs Todd and Jan Haedrich, founders of My Flat In London, a high-fashion design company and manufacturer of handbags, accessories, clothing, and body products like lotions and lip balm, could definitely see themselves working together all the time. Jan, 35, had a fashion-industry background and got the idea after creating a handbag for herself and getting stopped on the streets by people asking where she got it. Todd, 34, saw how hard she was working creating the bags at home, and the pair realized they had the makings of a much bigger business on their hands.

Officially founded in 2002 in Boston, the company has since moved to Frenchtown, New Jersey. Jan conceived the My Flat In London moniker after her time spent living abroad, and she still credits her design inspiration to her many travels--accompanied by her husband, Todd, of course.

Still, the key is that the Haedrichs have the same vision for My Flat In London: They see it as a luxury life-style brand. And they detailed that vision during the planning stage of the business when they consulted a third party for an objective outside opinion. "We had a number of conversations with Jan's brother [separately]," says Todd, who saw the value of feedback from an unbiased family member. "He was a person to bounce ideas off of without fighting with each other--and it helped us get started on the right foot." That good start has gotten the company's products into stores like Nordstrom, pushing yearly sales to $4 million.

If the Haedrichs' marriage and business is a good example of what other married entrepreneurs should aspire to, reverse those traits to learn what not to do, says psychologist Linda Miles, co-author with her husband, Robert Miles, of The New Marriage: Transcending the Happily Ever After Myth. Don't be critical of each other--and don't be dismissive or contemptuous of your partner. "Can you [both] attack problems and not the person so that the marriage doesn't suffer?" she asks. Miles also urges being very honest with yourself in the planning stage. Ask yourself if you'll be equal partners and if you're willing to share whatever glory and success your new entrepreneurial venture brings--you know, the "for better or worse" part of your vows.

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This article was originally published in the October 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: For Better or Worse.

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