For Better or Worse

Planning the Wedding

Once you determine that you can start a business with your spouse, you have to go into planning mode. A business plan is vital for any business, and for married couples starting a business together, determining what roles each of you will play in the business is essential. Just like when you planned your wedding--everything from a budget to a guest list--this is the time when you delineate everything from your respective roles in the business to your financial plan. "Work out exactly what the roles are going to be within the business," says Murray. "Most arguments are around roles and finances--you have to sort out the 'who does what' within your business."

Choosing business roles based on each partner's strengths is exactly what helped Stephanie and Mark Healy, both 36, become successful with Vente Inc., their database marketing company in Omaha, Nebraska. Started in 1999, Vente specializes in collecting opt-in market research and consumer information and selling it to marketers. Stephanie covers the sales and marketing side, while Mark handles the technical compliance side. "We really have two different skill sets," says Stephanie, who recalls some advice they received at a business event they attended: "When couples work together, one needs to say, 'I'm leading this area in the company,' or 'This is where I fall under.' So we had to make that distinction."

Communicating each person's needs and wants in the business is another fundamental of couple entrepreneurship. "The backbone of any relationship is understanding what each of you needs and being very clear on that," says Fortinberry. "When [couples] are working closely together, you need to articulate yourself to the other person." Be clear about what you need, and make sure it's an action your partner can actually complete. If your partner isn't wearing suitable clothes for a business meeting, for instance, communicate that your need for the business is to present a professional appearance, and that your partner can do that by stepping up his or her attire.

The Healys have gotten the communication message. "You'll have disagreements over what direction to take, but there's really no one other than your spouse who you can speak to and let know exactly how you feel," says Mark. "It is an advantage, being able to speak with your spouse openly and honestly about 'This decision needs to be made' or 'We need to go in this direction.'"

Adding to the challenge, the Healys, like all of the other married couples interviewed, have children. Having delivered their second baby almost immediately after closing their second round of funding, Stephanie and Mark know the difficulties of raising a family and starting a business simultaneously. "It's hard to turn [the business] off when you have to take a child to the sitter," says Mark, but they continue to juggle it all. They're managing it well, if their yearly sales of about $10 million to $20 million are any indication.

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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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